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About this poet

Born on November 13, 1946, Wanda Coleman grew up in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. During her lifetime she worked as a medical secretary, magazine editor, journalist, and Emmy Award-winning scriptwriter before turning to poetry.

Her poetry collections include Mercurochrome: New Poems (2001), which was a finalist for the National Book Award in poetry; Bathwater Wine (Black Sparrow Press, 1998), which received the 1999 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize; Native in a Strange Land: Trials & Tremors (1996); Hand Dance (1993); African Sleeping Sickness (1990); Heavy Daughter Blues: Poems & Stories 1968-1986 (1988); and Imagoes (1983). She also wrote the books Jazz and Twelve O'Clock Tales: New Stories (2008), Mambo Hips & Make Believe: A Novel (Black Sparrow Press, 1999), and A War of Eyes and Other Stories (1988).

In an essay about Coleman's Marshall-winning Bathwater Wine, the poet Marilyn Hacker wrote that Coleman's poems display, “a verbal virtuosity and stylistic range that explodes/expands the merely linear, the simply narrative, the straightforwardly lyric, into a verbal mandala whose colors and textures spin off the page. Coleman is a poet who excels in public presentations, one whose work moves freely between the academy and the popular renaissance of poetry-as-performance in bars and coffeehouses—but her poems do not require an audible voice or physical presence: They perform themselves.”

The poet Juan Felipe Herrera called Coleman the “word-caster of live coals of Watts & LA.” A recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, Coleman was regarded as a central figure in Los Angeles literary life. The Los Angeles Times book critic David Ulin noted that Coleman, "helped transform the city's literature."

Coleman lived in Los Angeles until her death on November 22, 2013.


Bibliography

Poetry

Mercurochrome: New Poems (Black Sparrow Press, 2001)
Bathwater Wine (Black Sparrow Press, 1998)
Native in a Strange Land: Trials & Tremors (Black Sparrow Press, 1996)
Hand Dance (Black Sparrow Press, 1993)
African Sleeping Sickness (Black Sparrow Press, 1990)
Heavy Daughter Blues: Poems & Stories 1968-1986 (Black Sparrow Press, 1988)
Imagoes (Black Sparrow Press, 1983)

Fiction

Jazz and Twelve O'Clock Tales: New Stories (Black Sparrow Press, 2008)
Mambo Hips & Make Believe: A Novel (Black Sparrow Press, 1999) 
A War of Eyes and Other Stories (Black Sparrow Press, 1988)

In That Other Fantasy Where We Live Forever

we were never caught

we partied the southwest, smoked it from L.A. to El Dorado 
worked odd jobs between delusions of escape
drunk on the admonitions of parents, parsons & professors 
driving faster than the road or law allowed. 
our high-pitched laughter was young, heartless & disrespected 
authority. we could be heard for miles in the night

the Grand Canyon of a new manhood. 
womanhood discovered
like the first sighting of Mount Wilson

we rebelled against the southwestern wind 

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

Copyright © 2001 by Wanda Coleman. Reprinted from Mercurochrome: New Poems with the permission of Black Sparrow Press. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2001 by Wanda Coleman. Reprinted from Mercurochrome: New Poems with the permission of Black Sparrow Press. All rights reserved.

Wanda Coleman

Wanda Coleman

Born in 1946, Wanda Coleman was the author of several poetry collections, including Bathwater Wine (Black Sparrow Press, 1998), which won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize.

by this poet

poem

when did we become friends?
it happened so gradual i didn't notice
maybe i had to get my run out first
take a big bite of the honky world and choke on it
maybe that's what has to happen with some uppity youngsters
if it happens at all

and now
the thought stark and

poem
bed calls. i sit in the dark in the living room 
trying to ignore them

in the morning, especially Sunday mornings 
it will not let me up. you must sleep 
longer, it says

facing south
the bed makes me lay heavenward on my back 
while i prefer a westerly fetal position 
facing the wall

the bed sucks me sideways
poem
               after Lowell


our mothers wrung hell and hardtack from row
      and boll. fenced others'
gardens with bones of lovers. embarking 
      from Africa in chains
reluctant pilgrims stolen by Jehovah's light 
      planted here the bitter
seed of blight and here eternal torches mark