DEPARTURES | Mike Sonksen: In Honor of Wanda Coleman November 27, 2013
LIVING IN THE DEEP WEST | Al Young: A poem in memory of Wanda Coleman
The shorter version of Wanda Coleman’s May 2013 interview
Mariano Zaro’s interview notes
Wanda Coleman (1946-2013) had a literary career that spanned over 30 years and included numerous volumes of poetry and fiction, most recently Jazz & Twelve O’Clock Tales (Godine/Black Sparrow Books, 2008) and The World Falls Apart (Pitt Poetry Series, 2011). Her honors included an Emmy in Daytime Drama Writing and a Leonard Marshall Prize. In this May 11, 2013 video she discusses her life and work with Mariano Zaro, part of the www.Poetry.LA interview series featuring noted poets of Southern California and beyond.
“We got so naturally ripped, we sprouted wings,
crashed parties on the moon, and howled at the earth
we lived off love. It was all we had to eat
when you split you took all the wisdom
and left me the worry”
— Wanda Coleman
(“In That Other Fantasy Where We Live Forever,”)
Copyright ¬© 2001 by Wanda Coleman. Reprinted from Mercurochrome: New Poems (Black Sparrow Press). All rights reserved
Saturday, November 23, 2013
High Priestess gone at 67
¬© giovanni singleton
I was introduced to the work and the person known as Wanda Coleman by the poet/literary activist E. Ethelbert Miller as I made my way as a young poet and human being. Her work opened my ears and heart. Her American Sonnets for sure turned the tables. She was part of an important mandala of influence for me, the last one remaining after Barbara Christian, Alice Coltrane, Lucille Clifton, and Jayne Cortez.
Our first meeting would be at a conference in the late 1990s entitled ‚ÄúExpanding the Repertoire: Innovation and Change in African-American Writing‚ÄĚ organized by Renee Gladman and myself at the New College of California in San Francisco. The proceedings were published in special issue of Tripwire and include talks and writing by Will Alexander, C. S. Giscombe, Erica Hunt, Nathaniel Mackey, Mark McMorris, Harryette Mullen, Julie Patton, Lorenzo Thomas. To my great surprise Ms. Coleman dedicated her presentation to me. Read her article at http://davidbuuck.com/downloads/tripwire_5_coleman.pdf
She later said how wonderful it was to have been invited to such a historical and important gathering.
After that, we gathered occasionally by phone, snail mail, email and occasionally in person. As founding editor of nocturnes (re)view ¬†I was honored to publish a selection of her work in the 2002 ‚ÄúSpirit‚ÄĚ issue. This past April (2013), I was invited to join Ms. Coleman for dinner at a private residence in San Francisco. The neighborhood is notorious for difficult parking but I set out early, determined not to miss one minute of her company. I had heard that she had been unwell. Though more slight of build, her voice, her presence was unmistakable. The occasion was a simple but important one: to introduce local, young African American women poets to the High Priestess. Ms. Coleman was gracious in sharing her wisdom and intelligence. She and I exchanged knowing glances and silent conversation. We shared a long, heartful hug, the sound and warmth of which lingered for a long time afterwards. And too we cleaned our plates full of good home cooking. Cameras flashed long into the night.
Over the years, Ms. Coleman and I laughed loudly and fearlessly. We did not hold our tongues. We too communed in conversations punctuated by silence.
We could see stained glass and tell time by colors.
As I head to L.A. to teach for the Spring, I bow my head to the High Priestess and hear her say, ‚ÄúNow, listen.‚ÄĚ
giovanni singleton received a MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics from The New College of California. Her debut collection, Ascension, is informed by the music and life of Alice Coltrane. It has recently received the California Book Award Gold Medal for Poetry. singleton was selected in 2011 for the Poetry Society of America‚Äôs biennial New American Poetry Series, which recognizes recent first book poets. In 1999, she founded¬†nocturnes (re)view of the literary arts, a critically acclaimed journal dedicated to the work of artists and writers of the African Diaspora and other contested spaces.
Click image to enlarge
Poet Wanda Coleman
Wanda Coleman grew up in Los Angeles in Watts in the 1960s. She witnessed the 1965 Watts Riots, and the 1992 Rodney King riot. We invited her into the KCRW studios to share some of her poetry, which we are also playing on air this week as we look back on the civil unrest. ‚ÄúThe Riot Inside Me‚ÄĚ was published in 2003 and Coleman says she wrote it in response to the Watts Riot and the Rodney King Riot.
2 FOR WANDA
(mostly her words)
“THE NAME IS POPULARLY INTERPRETED TO MEAN ‚ÄėWANDERER‚Äô”
I‚Äôve been thrown out of Hollywood night spots for being too rowdy
have picked cotton from the roadside in Fresno
was once pulled over by the CHP for spilling apple juice on the roads of King City
Allen Ginsberg hugged me in Oakland
I‚Äôve seen L.A. riot twice
I‚Äôve been blissed out at Mt. Shasta, stoned at Wolfgang‚Äôs, and nauseated in Palm Springs
My heart lives in Lancaster and my grief dwells in the Russian River
I am a Black Californian, but I am forever married to a New York Jew.
I was born here. I intend to die here.
‚Äúin cold grey morning
comes the forlorn honk of workbound traffic
i wake to the video news report
the world is going off
rising, I struggle free of the quilt
& wet dreams of my lover dispel
leave me moist and wanting
¬†in the bathroom
i rinse away illusions, brush my teeth and
unbraid my hair
there‚Äôre the children to wake
breakfast to conjure
the day laid out before me
the cold corpse of an endless grind
¬†so this is it, i say to the enigma in the mirror
this is your lot/assignment/relegation
this is your city
¬†i find my way to the picture window
my eyes capture the purple reach of hollywood‚Äôs hills
the gold eye of sun mounting the east
the gray anguished arms of avenue
¬†i will never leave here‚ÄĚ
of the violence and dignity
of your presence
of the beauty
of your language?
¬© 2013 Jack Foley