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Gwendolyn Brooks' "the vacant lot"

Updated on February 5, 2016
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Poetry became my passion, after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962.

Gwendolyn Brooks


Gwendolyn Brooks' versanelle offers a minimalist character sketch of three people whom the speaker disdains, and the vacant lot symbolizes her glee at being "all done" with them.

The speaker in Gwendolyn Brooks' twelve-line versanelle, "the vacant lot," reveals her powers of observation as she reports on the character and activity of her former neighbors.

First Movement: "Mrs. Coley's three-flat brick"

The significance to the title of this versanelle, "the vacant lot," becomes apparent in the first two lines, as the speaker reveals that the apartment building with three apartments, which belonged to "Mrs. Coley" "Isn't here any more."

The speaker does not say how or why the building has vanished, because her intention is to dramatize her new-found comfort that she no longer has to witness the disgusting activities that had been carried on in that building.

Second Movement: "All done with seeing her fat little form"

The speaker then reports the first visual that now does not confront her eyes any longer as she looks out her window at the vacant lot. Her sight is no longer accosted by Mrs. Coley's "fat little form" as it "bursts out of the basement door." That occurrence is "all done."

And the speaker seems quite glad. She expresses the fact as if it was something unpleasant that had to be accomplished; she continued to do it until it was finally finished or "all done." She is "all done" with having to see that unpleasant little woman "burst out" from her "basement."

Third Movement: "And with seeing her African son-in-law"

In addition to not having to view the obnoxious sight of Mrs. Coley herself, the neighbor/speaker also is "all done" with having to view her "African son-in-law." The speaker discloses that she has been treated to the fact that this son-in-law was African royalty; Mrs. Coley has undoubtedly bragged about her special son-in-law as being "rightful heir to the throne" in some little African village that was probably the victim of a coup, causing the rightful king and his heirs to flee.

The neighbor/speaker spends four lines describing the "African son-in-law"; he has "great white strong cold squares of teeth / And [ ] little eyes of stone." The speaker's description of this man divulges her pleasure at not having to see him again.

Fourth Movement: "And with seeing the squat fat daughter"

A third pleasure for the neighbor is not having to see "the squat fat daughter," who would, of course, be queen to the rightful heir to that faraway African throne that no longer exists. But especially pleasant is not having to see the daughter's adultery, or even more likely prostitution. The speaker is "all done" with watching all those men arrive and the squat fat daughter "letting in the men."

Fifth Movement: "When majesty has gone for the day"

After the rightful African queen's rightful king leaves for the day, the squat fat daughter can be seen "letting in the men" and then "letting them out again." The speaker has demonstrated her relief at not having to watch this clownish, self-deceiving trio as she goes about her day.

She finds herself completely comfortable and comforted with the visual of the vanished "three-flat brick." It is "all done"—gone from the neighborhood and at least one neighbor finds its empty replacement very satisfying.

Reading of Brooks' "the vacant lot"

The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks

The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks (American Poets Project)
The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks (American Poets Project)

This collection includes "the vacant lot"


© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes


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