Gwendolyn Brooks

The Day of the Gwendolyn

An excerpt from “The Day of the Gwendolyn,” a lecture delivered by Gwendolyn Brooks on May 5, 1986 in the Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.


Bust of Gwendolyn Brooks by Sara S. Miller, bronze, 1994. From the collections of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Lytton Strachey, one of my favorite authors, opens his winsome essay, “The Sad Story of Dr. Colbatch” with this paragraph, “The Rev. Dr. Colbatch could not put up with it anymore. Animated by the highest motives, he felt that he must intervene. The task was arduous, odious, dangerous. His antagonist, most redoubtable. But Dr. Colbatch was a Doctor of Divinity, Professor of Casuistry in the University of Cambridge, a senior fellow of Trinity College and his duty was plain. The conduct of the Master could be tolerated no longer. Doctor Bentley must go.”

When I look across an appreciable part of our contemporary poesy scene, I empathize with the concerned Dr. Colbatch. Of course there is a difference in his ambition and my ambition. I have no interest in ejecting any Bentleys. I am not able to eject any Bentleys. My interest is in accommodation.

There is no one way to write poetry. There is no one way to write poetry, because there is no one kind of life, nor death, nor view, nor credit, nor debit, nor proof, nor pride. Indeed in the single moment one individual may experience pied beauty (Thank you Gerard.) [To audience: You all know that “Pied Beauty” was written by Gerard Manley Hopkins.]

So, a poet need not be fearful to explore, flash lit by personal estimate. Contention: What a poet must be afraid of is cliché in life and in literature. Cliché is such a temptation in life and in literature. I look over my bunch of verse and everybody else’s bunch and am appalled by the amount of cliché. Cliché that is out right, right out, and cliché, that is all splopped over with glittering fustion or pompous babble. Oh, poet! Oh, citizen! Work against cliché! But not against revelation of any ounce or pound of pounding passion, or ache, exhilaration, luscious loll. All these are the proper properties of poetry. As a reporting response (that is what I am, a reporting response), I want my life and language involved with what delights and deepens, with what encourages with what astounds and angers and nourishes and offends and extends. I want images and sound in combinations that best evoke, extend (one of my favorite words), remind, decree.


Gwendolyn Brooks (June 7, 1917 - December 3, 2000) served as U.S. Poet Laureate from 1985 - 86. She was the first person of African descent to win the Pulitzer Prize when she won in 1950 for her collection of poems, Annie Allen. She was also the first African American woman inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and served as the Poet Laureate of Illinois from 1968 to 2000. Other honors include awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Robert Frost Medal for Lifetime Achievement from the Poetry Society of America, and the National Medal of Arts. In 2012, the U.S. Post Office issued a Gwendolyn Brooks stamp. Brooks taught at a number of colleges, including Columbia College of Chicago, Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago State University, Elmhurst College, Columbia University, and City College of New York. Her numerous books include The Near-Johannesburg Boy (1987), Family Pictures (1970), In the Mecca (1968), and A Street in Bronzeville (1945).