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Wicked Enchantment by Wanda Coleman: Poems that race from line to line

As the ‘Unofficial Poet Laureate of Los Angeles,’ Wanda Coleman’s poems are ‘furiously alive,’ writes Alycia Pirmohamed.

Coleman was named the ‘Unofficial Poet Laureate of Los Angeles,’ and her poems are furiously alive, both active and activist. She brings together a clarity of image with narratives that propel forward rapidly, capturing immense and powerful energy on the page. These poems are momentous in how they race from line to line, often without punctuation and in all lower-case letters, to guide our witnessing:

waftage
spirit uplifted eyes head heart
imitation of breath chest aheave
that grotesque swim up the styx
level as rainwater culls into its floodplain
the des moines
blood river born
(‘Emmett Till’)

Coleman constructs a sense of privacy that allows for deep connection with the work and the poet, such as in poems like Wanda Why Aren’t You Dead or American Sonnet, which reclaim a narrative of rage, of Black anger. But she also subverts privacy, ultimately emphasising community through letters and poems written for and after others, like Yusef Komunyakaa and June Jordan.

“The prison door has opened / and a nation’s heart is released” (‘February 11th 1990’).

It is Coleman’s strong, consistent voice throughout Wicked Enchantment that makes every written experience, every personal moment, feel like an intimate reveal:

it is i who sits beside you
it is i who sings from the shallows
it is i scratching against this silence
(Letter to My Older Sister 2)

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Wicked Enchantment by Wanda Coleman is out now (Penguin, £9.99)

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