Madhubuti injects irony in the title of his poem ‘But He Was Cool,or: he even stopped for green lights’. This piece details how a black man tries to look cool and how it differs from the actual notion. It explores the themes of race, identity, and modernity. Born Don Luther Lee, Haki R. Madhubuti is an African American poet. Lee changed his name using the terms from the Swahili language. Haki means “just” or “justice,” and Madhubuti means “precise, accurate, and dependable”.
Explore But He Was Cool,or: he even stopped for green lights
‘But He Was Cool, or: he even stopped for green lights’ by Haki R. Madhubuti is about a black man who tries to look cool in American society, forgetting his actual roots.
The language of this piece confuses readers. To get to the core, one has to read this piece as a series of references to a character who tries to fit in. The sketch of the character appears to be humorous as well as satiric. Madhubuti describes how the person wears imported items and acts “cool”. He is so relaxed that the poet finds it exceedingly ludicrous. At the end of this piece, he starkly contrasts his changed character with his real identity.
You can read the full poem here.
&say good-by in yoruba.
woooooooooooo-jim he bes so cool &ill tel li gent
The title of Madhuhuti’s poem ‘But He Was Cool,or: he even stopped for green lights,’ does not sound that cool as it seems to be. It hints ironically at the apparent coolness of a person who tries even to stop his car at green lights. Besides, the conjunction “But” at the beginning of the title raises a question in readers’ minds regarding the “cool” person.
In the first few lines, Madhubuti describes how the person looks. The term “ultrablack” not only refers to his racial identity but also to his lifestyle. His skin has a “beautiful shade”. The question is whether the person is satisfied with it or not.
Furthermore, he has a handsome look that is far from natural. The poet describes it as “double-natural”. Besides, he wears an imported necklace made of seashells. This gives a classic, oriental shade to the character. According to the poet, those shells are imported from an unknown black country. Probably, he has shipped them especially for him.
The talisman is handmade. It was shipped from his motherland. Besides, he greets others un Swahili and Yoruba. It means the person has deep birth roots with the African continent. Uttering a foreign tongue in a distant land grabs others’ attention to him.
In the last line of this section, Madhubuti uses some peculiar terms such as “bes so cool” and “ill tel li gent” in order to hint at his intelligence and looks.
cool-cool is so cool he was un-cooled by other niggers’ cool
cool-cool ultracool was bop-cool/ice box cool so cool cold cool
The following section of ‘But He Was Cool, or: he even stopped for green lights’ contains an excessive repetition of the term “cool”. Madhubuti cannot help using the word every now and then. Firstly, he comments on how other African Americans’ coolness irritates that person. The person is so cool that he does not need a cooler to keep his wine chilled. He is like a walking refrigerator. In these lines, the poet satirizes the person’s absurd attempt to be modern.
In the next lines, the poet describes his ignorance of reality. The black person does not know how others of his community are treated beyond Detroit, New York, and Chicago. They are not treated as cool as he thinks himself to be.
In reality, to be black is to be “very-hot”. This line is a bit confusing. It is hard to understand whether the comment is positive or negative. It can be a reference to how physically attractive they look. Besides, it can also be a reference to how their presence made others angry.
‘But He Was Cool, or: he even stopped for green lights’ is an experimental, free-form poem. It is written in a unique style, not conforming to any conventional structure at all. The language of this piece does not even fit in the accepted form. By using this unique technique, Madhubuti showcases the art in its fragmented form that aptly depicts the subject matter. It is about a fractured self, torn between the urge of being cool and holding onto his own roots. Besides, the text does not have a regular rhyme or meter.
Readers can find the use of the following literary devices in ‘But He Was Cool,or: he even stopped for green lights’.
- Enjambment: It occurs throughout the poem. Madhubuti uses this device to connect the lines internally. For instance, it is used in the very first stanza.
- Repetition: The term “cool” is used a number of times. This repetition creates an internal rhyming within the lines.
- Irony: It occurs in “cool-cool so cool him nick-name refrigerator.”
- Anaphora: It occurs in lines 16-17 and lines 19-20. These lines begin with the term “cool”.
Haki R. Madhubuti’s poem ‘But He Was Cool,or: he even stopped for green lights’ is about an African American person who tries to be cool in order to be accepted in the mainstream. Through this piece, Madhubuti describes how the person is stranded from his roots.
It is a free-verse poem written in a combination of a number of stanzas with varying numbers of lines. This piece does not have a set rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. The overall poem contains several experimental terms.
The main irony of the poem is that no matter how a person tries to act or look cool, he is treated as per by their roots. This poem shows one person’s desperate attempts to be accepted in the mainstream.
Madhubuti’s ‘But He Was Cool, or: he even stopped for green lights’ taps on a number of themes that include racism, identity, modernity, and cultural roots. The main idea of the poem revolves around an exotic figure constantly behaving in a cool manner.
The following list contains a number of poems that are similar to the themes present in Madhubuti’s poem ‘But He Was Cool, or: he even stopped for green lights’.
- ‘the ISM’ by Wanda Coleman — This poem is about racism, colorism, and consumerism.
- Natasha Trethewey poems:
- ‘White Lies’ — This poem explores racial identity in the American south through the lies a girl tells about being white.
- ‘Enlightenment’ — This poem engages with the themes of race and racism and a conversation around identity.