Gwendolyn Brooks's Way with the Sonnet

Employing an artistic structure which bears the impress of nearly every major English-language poet since the sixteenth century, a structure whose potentialities many writers have not felt themselves poets until they have mastered, Gwendolyn Brooks has fashioned poems of remarkable social, emotional, and linguistic range. That structure is the sonnet.

The sonnet form probably appeals to Brooks for several reasons. First, she writes many short, cooly intense poems. Her sensitivity to the authenticity and force of the Afro-American folk forms she learned as a child may be responsible for this penchant. Certainly the blues, the spirituals, and the folk seculars make their impressions quickly. They, like the sonnet, share a sense of intimacy, of a poet-singer speaking-singing directly to another. Several of the folk forms, like the sonnet, are lyric cries. Emotion seems to be poured into and overflowing the sonnet, blues, spirituals.

The folk literature forms seem to be simple, as simple as the sonnet can be complex. They are simple. And they are more than simple. Certain elements of their styling create ambiguity and therefore, complexity: elegant understatement, wry humor, terseness, voice rhythms, ethnotropic metaphor, sardonic bite, the arrangement of the poetic line. The ethnic community that produced a folk literature with such characteristics was one that had to learn how to mask its feelings about the restrictive slave and

From CLA Journal 26, no. 2 ( December 1982). © 1983 College Language Association.


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