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Profile of a Modern-Day Poet in L.A.: Mike the Poet

[dropcap size=big]“L[/dropcap]os Angeles is not Baywatch or the Beach Boys, it is getting carne asada tacos from a taco truck and bacon wrapped hot dogs at two in the morning.”

These are the words of Mike Sonksen, a poet, historian, activist, teacher, husband, and father better known as Mike the Poet. The nickname was given to Mike at the age of 23, by a friend who noticed he always carried a notebook. “You know Mike, you’re not Mike Sonksen, you’re Mike the Poet.”

He was born in Long Beach and raised in Cerritos by his mother, Pamela Hays. She wrote in journals since she was nine years old and encouraged him to follow in the same footsteps.

It was not until the Los Angeles Riots in 1992 when Mike was inspired to write poems on a consistent basis. Poetry is what ultimately kept Mike out of trouble, especially during the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Los Angeles was considered to be in a war zone. “The 80s were about Dynasty, status, hair metal, and cocaine. My scene was about celebrating community.”

In 1997, Mike earned his Bachelor's of Arts Degree in Sociology from UCLA. During his college experience, Mike and his friends would explore the city of Los Angeles. Mike’s adventures guided him towards performing poems at open mic events until he couldn’t stop. These venues were located in Echo Park, Venice Beach, Highland Park, Downtown Los Angeles, Koreatown, and South Central.

Aside from driving with friends, Mike also recollects many memories of driving with his grandfather, Frank Sibley. Mike’s grandfather shared a variety of stories with him about Los Angeles during the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. These stories are described by Mike as his biggest inspiration to properly represent the city’s history through poetry and journalism since it has been greatly misrepresented by the media.

In addition, Mike’s grandfather influenced him to become friends with everybody. He taught Mike that he should always be a cool and positive person wherever he goes. This helped Mike develop the ability to connect and empathize with people, which later contributed to his regular participation in protests and activism.

In 2009, Mike married, Emi Motokawa, and together they have two kids. Mike explains how much more grounded he feels being a family man and that it has made him a better poet. Mike still enjoys writing and performing but he has been preoccupied due to his new role as a husband and father.

By 2014, Mike graduated from Cal State Los Angeles with his interdisciplinary Master’s Degree in English and History. Mike’s social skills easily transitioned him into a new passion, teaching. This has changed Mike’s approach towards poetry. He explains, “I still talk a lot of smack, but in a more sophisticated way.”

Although Mike never wanted to become a teacher, he discovered the joy of helping young people find their voice. He motivates his students to write as often as possible and provides them with the space to share their work. Mike believes students should write poetry because it provides the tool for imagination. When the students tell their stories, they are able to obtain ideas and concepts versus memorizing facts. “Teaching is my form of activism because I give students permission to be themselves.”

Mike first found his own voice over ten years ago with his debut poetry book, I Am Alive in Los Angeles!, and in the following years with a KCET column, LA Letters. He has also had the opportunity of sharing the stage with celebrated poets such as: Luis Rodriguez, Wanda Coleman, and Lewis McAdams. Not to mention, Mike has been mentored by other legendary scribes including: Mike Davis, Lynell George, and Sesshu Foster. The spirit these writers gave Mike, he now shares with the writers he mentors. “I have faith,” he says, “that if you work hard and treat people right, things will work out.”

The Riots Were the Week Before My Prom
By Mike Sonksen

The Riots were the week before my prom
A month & a half before graduation
Southern California was a time’s up bomb
Race relations warring like Vietnam
My crew more like the United Nations
The Riots were the week before my prom
So Cal needed mindfulness like Thich Nhat Hanh
Multicultural coalitions for communication
Southern California was a time’s up bomb
Tired citizens needed more than escapist songs
All the broadcasts played nonstop frustration
The Riots were the week before my prom
Three months later I moved out of my Mom’s
UCLA my emancipation
Southern California was a ticking time bomb
Poetry & music made it more calm
Journal writing became my salvation
The Riots were the week before my prom
Southern California is a time bomb

Mike now teaches Interdisciplinary Studies at Woodbury University in Burbank and is currently working on a new book titled, Still Alive in Los Angeles. The book will be about 200 pages, which consists of Mike’s favorite Los Angeles poems and essays. It is scheduled for release in October 2018.

If you’d like to keep up with Mike the Poet and his upcoming book, please refer to the social media outlets listed below for more information.

Entropy Magazine:
Cultural Weekly:

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