LA Public Library Ponders Honoring Poet Wanda Coleman
“Words seem inadequate in expressing the anger and outrage I feel at the persistent racism that permeates every aspect of black American life. Since words are what I am best at, I concern myself with this as an urban actuality as best I can.” – Wanda Coleman
About a year or so before she died, Los Angeles poet Wanda Coleman (born Wanda Evans; November 13, 1946 – November 22, 2013) gave a reading at the iconic bookstore/literary hub Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center. She was the headliner. Other readers ranged from grad student poets honing their performance chops to older, published writers who’ve amassed cult followings and the respect of their peers. It’s not a slight to any of them to say that despite the high level of talent that day, they were all dwarfed not only by Ms. Coleman’s work, but by her presence. Just as seasoned musicians can command a stage with the smallest of gestures, years of spotlights and tricks of the performing trade having been absorbed into their cells, Ms. Coleman filled the room just with her being. She read several poems, across a range of topics, and was warm and funny in her conversation between the pieces.
The stunner of the day was a poem about her young grandson, a biracial boy who simply looks white, and a conversation she had with him in which his distance from her – his distance from blackness – manifested in such a way that made her ponder what she meant to him, what, if anything, blackness would mean to him, and her feeling of being erased within her own bloodline, even as she loved the boy dearly. It’s a nakedly honest train of thought and conversation rarely broached in contemporary conversations about race, at least in the public sphere, and when it is, it’s often willfully misconstrued as “racist” or backward, and then dismissed. Ms. Coleman ignored all that, and zeroed in on the tenderly human concern at the core of the questions. It’s emblematic of all her work, which is smart, tough-minded but compassionate, often darted with droll humor.
Here’s her poem “A Stonehold”
the thief has made me a gift of his night’s booty
somewhere, a daughter discovers her mother’s coral
brooch missing, somewhere, a man recoils at the absence
of his gambling stash. somewhere, a miser rifles
over a vanished ransom in newly minted silver
all this to buy a hotbed of memories
to feed the children fresh-killed lies
to open all the locks on love
forever is a moment we hold in our stomachs
as he brushes the smudge of his kiss
across my lips, i smell the cologne of his fear
a robust and smoky aroma mingled
with the woody musk of courtrooms and the stench of
i take these things and promise to say mum
The LA Public Library board is considering is considering a request to dedicate the Ascot Branch at 120 W. Florence Ave. in honor of Ms. Coleman (born Wanda Evans; November 13, 1946 – November 22, 2013.) As part of its consideration, the Board encourages the public to submit written comments during a three-month period from March 26 to June 26, 2015 to:
Board of Library Commissioners, Los Angeles Public Library, 630 West Fifth St., Los Angeles CA 90071.
Comments may also be emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Board policy for dedication is available at: www.lapl.org/about-lapl/boardlibrary-commissioners.