“Shut your rhetorics in a box”: Gwendolyn Brooks and Lyric Dilemma

Julia Bloch, University of Pennsylvania
Vol. 35, No. 2 (Fall 2016), 439-462

Gwendolyn Brooks’s 1949 long poem Annie Allen can be read as an example of midcentury modernist poetry that favors inductive assemblage to the totalizing operations of linear narrative, joining other midcentury poems such as Ezra Pound’s Pisan Cantos, William Carlos Williams’s Paterson, and H. D.’s Trilogy. Annie Allen is frequently read as the last major work Brooks undertook before her break with European and Anglo modernist forms, when she aligned her aesthetics with the revolutionary poetics of the Black Arts movement. More significant than the shift in poetic practice that the book signals, however, is the way in which lyric speech in Annie Allen reveals ideologies of literary innovation. This essay argues that Brooks’s long poem dramatizes the intersection of competing narratives of experimentalism and politics for African American poetics, for modernism, and, in a broader sense, for an understanding of what it means to write poetry as social critique.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]