A Poem For Saturday


Last Friday, the poet Wanda Coleman died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles at the age of 67. David L. Ulin remembered her with these words:

Coleman was the conscience of the L.A. literary scene—a poet, essayist and fiction writer who helped transform the city’s literature when she emerged in the early 1970s….When she began to write, as a member of the Watts Writers Workshop that sprang up after the 1965 riots, L.A. literature was largely a literature of exile, produced primarily by those from elsewhere, who lingered briefly along the city’s glittering surfaces and did not invest the place with any depth. Working in the tradition of John Fante, Chester Himes and Charles Bukowski, Coleman invented a new way of thinking about the city: street-level, gritty, engaged with it not as a mythic landscape, but in the most fundamental sense as home.

On Thanksgiving Day, we posted a poem of Coleman’s, “Pigging Out,” dedicated to her husband. Today we’re featuring a poem about her daily life as an artist, and tomorrow we’ll run a self-portrait of this remarkable woman and poet, who received the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America in 2012, joining e.e.cummings (1945), Elizabeth Bishop (1953), Theodore Roethke (1962), and May Swenson (1968), among others. Here’s Coleman’s “Slave Driven”:

i barely niggle a living squirreling around
the home office. I work for myself as my own secretary.
it’s a shitty job, paperwork ceiling to floor. the
technology changes every few months. i’m on call
weekends and holidays. no benefits or perks.
there’s no vacation or overtime. the pay is less
than minimum wage.
it’s like every job I’ve ever had except I don’t drive
rush-hour traffic and can wear nightclothes if I want.
there are no racist vibes, no gender or sex preference
or intergenerational discrimination, quitting time
is determined by level of exhaustion.
i get no breaks. i sit all day.
i grab a bite while on duty
the boss never has anything
good to say

(From Ostinato Vamps © 2003 by Wanda Coleman. Reprinted by kind permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press. Photo of Coleman courtesy of the Poetry Society of America)