Sunday, 24 January 2016

Wanda Coleman

Known as Los Angeles’ “unofficial poet laureate”, Wanda Coleman grew up in the Watts neighbourhood of the city in relative poverty. Her father ran a sign shop during the day, working at night as a janitor at RCA Victor Records while her mother worked as a seamstress.

Her poetry often deals with the “burdens of poverty and race” as she herself – as a black woman in the South West - often found herself as “a minority within a minority within a minority – racially, sexually, regionally” (Hoover).

In his 1999 review, Alistair Paterson, Editor of Poetry New Zealand said of Coleman’s work:

“Coleman’s poetry, politically aware, darkly humorous, sensual and iconoclastic, presents a remarkable talent developed throughout a difficult life. [...] It’s the kind of poetry other writers can use as a yardstick for measuring their work—it sets a standard and demonstrates what a beautiful, adaptable, usable language colloquial English is.”

Coleman published more than a dozen collections of poetry. She received the Lenore Marshall Poetry Price for her collection Bathwater Wine (Black Sparrow Press, 1998) In addition to her poetry Coleman also worked as a magazine editor, journalist, as well as an Emmy-winning scriptwriter. She lived in Los Angeles until her death in 2013.

Links: (obituary in The National)

My poem below was inspired by the style of Coleman’s “the ISM” and her general willingness to address social topics such as poverty and racism.

~ - ~


I moved into the cupboard under the stairs for pure romance
I kept neatly to my side of the bed
I crawled up the walls with the mice when it was bed time
smoothed my back flirtatiously against the mouldy foam

I boiled my sweet scented bath water in the kitchen kettle
I let the fan heater melt my broken toes
I stuck thin foil across each of the period windows
kept the bucket carefully underneath the hole

I got this amazing deal in a sought-after area
I was so lucky to pay the price
my postcode reflects my inner-most conscience
I need to be here. I need to be here. I need to buy

But you know, in London
You are never really home
There is always something going
When are you ever really home?

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