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We Real Cool: The Pool Players, Seven at the Golden Shovel

Updated on October 13, 2015

Don't be Fooled into a Nihilistic Existence


Gwendolyn Brooks, 1917 - 2000

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

From The Bean Eaters by Gwendolyn Brooks, published by Harpers. © 1960 by Gwendolyn Brooks. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

We Real Cool: The Pool Players. Seven at the Golden Shovel is a message to those who would allow an oppressive establishment to drive them to the streets. This group of teens are not drawn to school, and they probably have good reason not to be; however, they have lost the ability to look past the oppression and take advantage of the benefits that stream through the oppressive establishment. Black males were and are often made to feel like outsiders within racist and oppressive institutions; however, they must always be cognizant and engaged in weighing their alternatives. These young men do not measure their alternatives. They just select the alternative which makes them feel good for the moment. They ditch school in order to find refuge from the establishment in the pool hall. They embellish a care-free life. They seek pleasure in drinking and singing in order to escape reality. The word “We” is repeated to assert that these young men are rebelling in solidarity indicating a uniform unsatisfying experience in the school system. The poem reads and sounds like a catchy music tune until the very end with the words "We die soon" (Brooks). These words are important because they illustrate that in the midst of all this singing and partying purpose is lost, and where purpose and drive are lost, nihilism sets in to deeply invests in the psyche. This investment in nihilism leads to the early deaths of many Black males. The Pool Players. Seven at the Golden Shovel. is an illustration of what could happen to those who elect to live their lives in this manner. Ironically, the Golden Shovel is the name of the pool hall, and this pool hall is a representation of the happiness and jubilance (Golden) that will eventually lead to early deaths (Shovel).

This poem reminds me of this young man who would always ask me for money in front of the AM PM on International in Oakland. I would always tell him the same thing, “I can’t help you until you are ready to help yourself”. Then one day he asked me, “Why are you so mad at me”. I explained to him that I was not mad at him; I was disappointed in him. He asked me why. I told him because he let the system fail him, and that I was even more disappointed that he was not any older than 25. He asked me what I meant by that. I told him that he still had the stamina to fight for what is his in a world that would easily deny him. What did I mean by that? I did not mean that the world owed him anything; I just meant that there was education and prosperity for him in the world if he was willing to put in the work to get it. Sometimes putting in the work may mean that he would have to work harder and longer to be recognized than the person next to him who may have been born with money: yes, that would take more effort. However, he was young enough to put in the work. He was way too young to assert that he was just too tired.

I am focusing on Black young males; however, the premise of this poem really relates to all young people. If their lives are without direction, they have nowhere to go but to an early grave. If they do not find something to care about and strive for on the face of the earth, then they do not even see a future for themselves or for those who are coming up after them; therefore, they are without reason to live in a world full of reasons to live (they are lost). If they are lost, they have no sense of who they are and are not aware of their importance in this life. Death has no choice but to come for them.

Gwendolyn Brooks: The Poet


We Real Cool

The Pulitzer Prize

How old was Gwendolyn Brooks when she won the Pulitzer Prize?

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