Later this year, The Conversant and Essay Press will publish a chapbook, curated by Brian Kim Stefans, devoted to exploring the diversity of communities and historical trajectories shaping Los Angeles-based poetics. Here we offer, as an excerpt from that chapbook, a conversation between Wanda Coleman and Paul Vangelisti, conducted in the months preceding Coleman’s recent death.
Los Angeles has, to my mind, something of a start-and-stop poetic culture, with brief surges of thriving communities (the circle of Thomas McGrath in the McCarthy era, the circle around Stuart Perkoff and Wallace Berman in Venice during the Beat era, the Watts Writers Workshop and Jayne Cortez’ Watts Repertory Theater Company in the ’60s/’70s, the poets published by Momentum and Invisible City in the ’70s and ’80s, and the circle around Dennis Cooper’s Little Caesar around the time punk exploded), and then moments of relative cessation that create disconnects between these moments of activity. But of course, continuities exist, and much of that credit goes to Paul Vangelisti and the late Wanda Coleman who, as innovative, prolific and, not least important, engaged poets, have insisted on making the city of “Lost Angels” the unmistakable locus of their work—continuing to animate a sort of underground in contrast to the more official strands of poetry culture in the city (typified historically by my employer, UCLA) and the film industry (which we’ve all more or less had enough of). In addition, Paul has been a tireless publisher and, at times, historian and even conserver of Los Angeles poetry (the great poet Robert Crosson lived in Paul’s garage, gratis, for many years), while Wanda was, as anyone who has seen her read knows, an electrifying performer who turned poems “on the page” into verbal symphonies (she blew everyone away at her last reading, for the launch of the Norton Anthology of American Poetry, just weeks before she died). Characteristically, Wanda starts the interview with some frank opinions about the organizational activities that Paul pursued in the distant ’70s, but the interview continues to demonstrate how generous (even if angry) and hopeful (even if faced with what Wanda calls a “conspiracy”) both of these writers remained, and not incidentally shows how their friendship seemed to flourish even if they had not been closely in touch for many years.—Brian Kim Stefans Continue reading