WANDA COLEMAN, 1946-2013
By Juan Felipe HerreraNovember 23, 2013
THE POET LAUREATE OF SOUTH CENTRAL, the most extraordinary woman on the Los Angeles poetry scene, is dead, just a week after her 67th birthday.
JUAN FELIPE HERRERA
Notes on the road, with Wanda:
Back in ’92 while giggin’ with Baraka, on the smoky, tiny stage of Beyond Baroque, in Venice, where I used to live in ’69 — I stood up and read. Wanda was in the first row, first chair, you could say “a few inches from you.” People were hot, the city was hot — right after the Rodney King thing — and the house was hot. Baraka passed around his stack of manifesto flyers, if I can call them that. People wanted answers. Fast. Wanda was imbued with all-knowing, how can I say it? She didn’t have to say it. She was there. She knew what it was to “be there,” to be really here. Her poems were that “here.” Not that long ago we both read at the Hammer in Westwood, along with Hass, Hirshfield, Muske-Dukes and Palmer. She sat there in the green room. Calm, in equilibrium. No small talk. Unless you had something you really wanted to offer, a conversation, for example. See that? Then she read. Singing every line. Afterword, we spoke a little. But it was enough. You would think she would take over the room. Then maybe last year, she sent me a card saying gracias for what I do as a Poet Laureate. Now I am thinking it over. She was our Poet Laureate. She had been our laureate all along. Wanda did not have to say it. You know what I mean. She sits here, now, in song, in word. Bigger than that. And sees us.
Gracias, Wanda. Gracias.
Los Angeles Barrio Sonnet For Wanda Coleman
(Word-Caster of Live Coals of Love)
Wanda Coleman word-caster of live coals of Watts & LA you hear LA yes
All the barrios & raise up the voice of the young & the bards inside all hearts
Blastin’ & keepin’ life alive in alleys become precious & courts where the jesters
Drill the King’s coral brooch it was Wanda who set the mote on fire you yes
Pillaged bright & dug the core the word the sonnet in Coltrane fix what was
This American thing of Race against Race you said what was this under-realm
Where we tango infinite in desire & headless hate & unborn & the fire wheels
Inside the blood the bliss where? You in the multi-night
In song silvered
In street rally quiver
a blues beyond so you prism now
under desert moon alone below & above
dressed in saguaro & cholla & spike
We congregate &
We dance uncanny no mumble we bow
Place our hands open face you now
Wanda Coleman word-caster of live coals of love
We stand & rise
(November 23, 2013)
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