Poetry for many poets is an extension of who they are as a person. A poet that expressed this idea is a man named Mike Sonksen. Mike Sonksen also known as Mike the PoeT LA expressed to me in an interview how he got started in poetry and how poetry has helped him evolve as a person.
Mike Sonksen wears many hats. He is a poet, journalist, professor, mentor, tour guide and father. Presently, Mike Sonksen is a professor at Woodbury University in Burbank, California and he is also the host of Verse Come Verse Serve. Verse Come Verse Serve is a poetry event held at Woodbury (presently on RingCentral) that Mike created with Dr. Reuben Ellis to give students a space to let their voices be heard. Mike hosts the event along with two students Joshua Jones and Aspen Leavitt. Highlighting talents and allowing for others to be heard, Mike does events such as this often. When he used to work at View Park Highschool, he created an outlet for the students there to express themselves through writing and poetry.
You may have seen some of Mike’s work as he has written over two hundred articles for KCET and dozens of articles for other outlets such as LA Taco. Mike has also written books; his most recent book Letters to My City is a celebration of the real spirit of the city. “In Letters to My City, Mike Sonksen shares his expansive and in-depth knowledge of LA through poems and essays – the poems are often like long saxophone riffs, as he sings out names of writers and places with the passionate urgency of a man who truly loves this ‘city of angels’ and hopes others will learn to appreciate both the history and current vibrancy and importance of Los Angeles –from its long tradition of writers to an insider's view of neighborhoods stretching from Watts to Boyle Heights, Long Beach to Little Tokyo,” said Amy Uyematsu.
How’d you get into Poetry?
Mike’s poetry really began in college though he wrote some before then. College during the 90’s is when many major events occurred, including the 1992 Los Angeles riots, so to keep up with the times, Mike was writing and performing. Poetry brought self-growth and healing as Mike explored the city and took it all in. Mike didn’t just go to open mics but he was also at clubs jamming out to punk and house music. He had several people encourage him to keep writing, where one of which was his buddy Phillip Martin. Mike and Phillip would write together and then go to an open mic and perform. Phillip, as well as the Beat Generation, was a big inspiration to Mike. Individuals like Jack Kerouac, Amiri Baraka, amongst many others influenced Mike as a writer as he gained wisdom and insight from their work.
Poetry brought about connections for Mike, and as a result, the group The Poets of the Round Table formed. The group consisted of poets, DJs, painters, singers and songwriters. The group was about coming together to build a community. Mike expressed, “We are all connected, we can uplight each other...Sharing words and sharing space is how we can connect on a deeper level.”
In your eyes who are you?
Mike is constantly improving to present his best self. Becoming an educator stimulated his growth, it evolved him and tested his spiritual fitness. His commitment to his family and his students has also helped him grow and given him resilience. Mike quoted Winston Churchill saying, “The price of greatness is responsibility.” Mike owes a lot to poetry and is thankful for everyone that has played a part in his life. Mike’s advice to young poets is not to ignore the process; poetry allows you to evolve and grow. One of Mike’s favorite quotes is by Jamal Hill “It never gets any easier, we just get stronger!”