Editor’s Note: In collaboration with editor Peter Davis’ anthology, Poet’s Bookshelf, the DMQ Review has been privileged to feature essays from contemporary poets who recall notable literary influences and share a few new poems with our readers. This month we feature Wanda Coleman, who died last November, in honor of her life of passion and poetry. Though we cannot add new work from this important voice, we do provide links below so that you can discover more about her work and her contributions. Of note is the tribute page found on former California Poet Laureate Al Young’s blog where you will find a rich collection of tributes to the irreplaceable Wanda Coleman.
From Poet’s Bookshelf: Contemporary Poets on Books That Shaped Their Art~ Wanda Coleman
Robinson Jeffers, Selected Poems
César Vallejo, Trilce, trans. David Smith
Bob Kaufman, Solitudes Crowded with Loneliness
The Voice That Is Great Within Us: American Poetry of the Twentieth Century, ed. Hayden Carruth
Charles Baudelaire, Flowers of Evil
You better believe it: Black Verse in English, ed. Paul Breman (favoring the poems by James Weldon Johnson, Claude McKay, A.B. Spellman and Bob Kaufman)
E. E. Cummings, Complete Poems, 1913-1962
Kenneth Fearing, New and Selected Poems
John Ashbery, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror
Charles Bukowski, The Days Run Away like Wild Horses Over the Hills
Night comes: night will claim all.
The world is not changed, only more naked:
The strong struggle for power, and the weak
Warm their poor hearts with hate.
—from “Watch the Lights Fade,” Robinson Jeffers
Leaving out most of the anthologies, the fiction, philosophy, and sociology—and being too poor to afford books for most of my life, I do not own many of the books by poets who have influenced me (such as Edna St. Vincent Millay—a high school favorite, Olson’s The Maximus Poems, Pound’s Cantos, and Robert Duncan), or only recently acquired them (such as the collected works of Brother Antoninus or William Everson). They were either borrowed from public libraries or from the private collections of friends and mentors. Of the books I own, that I return to again and again to refresh myself, these are the most dog-eared in order of preference.
Jeffers’ poetic sensibility is so foreign to my own, I’m uncertain as to why I love his work, except that I feel his soul moving beneath his text, a quality I admire. His voice is distinct, and I feel as though he’s alive in his words—living. And I can feel his earthly movements about a fiercely beautiful terrain.
I can’t help but empathize with the repressed strength that emerges from the pages of Trilce and pierces the translations.
Kaufman’s skewed jazzy jive, conundrums, reverse logic, and risky surrealism sometimes move from fun to fury within the space of a line—counteracting his self-deprecation and often-forced moments. I’ve longed to do a ‘graphic translation’ of his work, because I don’t think his line breaks are very well represented in much of his work, and some of his rhythms are misheard.
Baudelaire is aesthetic kindred.
I know I’m presumed to like African American poetry, but I find most of it written prior to the 1970s terribly uninteresting, and embarrassingly bad and corny (like most African American visual art), and imitative of better craftsmen of the Caucasian persuasion for the obvious reasons; however, some of the finest of what’s excellent in diverse Black voices is found in You Better Believe It. Sorry—but I’m not a big fan of Langston Hughes, even if I respect his “contribution” and voted for the stamp. I was invited to contribute to this anthology back in the day, but my naiveté and paranoia (at the time) kept me from submitting work. I’m now glad that I didn’t, because at that time my fledgling work was as bad as some of the worst in this collection. Thank goodness, I don’t have to live that down. Whew.
From Cummings, i take my stylistic use of the lower case not from a sense of inferiority (because i’ve never felt inferior to ANYONE in my life, although plenty of snotty literary folk of all persuasions have tried to make me feel that way). i also like his use of parentheses, although i part company with him on the semicolon.
Kenneth Fearing: as a man trapped in his time, savoring his class, his observer’s eye (as good as Nathaniel West’s), his wry-to-tipsy romance-tinged spinnings are a delight to encounter and sound out loud.
Ashbery’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror is just a bloody good ‘n’ smart little book, choice lines, makes me keep saying “of course.” Who’d ever think of saying: “The dark is waiting like so many other things, dumbness and voluptuousness among them”?
When the pretentious dreck and sappy pseudo-philosophy that seem to impress most Americans as poetry get to be too much, I go running and screaming for a dose of Charles “Hank” Bukowski—although he is not without pretensions of his own, his are just more forgivable. It is because of his flawed, and therefore thoroughly human, point-of-view (and Barbara Martin’s covers) that I was drawn to Black Sparrow Press, and dared submit my fledgling manuscript. Too, he was the only living poet of note on the L. A. scene that I was able to access and observe, other than Henri Coulette and John Thomas. (I did catch Deena Metzger at the Haymarket and Stuart Perkoff at Venice West.) Tom McGrath had already been run out of town. I was at Hank’s first poetry reading, and was the only thing black or female in the room. I still have the flyer.
There are so many more—Cavafy, Lorca, Neruda, and Plath among the more notable. But, perhaps another time, another survey.
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LINKS for more on Wanda Coleman, her life and her poetry:
Al Young: Wanda Coleman Tribute
The Academy of American Poets: Wanda Coleman
Afro Poets: Wanda Coleman
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