For Mike the Poet, Los Angeles is his sprawling muse
He sees diversity as the city’s strength and finds inspiration in every part of the metropolis.
January 30, 2009
One warm night last fall, a man in baggy jeans and a long T-shirt hustled onto a bus that was ferrying gallery hoppers around downtown’s monthly Art Walk.
With an intent look in his bright blue eyes, he grabbed a microphone and began spitting out rhymes. “I’ve seen the best minds of my generation / kicking glorious incantations,” he intoned as the bus lurched up Main Street. “I make the consonants crack / like Jack Kerouac.”
¬© L.A. Times
Mike the Poet in action at Crane’s Hollywood Tavern
The bus was packed, the air was thick with marijuana smoke and most riders seemed more interested in shouting absurdities out the window than listening to poetry.
But the man with the mike continued, valiantly unfurling verses until he got off near a friend’s gallery, where he would deliver two more poems.
Mike the Poet might well be the hardest-working bard in Los Angeles. The 34-year-old Long Beach native and resident (whose real name is Mike Sonksen) gives more than 200 spoken-word performances each year and hosts regular open-mike nights. He teaches creative writing part time and gives professional tours of the city’s architectural landmarks — laced with poetry, of course.
He doesn’t do it for riches or for the ego boost. He is driven instead by the simple belief that in the “postmodern metropolis” of L.A., the city is what the people make it. His poems, which often read like little histories, celebrate the city and its countercultural movements.
“There are little worlds, little villages, little pockets all over the city, and there are all of these different scenes and movements throughout the years,” he said. “What I’m doing is cataloging it.”
In the process, Mike the Poet is also trying to build an art movement of his own — something he refers to as the New Beautiful. Centered on the Eastside spoken-word and urban music scenes, it is more positive, he says, than the often-competitive slam poetry community, which he avoids and decries as “too Hollywood.”