Gwendolyn Brooks and Her “Anniad”

I bought three new books, selected to honor Black History and enrich my perspective. I just read through The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks edited by Elizabeth Alexander, American Poets Project, The Library of America, 2005. As with all poetry books I read, I ran straight through it and will return later to focus on the contents and Ms. Brooks’ words more closely. Her work is raw and revealing, especially to a white woman. Yes, I have experienced prejudice based on my gender (ignoring and/or countering my expertise in being technically correct), and who I love (cannot simply hold the hand of my wife in many places). Yet, it does not compare to the racial bias and violence deployed against our Black friends and neighbors that enrich every aspect of our collective human experience called life – if we enable them as equal members of our society – which is who they are by our given rights.

One epic poem that stood out based on my concentration and interest in Ancient & Classical History was “The Anniad.” The similarity of the title and thematic narratives should not be lost on those familiar with The Aeneid by Roman poet Virgil (T. Vergilius Maro, 70-19 BCE). To read Virgil’s Aeneid online, a scholarly-sanctioned Loeb translation, go here: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0054%3Abook%3D1%3Acard%3D1. Gwendolyn Brooks gives the reader a view of feminine sexual idealism and the struggles in a world focused on patriarchy, to include love, imagined and real, warfare, and other tangential scenarios. Dr. Ann Folwell Stanford, professor of multidisciplinary and literary studies, provided a detailed analysis of “The Anniad,” in her article “An Epic with a Difference: Sexual Politics in Gwendolyn Brooks’s “The Anniad.” Dr. Folwell discussed not only “The Anniad,” but also the underlying currents running throughout its cover volume Annie Allen (1949).

Gwendolyn Brooks’s second volume of poetry, Annie Allen (1949), furthers a resistance to white racist hegemony begun in A Street in Bronzeville (1945) but extends its analysis to the confining ideology that (mis)shapes gender and distorts sexual relationships. Many of Annie Allen’s poems interrogate femininity and romantic love, looking at how such constructs restrict women to an oppressive and ultimately unworkable notion of love. Annie continually experiences conflicts be- tween opposites within herself: realism/idealism, assertion/submission, and expression/repression. These dialectical terms dictate struggle, and that struggle inheres in many of the volume’s best poems. Feminized both by title and subject matter, Annie Allen foregrounds a resistance to male co-optation and female passivity and offers a critique of sexual politics focusing on the imbalance of power that frequently characterizes relations between the sexes.

Ann Folwell Stanford. “An Epic with a Difference: Sexual Politics in Gwendolyn Brooks’s “The Anniad,” American Literature 67, no. 2 (June 1995): 283, accessed 18 February 2021, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2927790.

I share below the opening lines of Brooks’ “The Anniad” to wet your appetite to engage her work. I will be reading more of her work, which is beautiful in its complexity and simplicity, and raw portrayal of life impacted by gender inequality and racism.

Think of sweet and chocolate,
Left to folly or to fate,
Whom the higher gods forgot,
Whom the lower gods berate;
Physical and underfed
Fancying on the featherbed
What was never and is not.

Gwendolyn Brooks, The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks, ed. Elizabeth Alexander (New York: The Library of America, 2005), 36.

With this brief introduction, I now challenge you, dear reader, to explore the world of not only Gwendolyn Brooks, but of other black and female authors who bravely broke the codes through their artistic expressions. We are bound to honor and thank them.

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