Happy 100th birthday, Gwendolyn Brooks!
The first famous writer that I heard give a reading was Gwendolyn Brooks at Iowa Wesleyan College in about 1980. Two things astonished me. The first was that this writer who'd written so many books looked so incredibly common. The second was the effect of hearing poems that I'd read on the page in her voice: the words were so lively and somehow, I'd missed the humor in many of them. Yesterday would have been her 100th birthday. Here's "Kitchenette Building," an amazing poem that I'm sure Brooks read in the Iowa Wesleyan Chapel in 1980:
We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan,
Grayed in, and gray. “Dream” makes a giddy sound, not strong
Like “rent,” “feeding a wife,” “satisfying a man.”
But could a dream send up through onion fumes
Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes
And yesterday’s garbage ripening in the hall,
Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms
Even if we were willing to let it in,
Had time to warm it, keep it very clean,
Anticipate a message, let it begin?
We wonder. But not well! not for a minute!
Since Number Five is out of the bathroom now,
We think of lukewarm water, hope to get in it.