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We Real Cool

We Real Cool

by Gwendolyn Brooks

Subtitle Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

THE POOL PLAYERS.
SEVEN AT THE GOLDEN SHOVEL.

  • The poem opens like a play, with a description resembling stage directions. "The Pool Players. Seven at the Golden Shovel."
  • The poet is setting the scene. If the poem were set in Transylvania, it might begin, "A guy with big fangs. The basement of a dark castle. A coffin."
  • As they say on the old cop show Dragnet, "Just the facts, ma'am." Come to think of it, this subtitle sounds to us a bit like the tone of a hardboiled detective story, a popular genre back in the 1950s.
  • The poem is set in a pool hall, which we wouldn't necessarily know except that Brooks has said so in interviews. (You can listen to one such interview on Poets.org.)
  • Pool halls are still popular, especially in big cities, but they're not as popular as they used to be. They are big rooms – usually dimly lit – with a lot of billiard tables, and a bar serving alcohol.
  • This particular hall is called "The Golden Shovel." This name is the most specific bit of information in the poem.
  • "Golden" reminds us of money, sunshine, and youth, among other things. It's early summer, so it might be "golden" outside, but we're willing to bet it doesn't look "golden" inside the pool hall, which makes the name ironic.
  • "Shovel" is also an ironic word. You probably associate shovels with hard, manual labor, which is one thing the seven guys are definitely not doing. They are lazy, and their tool of choice is a long, light pool cue, not a shovel.
  • Without looking too far ahead in the poem, we might also associate shovels with grave digging. Now why would we want to do that?
  • Finally, why seven pool players? Well, maybe that was how many Brooks saw playing pool. But "seven" is also considered a lucky number by gamblers, and billiards is an activity on which people frequently gamble.

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