WANDA COLEMAN, 1946-2013

By Juan Felipe HerreraNovember 23, 2013

    WANDA COLEMAN, 1946-2013

    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.


    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

    In gratitude

    We stand & rise

    (November 23, 2013)

    LARB Contributor

    Born in Fowler, California — learned corridos and rhymes from his mother, Lucha, on the farm working roads and small towns. His father, Felipe, played harmonica telling tales of work in early 1900’s Wyoming. He graduated from UCLA, Stanford and the University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop. His awards include the Guggenheim Poetry Fellowship, the National Book Critic’s Circle Award, LA Times  Robert Kirsch Lifetime Achievement Award and recently, the International Latino Book Award. He is Emeritus Professor from Fresno State’s Chicano and Latin American Studies program and UC-Riverside’s Department of Creative Writing. In the last decade he has served as a Chancellor of the Board of the Academy of American Poets, California’s Poet Laureate, and the Poet Laureate of the United States. Recent book is Every Day We Get More Illegal.


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