Wanda Coleman, poet

LA Poet Wanda Coleman on Smog Addiction and Angel Wings


In “Angel Baby Blues,” from the collection by poet Wanda Coleman called Heavy Daughter Blues, she offered a take on the failed promises of her home in Southern California. A prolific poet, fiction writer, and journalist, she was considered for a time Los Angeles’ unofficial and controversial Poet Laureate.

Wanda Coleman, poet
Wanda Coleman in 1987. Photo credit: Los Angeles Times.

Poet Wanda Coleman’s “Angel Baby Blues” – an excerpt

they say if you fly high enough you will get your wings

one something keeps telling me i need to leave Los Angeles and i say i would if’n i could maybe it’s smog addiction maybe it’s ambition maybe it’s civic pride maybe all of that maybe it’s the other something telling me i’m gonna make it if i hang on long enough strong enough i’m going to make it or break it (lose me lose your good thang) and it’s breakin’ me not makin’ it

double Scorpio under Leo what you got to high sign about? i gave the salami swami my astral statistics he refused to float me a loan did he foresee a felonious end? madness or death madness and death jonesed for get-over — money money money (i speak the lingo of liquor stores and laundromats)

maybe it’s muleheadedness maybe it’s memories/let’s go strollin’

i remember before the freeways two and a half hours to Anaheim and the see you later alligator farm and me in strawberry polka dot chiffon grinning into the shutter box alongside the old Knott’s injun chief wearing Little Bear love Little White Dove leather and full headdress (do the pony like boni maroni) watching pink lemonade sunsets

i remember tacos hawked from vendor’s wagon for 10¢ habla Inglés the Woodcraft Rangers down among the dead men failing tether-ball lime rickies riding the red car The Mole People the pie shop in Downey the 5th Street library Downtown goofing off at Dolphin’s of Hollywood do do the Watusi hating John Wayne rooting for the chinks Japs Apaches cannibals and The Duke of Earl

cruising Hollywood to Watts take Virgil to Beverly down Commonwealth to Wilshire to Hoover south to 23rd to Figueroa south to 54th east to Avalon south to 103rd–30 minutes as the soul flies

To read the entire poem, buy the book: Heavy Daughter Blues, by Wanda Coleman

"Where I Live" written and read by Wanda Coleman

Wanda Coleman: “Where I Live”

“Many have referred to [Lewis] Carroll’s rhymes as nonsense, but in my childhood world — Los Angeles in the ’50s — they made perfect sense.”  — Wanda Coleman, ‘Riot Inside Me: More Trials and Tremors’

On her 2002 critical review of Maya Angelou’s A Song Flung Up to Heaven that appeared in the Los Angeles Times Book Review:

Critically reviewing the creative efforts of present-day African-American writers, no matter their origin, is a minefield of a task complicated by the social residuals of slavery and the shifting currents in American publishing. Into this twenty-first century, African-Americans are still denied full and open participation in the larger culture absent the confusions and machinations of race. Thus, by nature and necessity, our fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry continue to be repositories for the complaints and resentments harbored against the nation we love, as well as paeans to the courage, fortitude and sacrifice of peers and forebears.  —  Wanda Coleman in The Nation

STORY: Bukowski’s ‘Born Into This’ – Treachery, Hatred, Violence, Absurdity

Wanda Coleman - Los Angeles poet -1985 - My Car

Wanda Coleman – “My Car” – 1985

Sleep deficit and an anemic pocketbook dictate my erratic lifestyle.  — Wanda Coleman

"Wanda, Why Aren't You Dead?" written and read by Wanda Coleman

Wanda Coleman: “Wanda, Why Aren’t You Dead?”

Born on November 13, 1946, Wanda Coleman grew up in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. Her poetry collection Bathwater Wine (Black Sparrow Press, 1998), received the 1999 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize.

A former medical secretary, magazine editor, journalist, and Emmy-winning scriptwriter, Coleman received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. Her books of poetry include Mercurochrome: New Poems (2001), which was a finalist for the National Book Award in poetry; Native in a Strange Land: Trials & Tremors (1996); Hand Dance (1993); African Sleeping Sickness (1990); A War of Eyes & Other Stories (1988); Heavy Daughter Blues: Poems & Stories 1968-1986 (1988); and Imagoes (1983). She also wrote Mambo Hips & Make Believe: A Novel (Black Sparrow Press, 1999) and Jazz and Twelve O’Clock Tales: New Stories (2008).

Coleman lived in Los Angeles until her death on November 22, 2013.

Source: Ulin, David, Editor, Writing Los Angeles – A Literary Anthology. The Library of America, 2002, pg. 687-689.

Updated 5 July 2021

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