Gwendolyn Brooks published ‘Annie Allen’, an epic style book of prose about a Black Woman coming of age in Chicago, in 1949. In 1950, she became first Black awarded a Pulitzer Prize For Poetry(shame on them for taking so long to learn of great Black poetry) for that book.
While touted as one of her most complex pieces, it is not convoluted at all. In fact, it is mellifluous in reading; vividly smooth in its expression. It is, however, heavily loaded with ancient literary symbology and a syntax that constantly reminds one of its source inspiration. Gwendolyn Brooks has presented us with Black girl and Black Woman as heroine of an epic prose.
Her ‘Alliad’ wraps a social politic around a coming-of-age tale told in love ballads. Of course, there are its expected sex politics, a bold for its time discussion of philandering soldiers and their romantic commitments back home. What initially struck me were her more existential barbs about society.
In her main body, she pens this verse:
“Come, oh populace, to me!”
It winks only, and in that light
Are the copies of all her bright
Copies. Glass begets glass. No
Populace goes as they go
Who can need it but at night
From “The Anniad”, “Annie Allen”, Gwendolyn Brooks
It is that original “lonely in a room full of strangers” sort of tone. A tone I have come to expect from a sister that stated she gleaned her inspiration from “a small second-floor apartment at the corner” of a street in inner city Chicago. There is another stanza that she has in her appendium to ‘Alliad’ that sensually caressed my inner misanthrope (as C and B might say). I quote it here:
The Certainty we two shall meet by God
In a wide Parlor, underneath a Light
Of lights, come Sometime, is no ointment now.
Because we two are worshippers of life,
Being young, being masters fo the long-legged stride,
Gypsy arm-swing. We never did learn how
To find white in the Bible. We want nights
Of vague adventure, lips lax wet and warm,
Bees in the stomach, sweat across the brow. Now.
Found in “Appendix To The Anniad”, “Anne Allen”, Gwendolyn Brooks
Not quite sure I have come across that sheer urgency that informs urban escape worded so poignantly. Emotionally fitting; ‘evocative’ as those chapbook selling, coffee shop patrons might toss out.
To further illustrate Ms. Gwendolyn’s dexterity with this cynical composing, I leave you with her visiting “Annie” on that topic of motherhood. She writes:
People who have no children can be hard:
Attain a mail of ice and insolence:
Need not pause in the fire, and in no sense
Hesitate in the hurricane to guard.
And when wide world is bitten and bewarred
They perish purely, waving their spirits hence
Without a trace of grace or of offense
To laugh or fail, diffident, wonder-starred.
While through a throttling dark we others hear
The little lifting helplessness, the queer
Whimper-whine; whose unridiculous
Lost softness softly makes a trap for us.
And makes a curse. And makes a sugar of
The malocclusions, the inconditions of love.
Found in “The Womanhood”, section 1,”the children of the poor”, “Annie Allen”, Gwendolyn Brooks
“Annie Allen” is a worthy read for anyone seeking a witty, inviting, and erudite work of poetry. It is a time-honored encomium to Black Women, love, and well-reasoned disdain.