From “where I live” to “my slave songs”: Integrity and Extension in Wanda Coleman’s Poetry
Jerzy KamionowskiUniversity of Białystok, Poland
Jerzy Kamionowski is an Associate Professor at the University of Białystok. His Ph.D. dissertation entitled New Wine in Old Bottles. The Virtuality of the Presented World in Angela Carter’s Fiction (1999) was written under supervision of Professor Jacek Wiśniewski, who had kindly agreed to take the Polish literature graduate under his scholarly wing. Jerzy Kamionowski is the author of Głosy z “dzikiej strefy” (Voices from the “wild zone”) (2011) on poetry of three women writers of the Black Arts Movement: Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez, and Audre Lorde, and From the House of the Slave to the Home of the Brave. The Motif of Home in Poetry by Black Women since the late 1960s (2019). Presently, he takes interest in the poetry of the post-BAM generation, as well as the representations of the Middle Passage in African American literature.
This article discusses Wanda Coleman’s poetry in terms of two interconnected categories which launched the studies of black literature by Craig Werner: “integrity” and “extension”. These categories are assumed to correspond to the standard critical perception of Coleman’s oeuvre as content- and form-oriented, respectively, where the former pre-conditions the latter. However, the implemented concepts not only demonstrate how well-acquainted the poet was with the everyday ghetto lives of poor black women and with multiple forms of discrimination against them (“integrity”), but also reveal her experimental attitude to language and to formal dimensions of poetry (“extension”). Also, a close reading of Coleman’s protracted series of American jazz sonnets and her “Retro Rogue Anthology” poems reveals that this formal strategy extended her attention to a new subject matter (i.e., history, culture, and black identity), perceived and presented from a collective black perspective. Eventually, Coleman’s re-writing of white classic poems bears the marks of the strategy of Signifyin(g) combined with the iconoclastic tradition pioneered by Friedrich Nietzsche.
Keywords:Wanda Coleman, black poetry, integrity, extension, Amerrican (jazz) sonnets, Retro Rogue Anthology, iconoclastic Signifyin(g)
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