Wanda Coleman didn't live long enough to win Los Angeles' official poet laureate post first inaugurated by then-mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in 2012 -- she died in 2013 -- but to fans, her de facto advocates; and, I'd argue, to her haters also (how dare Wanda malign and/or mock their sacred bovines, Maya Angelou and MLK!), it was obvious she had long been Los Angeles' unofficial poet laureate, and it was obvious whether or not she was ever officially recognized (or officially snubbed) by any mayor or other elected dumb ass. She'll always be the reigning Poet Period ... of Watts.
wanda when are you gonna wear your hair down
wanda. that's a whore's name
wanda why ain't you rich....
why don't you lose weight
wanda why are you so angry
how come your feet are so goddamn big
can't you afford to move out of this hell hole
if i were you were you were you
wanda what is it like being black
i hear you don't like black men
tell me you're ac/dc. tell me you're a nympho....
wanda you have no humor in you you too serious....
wanda you're ALWAYS on the attack....
Heavy Daughter Blues: Poems & Stories 1968-1986 showcases exceptionally well Wanda Coleman's development from a young, somewhat conventional poet, to the accomplished Poet she became with that instantly identifiable Voice as instantly identifiable as -- pick your favorite singer or celebrity criminal -- theirs: that black, female, persona non grata Voice of the dispossessed in the inner city, gushing out in relentless fury her characters' / her people's inarticulate and heretofore unheard individual outrage into one bitter, but beautiful, collective Voice of Outrage that could just as easily explain, poetically and powerfully, the explosions of August 11, 1965, as it could anticipate the sad helicopter closeup spectacles of April 29, 1992, at the corner of Florence and Normandie. Wanda Coleman's voice was often violent, and it was often vilified, yet few poets of her generation ever fused their Voice to the voices of the Voiceless Victimized with as savage fucking grace as she did. Read Roaches, The Arab Clerk, or April 15th 1985* sometime; they are all riveting (and sometimes revolting) examples of her intense gritty vignettes / short stories and visionary prose poems. Thank God Black Sparrow Press was there to faithfully champion her for three decades after Hollywood graced her with an Emmy and then gracelessly kicked "the loud" supposedly "self righteous bitch" out.
Wanda Coleman could just as soon mock (or let one of her many narrator's mock) the "bigoted old white bitches" in line at the San Francisco bank in April 15th 1985, as she could -- or as her possibly schizophrenic speaker could in the title prose-poem of the collection, Heavy Daughter Blues -- the political and socioeconomic insufficiency of the most celebrated Dream ever dreamed in U.S. history: "i dream i dream i dream / pass the pipe--please". I mean who but Wanda Coleman would've had the chutzpah to pass off MLKs "I Have a Dream" as a pipe dream? Or was she merely echoing aloud what a lot of people had already been thinking quietly about the man and his unrealized legacy? Or is equality among blacks and whites no longer a pipe dream in the U.S.? Maybe not if we're to believe that black, female, persona non grata Voice of Heavy Daughter Blues. Or, maybe, yes; maybe we do believe.
Difficult to decide what the Voice of Heavy Daughter Blues believes because her Voice is a multiplicity of voices, past and present. One second, a voice can "throw the symbols" and "make reverberations" and assert "the t.v. is teaching my children hibakusha**" and, the next, another voice proclaim with such absurd and delusional conviction "i am in love with a dopefiend who sleeps under freeways" and "the postman has put a hex on my P.O. box" that you almost palpably feel the atomic shockwaves of twisted logic in Coleman's nod to Langston Hughes ripple upward off the page with such relentless mushrooming force that even the bunker you may have built on the sly to hide your pettiest prejudice behind is vaporized, exposed. Heavy and nearly hopeless shit from Wanda Coleman, this late Blue Daughter of The American Pipe Dream.
Wanda Coleman was such an awesome enigma in life, such an absolute contradiction in so many interesting and appealing ways, is it really surprising then when in the short space of one of her most provocative poems, realities and fantasies and confabulations of both abruptly merge and blur line by line so that the only appropriate response to it is an equivocating "Yes" that boomerangs back at you its discombobulating "Nope"?
YesNo!NoYes! I know. I don't.
Though don't you love Wanda Coleman's response to the quandary better, when toward the end of Heavy Daughter Blues the voice of a nutty narrator "in love with a fuck freak" ruminates, turns streetwise-physicist / Ph.D. philosophy candidate, having risen from welfare to a pipe dream of tenure, and, out of the palm-tree-breezy, South-Central-sleazy, tenemented-terminal-blue, ups her live-jive's ante and satirically pontificates in a deadpan delivery the dead-end lingo of her largely academic audience who regardless of Wanda's snarkyness would still no doubt most infinitely approve: "the constant preoccupation of a sphere / is in traversing the Möbius strip"? Shit. I know I do!
* Read the complete text of "April 15th 1985" right here.
** I recommend Googling the word