Monday, September 27, 2010

The Tiger Who Wore White Gloves – Gwendolyn Brooks

I know this is intended to be a review of upcoming or just-published poetry, and it will continue to be.  I have to take a slight diversion to address a poem of Gwendolyn Brooks' that I came across and couldn't leave alone, even though it's from 1974.

The poem is "The Tiger Who Wore White Gloves, or, What You Are You Are", and it begins,
There once was a tiger, terrible and tough
Who said, "I don't think tigers are stylish enough."
So he gets himself some white gloves, and every animal in the jungle laughs at him.  The poem ends,

     They shamed him and shamed him
     Till none could have blamed him
     When at last, with a sigh,
     And a saddened eye,
     And in spite of his love,
     He took off each glove,
     And agreed this was meant
     All to prevail:
     Each tiger content with his lashing tail
     And satisfied
     With his strong striped hide.
Brooks' moral is that you should be satisfied with who you are, but there's a big problem here: the tiger was  content with his gloves, and the jungle forced him to be something he wasn't.  He wasn't satisfied in the end, just humiliated into submission.  Since when should the jungle get to decide what it means to "be ourselves"?  I wrote a response in verse:
There once was a tiger, terrible and tough
But he got put back in his place, sure enough
Gwendolyn told
How the jungle should scold
Any tiger who wants to be dainty, not rough
What gall to think that a tiger might choose
What clothing to wear or what manners to use
You might call it... uppity.  Yes, that's the word
For a tiger who comtemplates something absurd
The jungle knows best, and will tell you, post haste
If some part of you is not quite to their taste
Hawks should be hawks and doves should be doves
Tigers wear stripes but never white gloves
White should act white and black should act black
And no one should grumble about something they lack
Is that what you're saying, Ms. Gwendolyn Brooks?
Despite our love, give in to the jungle's harsh looks?
Don't marry whom you please
Don't strike for fair wages
Don't rise from your knees
Get used to your cages
Don't love what you love

And don't wear white gloves
 Back to contemporary poetry soon.  Next up, Ideal Cities by Erika Meitner.

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