This Old Poem #16:
Wanda Coleman’s American Sonnet16
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 8/20/02

  Let us all breathe a sigh of relief that Black Sparrow Press has bitten the dust. For 30+ years it has mostly foisted a gaggle of terrible poetasters upon us. But 2 have stood out above, or below, the rest- at least in terms of keeping BSP afloat financially. The 1st was the ridiculously bad Charles Bukowski- a man of little talent, & less ambition. But, in the last decade another poetaster has succeeded old Chuck Buk as the sales engine for BSP. That poetaster is Wanda Coleman- an unintentionally funny poet.
  Her schtick is simple- she’s a fat, unattractive black woman who hates the Aunt Jemima image, even as she perpetuates it- along with other faux angry stereotypes- from What’s Happening? to Diff’rent Strokes. She hates Academia, even as she suckles at its tit. She claims to be a poetic revolutionary even as her generic pap tills fields long gone fallow by countless other hipster/rebel/revolutionary poets before her. She has ‘sass’- but also a spleen other fat black female poets like Maya Angelou or Lucille Clifton disdain. She’s in her mid-50s yet still dresses & acts like she was a sweet young thang- which she never was. After years as a typical urban drudge- personally & literarily- she struck it big in poetry in the 1980s, when guilty white liberals- like BSP’s clan- decided that it’s only fair to purvey bad black female poets, as well as bad white male poets. She’s been with them ever since.
  The 1990s saw her get in with the hipster Nuyorican crowd that garnered some celebrity in the early-mid decade, especially on MTV. There was Wanda, swaying & shaking her fat ass like anyone was interested. That her ‘poems’ have nothing to say, & do not say anything well- well….Besides- poetry is an ‘oral form’- which is the all-purpose excuse for bad writing. Most of her poems are bitches, rants, screeds- call them what you will, but they are bad, bad poetry. At least old Chuck Buk could say he was snockered when he spewed, but never fear- Wanda’s excuses are here. She’s black, she’s a woman, she’s fat, Madison Avenue says women like her are unattractive,etc…..That even a Denzel Washington or Wesley Snipes would shiver at the thought of copulating with her, well- that’s them white men in suits telling ‘da boyz’ what to think. Although logic like that is as twisted & racist as anything George Lincoln Rockwell or George Wallace regurged, coming from a black woman- it’s acceptable.
Let’s read this tripe, point out the gaping flaws, & then rewrite it better.

American Sonnet 16
after Huey P. Newton  

the clairvoyant activist ever ready to
face the consequences of his/her perceptions must


subsist on stubborn hope (D. Brutus) for maintenance
aids dogged determination to construct required change.
revolutionary homicide/suicide means awareness of
in combination with potential sociocentrism.
those ill-equiped to struggle against brutal powers risk
extinction. [to cooperate in the imprisoning of one's own
people-psyche is reactionary homicide/suicide which will be
rewarded by ever-watchful scions of the oppressive belief
system. but to pretend to do so is to trick.] specific
group resistance of rampant narco/necromania may be
manifest in periodic eruptions of spontaneous civil
violence. it is imperative that visionaries see


war as ultimate service for resolution


  Oh boy! The dedication should act as a flag- any time you see 1 of the 1960s great losers (Newton, Che Guevara, Abbie Hoffman, etc.) mentioned in a ‘published’ poem, you know you’re in for artistic torture. Do I really need to spiel on about old Huey- (Black Panthers, Black Power, guns, ‘Kill Whitey!’, etc.) I don’t think so. Well, lets see how revolutionary old WC is. Well, no capitalization. Ooh- that sends a message. Hit & miss punctuation- which is a result of her sloppiness as a poet, BUT which she can counter, ‘FOOL, don’tcha get it? I deliberately punctuate some & not others BECAUSE I want to subvert the poetic power structure that fools like you forced on my people centuries ago when you stole us & chained us from our homeland &….’ You know the sob story. Of course, this has nothing to do with slavery or the Middle Passage, but if WC can milk it she will. I count at least 6 bad enjambments- but then, again, why do I insist on oppressing tha sista? I didn’t even bother to annotate the bad enjambments because you, wise reader, should know by now where they are. & a sonnet with 15 lines- gee- why didn’t someone think of that before? Then, again sonnet means little song- not just a form- ‘I pity da fool!’
  But, in case you’re slipping I have marked off the clichés with underlines & annoying others with italicized underlines- let’s get’em. On 2nd thought- the clichés should be obvious- & they are mostly clichés specific to political screed poems- especially in their usage. So let’s gander at the others category. It is SO PC to say the his/her deal. I mean, no intelligent person can reason that his is used in the universal sense, no? Then there is the construct required change BS. Of course, all political poems are based on imperatives, not qualifications. Line 10- is there any poetry in this poem? I mean, c’mon. There is not a thing of music in this screed. This is, indeed prose- not even prosetry.
  But, let’s point out the singular act of poetry here- the letter s in the last line’s resolution. Of course we know she’s playing off the word revolution- which would be clichéd here. That’s it. 15 lines & 1- count it, 1- instance of poetry in WC’s poem- that’s higher than her average, I’ll admit. Still, a ridiculously bad poem Let’s try to salvage it.


American Sonnet 16

after Huey P. Newton


the clairvoyant activist ever ready
faces the consequences of perceptions

aids constructed determination to dog change.
homicide/suicide means awareness
reality in combination with potential
ill-equipped to struggle against brutal powers’
extinction. [in the imprisoning of one's own
people-psyche is homicide/suicide
rewarded by ever-watchful scions of the oppressive.
to pretend to do so is to trick.]
rampant narco/necromania may be manifest
in periodic eruptions of spontaneous violence.
it is imperative that visionaries see


war as ultimate resolution for service


  Okay. This is still not a good poem but passable- if only because of a myriad of technical tricks thrown in- can you see what I’ve done, how, & why? The cuteness of a 15 line sonnet is gone, as are many of the clichés. The others category is trimmed of examples. I’ve condensed some of the clichés so that they are not clichés & play off of each other &- yes- the unnecessary breakages into stanzas is gone. Why were they broken that way? It added nothing & slowed down the very fury WC sought to engender. In the rewrite the poem moves quicker & only the last line stands alone. Still, it’s trite, but it is a better version & truer to what WC wanted to say- especially in the inversion of the last line- which is as sensical as WC’s version, or as nonsensical- if you like.
  Don’t ask me to explain this crap anymore, & especially don’t ask me ‘What’jou talkin’bout, Willis?’

Final Score: (1-100):

Wanda Coleman’s American Sonnet16: 42
TOP’s American Sonnet16: 65

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