Before poetry was my niche, my cognizance of black poets was limited to three fingers on one hand: Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, and the literary architect Gwendolyn Brooks. It took me until my freshman year of high school to understand that poetry is a black body. The mother to which we attribute its birth is a lip smacking, CTA Red Line kind of sorcerer. She has become a famous, rattling ghost, known for her ability to create generational art just by being the one to do it first. Gwendolyn Brooks had a way of description that went beyond a red rose or a balding sonnet. Her “under the nose” writing was a literary conquest; her metaphors were a refreshing kind of mastery.
The Golden Shovel Anthology (The University of Arkansas Press) was released as a testament to Brooks's impact, as well as to commemorate her poetic triumph. Each poem in the anthology honors Brooks in a poetic form, derived from National Book Award winner Terrance Hayes, where each line ends with a word of Brooks'.
The poetic form is a phantom in how it allows Brooks to lurk at the end of each line, her words untouched and unafraid in how they read down the page. The form pays homage to her intentional writing, while giving writers the agency to create their own narrative, using her words as a guide.
The anthology is historic, featuring an array of poets, diverse in age and experience, proving how Brooks is a timeless creator. She has mastered the ability to live vicariously through whoever is willing to learn, to hold a pen in the name of her ghost. The anthology is an important read in order to understand a written lineage. There is a reason my knowledge of black poets was so sparse as a child. Poetry has always been demonstrated as a white art, a medium for agricultural talk or flower enthusiasts. It didn’t occur to me that poetry had anything to do with my body.
Gwendolyn Brooks did not just make words look good. She made words about her body. The anthology features many black women who look like me (from Kamilah Aisha Moon and Patricia Smith, to Malika Booker and Rita Dove), who have been a token skeleton, or a mean-mugging type of survival. Brooks made blackness an artistic stance. She taught the world how black women are the matriarchs of all good. As I grow into my own self, I notice how I am Gwendolyn Brooks in how I stand up every morning. I am Gwendolyn Brooks when I twist my mouth in intelligent disgust. My Miss Brooks lives in every piece of enjambment; her legacy calculated and precise in my end lines. The anthology shows how artists have their own Gwendolyn Brooks, tucked into their deepest self. Our black duty to Gwendolyn Brooks is beyond her birthday. Gwendolyn Brooks has become our way to survive.