Ye Gods—The Oral Tradition Troubadours cum Slam Junkies!

There is little worse than presenting your fledgling speech on attaining racial freedom and social justice in competition to an audience of White male adults in their secret-ceremony lodge hall when you are a space-age pudgy Black teenaged girl. No. There is nothing worse than presenting your hard-written original oratory to an audience of Negro parents and professionals and losing to three lesser competitors, male and female, because, of the four, you have the darkest skin and worst grade of hair. No. There is nothing worse than being the only presenter to receive a standing ovation from a mixed audience of parents, teachers and students during Negro History Week—when colored excellence is being celebrated in the West—then be disqualified by a panel of Sistuh-Lady judges because one is “too good, too professional, and therefore unfair competition,” then, following immediate protest by the audience, to be lamely awarded honorable mention. No. Nothin’s worse than being the only Mary McLeod Bethune competitor to so impress a roomful of chatting-and-eating well-heeled members of the Our Authors Study Club that they lay down their forks, the servants and chefs come out of the kitchen to listen, stand and applaud, but then come in second because the judge, who is the first-elected Negro councilman to the city, has a hard-on for the pretty sweet thang to whom he awards first place. No. There is nothing worse than going to audition after audition only to be told that if one keeps singing with such power, one won’t have a voice by the age of twenty-five. No. No. No. There is nothing worse than being told that one is almost as good a writer as a man. Uh, nah! There’s nothing worse than having a roomful of so-called feminists supporting the arts walk out on your performance before it starts. Lordy, no — dere’s ain’t nuttin’ worse ’ceptin’ havin’ a roomful of African-American’s walk out on yo’ performance aftah it starts. Hahaha. There is nothing worse than losing a slam competition one has obviously won to “the local favorite.” Mein Gott im himmel! There’s absolutely nuthin’ worse than igniting a barroom with 15 explosive minutes of one’s finest work to an enthusiastic crowd, only to discover that one’s judges are a bunch of slam rowdies — poem-hating, pretzel-snortin’, substance-stoked adolescent gonads up to their sadistic red eyeballs in cheap brew. Yeah.

Originally Published: April 6th, 2011

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...