ANN FOLWELL STANFORD


Dialectics of Desire: War and the Resistive Voice
in Gwendolyn Brooks's "Negro Hero" and
"Gay Chaps at the Bar"

The early poems of Gwendolyn Brooks's A Street in Bronzeville are remarkable for many reasons, not the least of which is the powerfully resonant voice of those poems devoted to the experience of black soldiers in World War II. The dramatic monologue " Negro Hero" and a twelve-sonnet sequence " Gay Chaps at the Bar" are both written from the point of view and in the voices of soldiers in the midst of battle. These poems are especially interesting in their multi-voiced interrogation of racial politics in America. In these poems, Brooks reconstructs "The Enemy" not as foreigners holding howitzers, but as fellow Americans with white skin. " Negro Hero" and " Gay Chaps at the Bar" address in varying ways the tenuous and contradictory situation of black soldiers in a white man's army. However, they do so by making the direct link between war and racism, thus narrowing the gap between military (foreign) and racial (American) struggle, between soldiers and civilians.

This is not a war poetry that elevates the courage or sacrifice of soldiers, or focuses on physical injury, or sentimentalizes love and looks back longingly on women and children at home—or even a poetry that protests war qua war. Brooks's war poems express a profound perplexity and a muted anger, neither denouncing war nor valorizing those who fight in it. War becomes the trope for the equally injurious institutionalized racism at home. In this poetry, Brooks displaces both the site and meaning of war, and in her

____________________
From African American Review 26, no. 2 (Summer 1992). © 1992Ann Folwell Stanford.

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