This essay reads the work of poet, Gwendolyn Brooks, in terms of its critical engagement with the architectural modernity of her home city, Chicago. Taking her poetry from A Street in Bronzeville
(1945) through to the 1968 collection, In the Mecca
, as a primary focus, the essay traces the significance of Chicago style architecture on Brooks’ aesthetic. It was in Chicago that some of the first tall office buildings were designed; it was here that structural steel and glass were first used to distinctive architectural effect, and it was here, in 1893, that the World’s Columbian Exposition was held—an event that, for better or worse, was to shape American architecture well into the twentieth century. Brooks’ poetry is alert to this history, attuned to contemporary debates about urban design and sensitive to architectural experience and affect. This context informs and shapes her work in often unexpected ways. Her approach is often oblique (registered in metaphor, style, and voice) but nevertheless incisive in its rendering of the relationship between architecture, modernity and power.
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