Needing a quote for a project in 2006, I tracked down Eileen Kaufman, wife and amanuensis to poet Bob Kaufman (the Black Rimbaud, April 18, 1912-January 12, 1986), with the help of San Francisco’s Kush Cloudhouse. She was in an assisted-living facility in the Richmond, California area. After a number of false starts, we finally connected. She was pleased to grant my request, and I said that I would send a permissions letter with SASE. I did so, twice, but never heard back. Further research revealed that the rights were owned by a publisher, and subsequently I obtained them. Too, I suspected, from previous experience, that mail was often lost or forgotten after its arrival to homes for the elderly for reasons other than staff shortages. A year and a half later, in February of 2008, I happened to be in the Bay Area on business. Accompanied by my husband, Austin Straus, we decided to look up Eileen at the El Cerrito Royale, one of the classier senior centers. She was getting along splendidly and looked great. Having visitors from out-of-town aroused envy in nearby peers, as we chatted in the dining room, where a band played old favorites and ever-spry residents fox trotted and waltzed. We brought Eileen up to date on contemporary poetry scenes, then I presented my gift—the book in which Bob was quoted. As we started to leave, she took my wrist, leaned forward and smiled fiercely, “Wanda, let ’em all know I’m STILL kicking!”

Originally Published: January 30th, 2009

Poet and writer Wanda Coleman was a blatantly humanist artist who won much critical acclaim for her unusually prescient and often innovative work, but who struggled to make a living from her craft. In discussing “my life in poetry,” More magazine, April 2005, Camille Paglia said of Coleman: “She’s not...