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About this poet

Born on November 13, 1946, Wanda Coleman grew up in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. Her poetry collection Bathwater Wine (Black Sparrow Press, 1998), received the 1999 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize.

A former medical secretary, magazine editor, journalist, and Emmy-winning scriptwriter, Coleman received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. Her books of poetry include Mercurochrome: New Poems (2001), which was a finalist for the National Book Award in poetry; Native in a Strange Land: Trials & Tremors (1996); Hand Dance (1993); African Sleeping Sickness (1990); A War of Eyes & Other Stories (1988); Heavy Daughter Blues: Poems & Stories 1968-1986 (1988); and Imagoes (1983). She also wrote Mambo Hips & Make Believe: A Novel (Black Sparrow Press, 1999) and Jazz and Twelve O'Clock Tales: New Stories (2008).

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.” She 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.

Bedtime Story

Wanda Coleman, 1946 - 2013
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 into it when i  
sit down on it to put on my shoes. this
persistence on its part forces me to dress in 
the bathroom where things are less subversive

the bed lumps up in anger springs popping out to
scratch my dusky thighs

my little office sits in the alcove adjacent to 
the bed. it makes strange little sighs
which distract me from my work 
sadistically i pull back the covers 
put my typewriter on the sheet and turn it on

the bed complains that i'm difficult duty 
its slats are collapsing. it bitches when i 
blanket it with books and papers. it tells me
it's made for blood and bone

lately spiders ants and roaches
have invaded it searching for food

Copyright © 1993 by Wanda Coleman. Reprinted from Hand Dance with permission of Black Sparrow Press.

Copyright © 1993 by Wanda Coleman. Reprinted from Hand Dance with permission of Black Sparrow Press.

Wanda Coleman

Wanda Coleman

Born in 1946, Wanda Coleman grew up in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles

by this poet

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
poem
the fall of
velvet plum points and umber aureolae

remember living

forget cool evening air kisses the rush of 
liberation freed from the brassiere

forget the cupping of his hands the pleasure 
his eyes looking down/anticipating

forget his mouth. his tongue at the nipples 
his intense hungry nursing

forget
poem
boooooooo. spooky ripplings of icy waves. this 
umpteenth time she returns--this invisible woman 
long on haunting short on ectoplasm

"you're a good man, sistuh," a lover sighed solongago. 
"keep your oil slick and your motor running."

wretched stained mirrors within mirrors of 
fractured webbings like