Don't force your poem to be nice or proper or normal or happy. Remember that poetry is life distilled. Life is not always nice or proper or happy or smooth or even-edged. Tell your truth.
- Gwendolyn Brooks from talk at the Guggenheim Museum, May 3. 1983
Live not for battles won. Live not for the-end-of-the-song. Live in the along.
- Gwendolyn Brooksfrom "Speech To The Young Speech To The Progress-Toward"
Gwendolyn Brooks reads her poems aloud
The Along is where we live and who we are. So we are reminded by Gwendolyn Brooks. Process philosophers speak of the Along as process: the creative advance into novelty, whether tragic or beautiful or both. They encourage us to make peace with change, with process, with the Along - not pretending that any given moment is final or definitive. And, along with Gwendolyn Brooks, they encourage us to remember that the possible is more than the actual. In any given moment there are steps we can take, things we can do, possibilities for novelty, that are more than the circumstances at hand. Living in the Along is being honest about the present and open to the future, without sacrificing either.
The key is to get perspective .Whatever battles are won will be succeeded by new circumstances that require new struggles. Whatever songs we sing, however sweet their ends, will be succeeded by other songs whose endings may be different. The idea of finality is an illusion, even as the possibility of hope is real.
How to live?
One way is to hide in sweetness, trying to prettify everything, living in the front yard and ignoring the backyard. We can live by sugaring everything up. Whitehead calls this anesthesia. It seeks inner peace by blocking out anything negative.
Entire communities can live in hiding, protected from feeling the pain of others, and calling it the good life. White and middle class communities are especially prone to this: the cult of sweetness.
A better way is to be honest to our own experience, to the experience of others, and to the world around us. Honest to the concreteness of things: "kitchenettes, buildings, pool halls, alleys, and backyards."
Brooks poetry is an invitation to live in the Along without sugaring things up, sensitive to the concreteness, the truth of other people's lives as well as our own, and, as we are able, accepting our responsibility for building a better world where no one has to die soon, just to live.
Gwendolyn Brooks died on December 3, 2000. She is now a living ancestor. She offers many, many lessons. Three of them are: Don't try to sugar it up, Tell your Truth, Live in the Along.
"The world that Brooks so memorably portrays exists mainly in kitchenette buildings, pool halls, alleys, and backyards. If poverty and injustice are facts there, so are joy and pride and style...In the varied rhythms of ballad, jazz, blank verse, and street talk, Brooks notes and celebrates what is essential in life, in the lives of all of us."