Wanda Coleman’s work tallies and transcends the difficulties of being a black woman in a profession that hardly pays.
By Dan Chiasson
FROM: The New Yorker
Wanda Coleman wrote in “My Love Brings Flowers,” a poem from 1983. “Make clothes ten years old fashionable / rejuvenate one fake sable coat.” Coleman, who died in 2013, was one of the great menders in American verse: she found the extra wear in old forms like the sonnet and rummaged for new forms in everyday material, like aptitude tests, medical reports, and want ads. Poets sometimes brag about their fearsome powers of transformation; Coleman, beset by hardship for much of her life, kept her boasts closer to the bone. “I scrape bottom,” she wrote, and yet her poetry drew on deep reserves. Given Coleman’s almost chaotic originality, it is touching to encounter her stark admissions of debt: “I borrow from friends.” At a moment when many of us are learning—and teaching one another—how to make a face mask out of a sock or a bra, Coleman’s poetry might be just the model of inspired, ecstatic thrift we need.