By Dave Barton
By LP Hastings
By Sarah Bennett
By LP Hastings
By Jena Ardell
By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
By Joel Beers
Writer Mike Davis once called writer Mike Sonksen the Walt Whitman of the City of Quartz, but when the Long Beach-born poet-journalist (his term) better known as Mike the Poet lists some of his own close-to-the-heart influences, they're much more local and contemporary: Bukowski and Fante, ex-gang member-turned-novelist Luis Rodríguez, poet Wanda Coleman and Lewis MacAdams.
"I was one of those guys who read a bunch of books at 5, 6, 7 years old," he says now, laughing as he remembers himself as an "unconscious poet." That's little Mike Sonksen at age 18, a fresh UCLA freshman away from home for the first time, keeping a journal the same way his mother kept hers, riding the buses all over the city just to find things to write down. His perfect nights would start with a slam-style poetry performance and then stretch out until dawn in after-hours clubs, he says, chasing a one-of-a-kind culture he calls "fried chicken and chopsticks."
A love for nuts-and-bolts urban planning and a hot spot for LA's hazy history—warmed up by his grandfather's stories of red cars and movie palaces—met his natural affection for fierce LA hip-hop culture, and now almost 15 years later, he's sharing a seat with veteran rapper Blackbird on the long car ride to Vegas to perform a show of his own. Mike is his own vision of LA, a poet who sometimes writes for this and other newspapers and recites his own pieces with an obvious hip-hop rhythm—someone who can take unconnected moments and bring them together under one new name.
He's a "participant observer," he explains: "There's no place with such a beautiful mix. I went to Cleveland and it was white and black; Tokyo was incredible but it was all Japanese. LA is a little bit of everything—it's the future! But it's a positive future—there's a line I say about interracial lovers and racist gangsters. It's paradoxes—there are opposites and it is love and war, sunshine and noir, but in the end I really love it!"
I Am Alive in Los Angeles—a declaration he makes with pledge-of-allegiance gravity—is his first "real Library of Congress copyright book," a mash note to the city in which he lists forgotten neighborhoods with Biblical reverence and separates his poems with reprinted articles that snapshot LA's most vital hip-hop and soul musicians. "These are brilliant moments," he says now. "I wanna take a lot of Polaroids!"
MIKE THE POET WILL READ FROM I AM ALIVE IN LOS ANGELES AT THE BLUE NILE CAFÉ, 438 E. BROADWAY, LONG BEACH, (562) 435-6453. SAT., 8 P.M. FREE.