Jazz June

220px-Blues_for_SmokeClifford Thompson at Threepenny Review:

Among her many other poems, the African-American writer Gwen-dolyn Brooks wrote the following, perhaps her most famous work:


We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

The poem adopts the viewpoint of marginalized black boys who shoot pool together. Brooks explained about the passage “We / Jazz June” that these boys, effectively locked out of mainstream society, gleefully attack its cherished symbols: to June, that month of wedding announcements in newspapers’ society pages, the boys bring jazz, originally the music of the low-down. (“Jazz” was once a verb, synonymous with “fuck.”)

I may have read that explanation in a textbook, but it’s possible—and this is the version of events I prefer—that I heard it from Brooks’s own lips, on the one, cringe-worthy occasion when I met her. This was in New York in 1991. I was a freelance (read: an unemployed) writer of twenty-eight, scrounging for a living, and I had signed on to write a young-adult biography of Brooks.

more here.