Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
Every sentence in Brooks’s poem begins with the first-person plural pronoun, “we.” In a poem made up of twenty-four words, “we” is the only word that repeats, and it repeats eight times, meaning that a full third of the poem consists of this single word. The repetition of “we” has a subtle effect in the poem. Even though it’s the pool players who are uttering this “we,” hearing the word again and again subtly evokes the larger community to which these teenagers belong. The evocation of a larger community reminds the reader that the speakers’ actions don’t just affect them. If they behave in irresponsible ways that bring harm to themselves or others, then the whole community suffers. Brooks emphasizes the danger to the larger community by making it so that the first line of every new sentence appears as the last word in each line. This means that the word “we” appears down the entire right side of the poem. Aside from visually highlighting the word’s repetition, this arrangement also creates a visual effect where each “we” appears to hang precariously on the edge, dangerously close to falling over.
Although the word “jazz” only appears once in the poem, the speakers make several references to a deviant lifestyle that many Americans in the early to mid-twentieth century associated with jazz music. In American English, “jazz” has a number of meanings, especially when used as a verb, like the speakers do in lines 6–7: “We / Jazz June.” Most obviously, “to jazz” can mean to play or dance to jazz music. In a more figurative sense, to “jazz something up” means to enliven or make something more exciting, either through decoration or intoxication. Additional meanings of the verb come from slang uses that refer variously to wasting time, having sex, playing tricks, and making a mess of something. Clearly, jazzing can refer to several activities that range from innocent to socially deviant. And indeed, many of the activities the speakers participate in fall under the rubric of “jazzing.” They loiter, waste time, possibly engage in sexual activity, and generally make a mess of their lives.