An Afflicted Black Mother and the Paradox of the Sonnet in Gwendolyn Brooks' "the children of the poor"
AffiliationUniversity of Arizona
KeywordsAfrican American aesthetics
postwar American poetry
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CitationPark, S. (2022). An Afflicted Black Mother and the Paradox of the Sonnet in Gwendolyn Brooks’ “the children of the poor.” Journal of English Language and Literature, 68(2), 283–304.
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AbstractThis article examines Gwendolyn Brooks' early poem, "the children of the poor," a sonnet sequence collected in Brooks' Pulitzer Prize-winning volume, Annie Allen (1949), and discusses how Brooks taps into the sonnet tradition to externalize the hitherto obscured interiority of a deprived Black mother. Since the ages of Petrarch and Shakespeare, the sonnet has continually evolved over centuries and established itself as a quintessential lyric form. However, in the process, it has also been freighted with heavy cultural baggage and ideological associations. For the Harlem Renaissance poets, writing sonnets to claim their equal footing with great Anglo-European sonneteers ironically entailed a complex negotiation with their cultural and racial identity, and African American women poets were further burdened with masculine norms inherent in the sonnet tradition. In this regard, this paper will investigate how Brooks, both sympathetic and critical toward the Harlem Renaissance predecessors, employs the sonnet's rhetorical force, lyric expressiveness, and dramatic richness to articulate the silenced voice of an African American woman represented by the protagonist, Annie, and simultaneously subverts its formal and thematic expectations. In Brooks' reconfigured sonnets, a naïve ingénue infatuated with her own romantic imaginings transforms into a distressed yet determinedly assertive Black mother who addresses issues such as social prejudice and economic injustice with an impressive lyric authority and authenticity. This study will thus argue that Brooks' purportedly integrationist poetic practice erodes the time-honored tradition of the English sonnet from within and demonstrates the sonnet's potential as an alternative space for revolution and innovation. © 2022 English Language and Literature Association of Korea. All rights reserved.
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Except where otherwise noted, this item's license is described as Copyright © 2022 ELLAK. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/).