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Gwendolyn Brooks

gwendolyn-brooks_1917-to-2000Gwendolyn Brooks was a highly regarded, much-honored poet, with the distinction of being the first black author to win the Pulitzer Prize. She also was poetry consultant to the Library of Congress—the first black woman to hold that position—and poet laureate of the State of Illinois. Many of Brooks’s works display a political consciousness, especially those from the 1960s and later, with several of her poems reflecting the civil rights activism of that period. Her body of work gave her, according to Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor George E. Kent, “a unique position in American letters. Not only has she combined a strong commitment to racial identity and equality with a mastery of poetic techniques, but she has also managed to bridge the gap between the academic poets of her generation in the 1940s and the young black militant writers of the 1960s.” (The Poetry Foundation)

This poem of Brooks’ caught my attention because we used to have a couple living behind us, the next house in the cul-de-sac, who fought — a LOT! Mary and Jesse’s living room window was very near our bedroom window. There were nights we could hear them fighting — more like him screaming and bouncing her off the wall in the living room — and we wondered why she stayed with him. This poem is the perfect picture of the relationship we saw in our neighbors. (We finally called the cops one night, and shortly after that Jesse left and Mary moved in with her mother. Never did find out what became of them…

The Battle

Moe Belle Jackson’s husband
Whipped her good last night.
Her landlady told my ma they had
A knock-down-drag-out fight.

I like to think
Of how I’d of took a knife
And slashed all of the quickenin’
Out of his lowly life.

But if I know Moe Belle,
Most like, she shed a tear,
And this mornin’ it was probably,
“More grits, dear?”


Picture Source: Zócalo Poets