"Welcome to L.A." An Evening with Mike Sonksen
by Angela Butkus
Photographed by Keith Martin
April 14th, 2019— VENICE, CA. I found myself reluctant to get myself to make the trek down to Venice, not because it was too far to drive, but this year has been one major whirlwind and I was just a little uninspired. By fate, my twin flame whom I never knew before, came out to California from Boston and contacted me to take him somewhere where we could catch some good vibes. I knew exactly where to take him. Beyond Baroque on Venice Blvd. at 7:30PM.
Community, creative freedom, celebration and inspiration is what Mike Sonksen, aka Mike The Poet stands for and it was the perfect Sunday to celebrate his latest accomplishment, the publication of Letters to My City, a collection of his poems and essays written over the span of two decades.
Sonksen is a third-generation Los Angeles Native, a poet, professor, journalist and father who has made a name for himself throughout the Los Angeles area from hosting open-mics all over DTLA from coffee houses, book stores to the Buddhist Temple where he married his wife. Letters to My City is an homage to Los Angele’s history, the effect its atmosphere leaves on its inhabitants and how different each area may seem from one another, Angelenos share a certain common connection with one another.
Though it was a celebration of Sonksen and his work, he did not bask in it selfishly. Sonksen happily shared the moment with those who share a special place in his artistic history in LA. He welcomed his old high school students to the stage, his mentors and his best friends to read their poetry, essays or research.
One in particular was his former student, Khadijah McCaskill who read her essay entitled Kitten which has been published in Cultural Weekly , about her time spent in Costa Rica for an internship she thought would change her life. To her surprise she found herself in a desolate situation financially and romantically, but was still able to find her voice, her truth and sense of being home in her own right, thus highlighting the fact that even in adversity, we can find ourselves.
Terry Robinson spoke about the struggle off artistic identity and consistency when people deem others as weak because they hold their hearts on their sleeves, leaving them to feel beaten down by the daily grind to just have their art heard and/or appreciated.
“They don’t call you homeboy anymore even though clearly you’re at home…They nick your nickname and they don’t call you anythang. You’re Mr. So-in-So from wherever you were and your relation-ship is in the ocean and as personally as you can describe the situation they do not care how you feel. And although it stings, it cannot be and there is no buzz around you although you are a human being who has dreams of flying and cannot take off although you are standing in the wings… ” Robinson read on Sunday night.
Both my friend and I were moved by Robinson’s piece for reasons unknown to one another, but the sighs we drew were drawn in synchronicity. Personally, I was reminded of the struggle it’s been finding my voice and my purpose as an editor and as a poet. Plenty of people will want to tear you down to size, ridicule your creative intentions and dreams saying that the pursuit of them will not be worth it because it just won’t happen. This is immobilizing to hear, as it was for me when I was told such things, especially when you know that your words and your artistic vision is powerful and can inspire others— to make others feel something.
And let’s face it, even if someone wants to add their two cents towards your artistic abilities, there’s always a fine line between constructive criticism and destructive opinions from those who think they are more elite than you. However, the truth always lies in the notion in which Robinson explains: “because [we] talk about it emotionally, you think that [we’re] weak and I just think that you’re mean and cruel and that is why we are no longer compatible.” There is never anything wrong with wearing your heart on your sleeve, speaking passionately about betrayals, missions or your internal truth that makes you who you are. Those who look down on you for believing in your abilities or your ideals are not going to be the ones who see you excel no matter what walk of life you choose. So, it is always wiser to remain loyal to the path you carve for yourself because each accomplishment you make for yourself will secure you in your own creative home and leave those who don’t provide constructive criticism for you to grow left aside.
Sonksen finished up the evening by reciting a new edition of his famous “Alive in Los Angeles” poem where he exquisitely described how even after several decades in the city, it still has the power to breathe new forms of inspiration into inhabitants lungs— the names of the influential writers will change, traffic will get worse, but the LA streets will test you, inspire you and keep your creativity sharp if you take a moment to dissect its beauty.
Nikolas Whitehead and I had met here for the first time that night and both left inspired, full and excited for the new chapters in our lives. He told me that he’d never been around more beautiful, intelligent people and was elated he got to witness such talent. He will be moving out here in six months to set his businesses up and told me that this event made him even more excited to move to LA. I, on the other hand, have never been more inspired to keep the consistency of writing going or to bring in new theological and philosophical elements into my own craft— both in my writing as a poet and in my curation of this magazine.
A major congratulations to Mike Sonksen on his book, Letters to My City and to all of those who performed. Los Angeles is lucky to have a poet who celebrates his city and all the creatives that cross paths with him.
“To be coninued, LA!”