Monday, April 13, 2009

Have some Wanda Coleman: A poet you should know

crossposted from Daddy B. Strong

[Editor's note: I've been right awful about celebrating National Poetry Month. I had big plans, I promise you. They just haven't come to fruition. But over at one of my favorite blogs, Daddy B Strong, the Daddy, is of course, holding it down. Thankfully, he has allowed me to crib from his hard work. I enjoyed it when Daddy profiles Wanda Coleman before, so I was thrilled that he decided to return to this amazing artist.]


You wear your loneliness like a trench coat pull its collar high against the chill as you walk the night whispers along the back alley of your soul.

--Wanda Coleman

Like Wallace Stegner, I am in the "universal" tradition of writers who concern themselves with The Truth --never mind that it is apt to hurt someone, in some way, most likely me.

--Wanda Coleman
Listen up. The daddy received e-mails asking him to re-post several poets he wrote about but they didn't know. So, for the rest of this week, the daddy will be posting about great but relatively not well-known poets, beginning with Wanda Coleman.

Now, the daddy thinks that almost any poet will have a hard time getting a book published, marketed or sold. But this is especially true of black writers who unapologetically write honestly and assertively about the black condition, and even more so of those who write about poor blacks, the oppressed, the down-and-out: the brother who just lost his job, the hooker on the corner, the dealer down the street, the addict in an alley who by taking a needle and surging into the only God, the only savior he knows, is about to commit a petty crime, the status of black women in our society. Needless to say, this is not the kind of stuff that sells well at Barnes & Noble. Mari Evans, great poet and prime mover of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s, in an interview in Crisis, put it this way:



The only insurmountable obstacle I've faced is being a Black writer. Nobody has ever refused my work because I was a woman, but I've found that when we write about those things of which we are most passionate ... [they] are much more difficult to market. I haven't been able to crossover into that realm that would pay me more. What I write doesn't make me a best-selling author. I'm concerned about the issues that impact African American people. Even Black people want escape material, which is why street literature is so popular. They want to escape our issues, rather than standing and confronting them.
Like Evans, Wanda Coleman writes about the black condition, about black folks facing tough times, about tough black women facing tougher times still. Consider this bluesy reaction to the loss of a job:


got a fifth o mad dog
to celebrate this day
got me a fifth o mad dog
to celebrate this day
a year of unemployment
and two weeks severance pay

Yes, folks, when you’re poor, God can appear in the form of an unemployment check.
Or consider, in ‘Doing Battle with the Wolf at the Door," Coleman’s take on the police and the state.


An occasional transfusion arrives in the mail
Or i find plasma in the streets
An occasional vampire flashes my way
But they don’t take much
My enemy is the wolf
Who eats even the mind
The wolf will come for me sooner or later
i know this
The wolf makes no sexual distinction
i am the right color
He has a fetish for black meat and
Frequently hunts with his mate alongside him

But perhaps Coleman’s most memorable, most poignant truth about American society can be found in her poem ‘Women of My Color.” Here, Coleman skillfully uses sex to draw the reader into the poem. And once she gets them there, drops knowledge like Einstein at the chalkboard or Sistah Souljah on the mike about what it means to be a black woman in patriarchal white America:

Women of my Color
by Wanda Coleman

i follow the curve of his penis
and go down
there is a peculiar light in which women
of my color are regarded by men
being on the bottom where pressures
are greatest is least desirable
would be better to be dead i
sometimes think
there is a peculiar light in which women
of my race are regarded by black men
as saints
as mothers
as sisters
as whores
but mostly as the enemy
it’s not our fault we are victims
who have chosen to struggle and stay alive
there is a peculiar light in which women
of my race are regarded by white men
as exotic 20
as enemy
but mostly as whores
it’s enough to make me cry
but i don’t
following the curve of his penis
i go down
will i ever see
the sun!

“Women of My Color" is classic Coleman; dropping truth, singing blues, and never forgetting-- to paraphrase James Brown, the godfather of soul-- to "make it funky'' in a country where folks would rather climb mountains, bungy jump, watch stupid soap operas or nod off to lame jokes by Jay Leno than hear what they know, deep in their hearts, is the real deal.

The daddy says drink from the cup of poetry. Go ahead: sip some hot soul from the truth-shaker, the sweet Momma Wanda, the Mad Dog Lady.

Go ahead. Have some Wanda Coleman. She's a poet you should know.

--------------------------------------------------
Books by Wanda Coleman:

1. Native in a Strange Land: Trials & Tremors (1996); 2. Hand Dance (1993); 3. African Sleeping Sickness (1990);4. A War of Eyes & Other Stories (1988); 5. Heavy Daughter Blues: Poems & Stories 1968-1986 (1988); 6. Imagoes (1983); and 7. Mercurochrome: New Poems (2001). 8. Mambo Hips & Make Believe: A Novel, published by Black Sparrow Press.

[More from the Editor: Speaking of female artists who keep it real. Last year, I discovered spoken word artist Queen Sheeba. Love, love LOVE her album "Domino Effect.

Here is "We are the Women"






And she makes music...



4 comments:

Sassy J said...

Thanks, Tami and Daddy! I am definitely going to look her up!

MacDaddy said...

Tami: Thanks for introducing your readers to Wanda Coleman. And thanks for introducing me to Queen Sheba. She's great!

quarter-life-crisis said...

Love me some Queen Sheba!!! She is at the Apache (in Atlanta) every FIRST Sunday of the month hosting a Poet Slam!

pika said...

i remember my first introduction to her work was an mp3 i found online (i can't remember where, unfortunately) of in the city of sleep. having never been much of a lyrics person (it takes me years to listen to the words even in my favourite hip hop songs) at first i just listened to her voice as an instrument along with the piano etc playing in the background. i was captivated first by the way she used her voice. when i finally listened to what she was saying it was love. i just had to find as much as i possibly could. thanks for this post.

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