I first became aware of Wanda Coleman's poetry around 1999. I was trying to expand my knowledge of African American poetry, and Jerry W. Ward, Jr. suggested I pick up Coleman's new volume at the time Bathwater Wine (1998). I did.
Among other things, reading Coleman was allowing me to expand my geographies of African American poetry. For some time now, it's been less likely for West Coast poets to appear on our radars on the regular. But Coleman's poetry was giving me reason to expand.
She was also a gateway to various other ideas, poets, and moments in the histories of black poetry. For one, the biographical sketches on Coleman noted that she was a member of the Watts Writers Workshop that emerged in 1965.
A year or so after getting my hands on Coleman's poetry, I came across a recording of her reading her work. The sound of her voice was unlike the reserved, genteel speaking voices that I had started to hear more frequently in at formal readings. Coleman didn't sound like that.
Her readings sounded more akin to some of the black women, non-poets, from my home community in Tennessee. There was something raw and untamed about her voice. You catch some of that in her reading of her poem "How Not to Die Young." Ok, but then you hear more of the musicality in her performance-style as she's reading of "My Car," which just goes to show what I heard when I first heard her was really a small portion of her many modalities.
What follows are links to a few recent remembrances of Wanda Coleman (1946 - 2013)
• Wanda Coleman, acclaimed L.A. poet, has died at 67 - LA Times - Carolyn Kellogg
• Remembering Wanda Coleman - LA Times - David L. Ulin
• Wanda Coleman dies at 67; Watts native, L.A.'s unofficial poet laureate - LA Times - Elaine Woo
• Wanda Coleman, poet was 67 - LA Observed - Kevin Roderick
• LA’s Unofficial Poet Laureate Dies At 67 - CBS LA
• Wanda Coleman: Legendary Poet Dies At 67 - NewsOne