Mike the Poet brings together an eclectic mix at monthly LAnguage open mic
By Bliss Bowen 03/21/2013
Mike Sonksen has covered a lot of ground since the late nights when he and his UCLA college buddies recorded spirited rhymes in defiance of disgruntled neighbors. Over the ensuing two decades, he has emerged as a fresh-voiced, articulate advocate for LA’s poetry and arts community, as noteworthy for his engaging positivity as for his deep knowledge of LA history.
Best known as Mike the Poet, his vivid, rhythmic work pushes on big-picture cultural issues and philosophical questions. From convening underground open mic nights he’s progressed to performing at nightclubs, teaching high school and college students, and seeing his “LA Letters” column published weekly by KCET.org, all while offering guided tours in downtown LA that provide another performance platform.
His second book, “Slices of Los Angeles,” was just published by Grid BLDR Press, and he’s working on two more books, plus an album of recorded poems. At press time he had just been booked at May 11’s LitFest Pasadena.
Currently working on his master’s degree thesis, he continues to organize open mic events; their egalitarian nature allows him to merge his academic and performance worlds. This Sunday he returns to the Last Bookstore in downtown LA for LAnguage, the monthly gathering he launched two years ago.
“The shows are about poetry but with a little live music,” he explains. “They’re fun. They give me connection to LA history and the scene, and focus me on my own role as a conduit or bridge builder of the literary scene.
“One core idea of that show is: three generations on the same stage, all the ancestors on the same page. I’m in the middle of the three generations. I’ve worked for years and years and years with teenage poets and early college poets, but now I’m 38. I also have friends and poets I look up to who are in their 60s and 70s but they’re like family — my elders. Some of them are well known; some deserve to be more well known. At my readings I always have a mixture. We have poets from 17 to 80-something. … I’m doing my best to bring a lot of people together.”
That will include singer-songwriter Jaz James. Sonksen has opened shows for her band at the Standard in West Hollywood, but Sunday she will perform a simple acoustic set. Poets expected to perform include Porschia Baker, Jamal Carter, Chiwan Choi, Michael C. Ford, Joe Gardner, Armond Kinard, Kenji Liu, Zoe Ruiz, Vickie Vertiz and Sonksen.
“I love the democracy of the open mic,” he enthuses. “It’s our church, but it’s a nondenominational church. We get together jamming. Receiving life, reading something you love. I think I’m always going to do open mics because it’s a cool ritual.”
Mike “The Poet” Sonksen hosts LAnguage at the Last Bookstore, 453 S. Spring St., Downtown LA, 5 p.m. Sunday, March 24. Free admission. Info: (213) 488-0599. http://mikethepoetla.tumblr.com