We Real Cool
by Gwendolyn Brooks
Stanza IV Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Jazz June. We
- The speaker claims "We / Jazz June," which our uptight grammarian says is not a sentence. Unless…"jazz" is a verb, just like the first word of the last five lines.
- In that case, what kind of action is to "Jazz June"?
- Some readers point to "jazz" as a slang word meaning "to have sex with."
- This would give June the double meaning of both a month of the year and also a person named June.
- For her part, Brooks said this is not what she meant, although, slyly, she added that she has no problem with this interpretation (source).
- We're inclined to follow Brooks's lead and not interpret this phrase sexually.
- Instead, "Jazz June" suggests freedom, improvisation, dancing, seduction, and, of course, time off school.
- For these guys, it's always like June, because they are always off school.
- Interestingly, this line makes the pool players seem less passive and lazy, because they are capable of turning "jazz", into an action.
- You might imagine them dancing across the June calendar playing saxophones and trumpets.
- Brooks has her own interpretation of June as well.
- In an interview, she said that she thought the boys wanted to "thumb their noses at the establishment," which includes parents, teachers, and other authority figures.
- She said: "I represented the establishment with the month of June, which is a nice, gentle, non-controversial, enjoyable, pleasant, fragrant month that everybody loves" (source).
- Well, that sure sounds like a surprise ending.
- A moment ago the guys are bragging about all their rebellious behavior, and here they admit that all this drinking, lurking, and pool playing will lead to an early death.
- You could read this final line in at least a couple different ways, which is part of the brilliance and fun of the poem.
- If you think the poem consists of the speaker trying to imagine what the pool players might be thinking, then this final line could be what she thinks they should be thinking about the overall direction of their lives.
- She says to them, "I know how you think things are, but now I'm going to tell you how things really are."
- But there's no reason why you couldn't argue that the pool players have been singing the whole time, and that they're proud to "die soon." Perhaps they want to have their fun on earth and make a quick exit before old age kills their vibe.
- Today we're familiar with musicians who defiantly proclaim their own short life span: 50 Cent's album Get Rich or Die Tryin' is one example.
- One critic of the poem has written of the pool players: "Perhaps comic geniuses, they could well drink to this poem, making it a drinking/revelry song" (source).
- Who do you think is speaking in the final lines, and are the lines meant to be harsh or celebratory?
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