Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Wanda Coleman on Life in SoCal

Black Sparrow poet Wanda Coleman is known as "the LA Blueswoman" and "the unofficial poet laureate of Los Angeles." She has just published her latest book, The World Falls Away, with the University of Pittsburgh Press and the collection focuses on her life in Southern California. KPCC (Southern California Public Radio) recently featured a piece on Coleman:

For the last 40 years, Los Angeles-based poet Wanda Coleman has written about the L.A. she loves — and hates. The University of Pittsburgh Press has just published her 19th book, looking at her life in Southern California.

The poet’s latest collection is titled “The World Falls Away.” "It’s a continuation of my odyssey as an African-American woman, writer, mother, now grandmother, and the city as I live it, the city as it’s defined me," Coleman says.

The 84 poems transport the reader across Southern California and through Coleman’s life. The poem “On Cleaning Up All These Ashes in the Sand” is a series of 16 couplets.

During Indian summer 1955, I decided to live life
sidewise – head pointing to Manhattan, heart in the West.

My father takes me to Disneyland. He tells me America
Rises from a sea of blood. Learn to cry while you laugh.

When I was a teenager, I was my mother’s keeper
I disappeared from the kitchen to make history.

Coleman was born in Watts; she grew up in South Central. In the 1960s and '70s she soaked up the literary scenes in L.A.'s Venice neighborhood, Watts and downtown L.A. at the Woman’s Building. She’s always defended her right not to be pigeonholed as an issue-driven, rhyming black poet.

"Just like we should live in any community or listen to any music, including country and western," Coleman says, "or have any option in terms of our hair; we can wear it straight, we can wear it kinky, we can braid it."

She worries about young African-Americans, she says, because popular media shackles them with negative definitions of blackness while the schools and adults closest to them fail to push back against those images. "I have a grandson who’s gone through the local public school; his image, he comes out of there, he wants to be anything but black."

Read the rest of the article here.

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