By Brian Dunlap
NOTE: This is the third book in Los Angeles Literature’s Black History Month series highlighting the L.A. literature written by black authors.
There are two poetry anthologies that capture the black literary talent from the headquarters of black creativity in Los Ángeles, The World Stage in Leimert Park. The anthologies, Voices from Leimert Park and Voices from Leimert Park Redux, were published 11 years apart in 2006 and in 2017. They both capture the stories, ideas and perspectives of black Los Ángeles and beyond in a myriad of poetic forms and angles.
These poets remember important community establishments that no longer exist like 5th Street Dicks and its owner in A.K. Toney’s poem “Ode For Richard” from Voices from Leimert Park Redux. He states:
Place where everybody knows your name
Popular because you were people
And we are villagers
Taking dance like Tapscott
Resting an animation y image
Commissioned by Ramssess
He was the heartbeat tricked into struggle
But a smile that lit tunnels of confusion
Inside the improvisation from day
Or Jaha Zainabu who explores the violence she’s experienced in her L.A. neighborhood in “Musings” from Voices from Leimert Park:
today i heard a gunshot in the alley under my window
i am not wise to the makes and sizes of guns
i am a poet, an artist, a mother
Or other poets writing on the topics of injustice, poverty or abuse and even others urging people to celebrate beauty, resilience and generosity.
Both anthologies include the heavy hitters of black literary L.A. They include Kamau Daaood, Wanda Coleman, Lynn Manning and Lynee Thompson from Voices from Leimert Park and Pam Ward, Peter J. Harris, Conney Williams, V. Kali and Imani Tolliver from Voices from Leimert Park Redux. These are poets who have been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, won an American Book Award, PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Awards, PEN Center Emerging Voices Fellows, among others. As Peter J. Harris says in the Foreword to Voices from Leimert Park Redux, “I read the pioneers, such as Father Amde, founding member of the Watt’s Profits; S. Pearl Sharp, whose varied output since the 1970s includes acting, filmmaking, publishing and broadcasting…; and Eric Priestly, also a novelist and educator, whose readings morph into incantations as visceral as a late Coltrane solo!
“I see the names of my contemporaries, like El Rivera, Conney Williams, Pam Ward, Jervey Tervalon. I see in the pages of the anthology, like I’ve seen fill the seats of The Stage, writers who are Latin, Asian, White…”
Both Voices from Leimert Park and Voices from Leimert Park Redux captures a community 11 years apart. The artistic heart of black Los Ángeles. As the late great L.A. poet Wanda Coleman says in the Epilogue to Voices from Leimert Park: “We make poetry out of our negatives…We reinvent the positives.”