Al Young title

Archive for January, 2009

MIKE THE POET — His Sprawling Muse: L.A.

Friday, January 30th, 2009

Go to the L.A. Times original



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.

By Kate Linthicum

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.”

mike-the-poet-in-action © 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.”


In Memoriam: JOHN UPDIKE (1932-2009)

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009



John Updike  | Photo © New York Times


John Updike and family at home; Ipswich, Massachusetts,1966
© Time Life Pictures/Getty Images


At the Bennington Summer Writing Workshops we met circa 1984. I was in the trenches, running a fiction-writing workshop. Updike was a featured overnight guest of honor. For some reason, we hit it off at first handshake. “Call me John,” he said. At dinners and parties, when he had my ear, he talked to me about his dreams and golf. With dreams I could come early and stay late. Golf was over my head, even though I had caddied many years before for friends who were anything but serious golfers. Besides writing, golf was something John seemed to be something John Updike lived for. I’ll never forget the Friday night at The Caf√©, the campus watering hole, where the workshop crowd would gather nightly to down beers and literally talk shop, Wyn Cooper, a poet who was editing Western Literary Review from Denver at the time, had gotten hold of a movie projector to show a reel of Super 8 footage he’d shot of his high school girlfriend: Madonna. He was about to sell it off for thousand of dollars. I remember how John and I hung out near the back of the smoky room, sticking close to the screen door in order to take in as much fresh outside air as we could. We had just watched images of Madonna climbing out of a swimming pool in a drenched bikini. Suddenly the camera closed to catch her stare into the lens with a smile. Lips parted, she let a shiny stream of egg white and yellow slither from her mouth to her chin, neck and onto her cleavage. With this, the reel reached its end. We could hear the last of the film flap as it disengaged from the take-up spool. Suddenly John Updike nudged and tugged me through the screen door out into the sweltering July night, crammed with crickets. “Al,” he said, “I have to ask you something.” “Yes, John, what?” “Just promise me you won’t laugh.” “I promise,” I said. Then, speaking in a low voice as he glanced around, John Updike asked: “Tell me, who is this Madonna?” My fondness for the guy grew. I had taught his short stories — “A&P” and “The Music School”¬† — in literature classes. Later I would teach The Witches of Eastwick to let writing students learn from a master of graphic description, reminding them that Updike’s early training was in art school. Sundays he dressed and went to church.¬† In his Rabbit novels, the writer lets us know how well he understood what seamy stuff the hungover and non-devout might be up to of a secular Sabbath morning. Listen to John Updike read himself on his audio-books. He is superb.
–Al Young


Christopher Lehmann-Haupt: John Updike, a lyrical writer of the Middle-Class Man, dies at 76 (New York Times)

John Updike: A life in quotes (Telegraph, U.K.)

John Updike in Black and White: On his own bi-racial family (“A Letter to My Grandsons,” is a letter to his first two African American grandchildren–more such mixed-racial grandchildren would follow since two of his four children married in this manner)

john_updike2_200 Photo © Mandel Ngan

spkr-icon1 Remembering John Updike: Literary Legend npr-logo

Information about the New York Public Library’s upcoming tribute to John Updike on Thursday, March 19, 2009 in Manhattan



Sunday, January 25th, 2009





lobama_p1 © Carlos Barria/Reuters

A head for the arts: Obama’s own experience as a child, when even the poorest schools had an art teacher and a music teacher, is driving his desire to reintroduce that experience for all children.

President Obama’s call to arts

Proposed Artists Corps is one plank in his push to revitalize the arts in education.

By Gloria Goodale | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
from the January 16, 2009 edition


Mahmoud Darwish: STATE OF SIEGE

Thursday, January 15th, 2009



Mahmoud Darwish (1942-2008)



Here, on the hillsides, facing the sunset and the cannon of time
Near the gardens with broken shadows
We do what prisoners do
What the jobless do
We cultivate hope
A country preparing for dawn. We become less intelligent
For we glimpse the hour of victory:
There is no night in our night lit up by bombardments
Our enemies keep watch and our enemies light the lights for us
In the obscurity of our caves
Here, there is no “I”
Here, Adam remembers the dust of his natal clay
On the brink of death, he says:
I can no longer lose my way
Free I am close to my freedom. My future is in my hands
Soon I will penetrate my own life,
I will be born free, without parents,
And for my name I’ll choose letters of azure
You who rise up on our thresholds, enter,
Drink Arab coffee with us
You will feel that you are men like us
You who rise up on the thresholds of our houses
Get out of our mornings
We will be reassured that we are
Men like you
When the airplanes disappear, the doves fly up
White, white, they wash the cheeks of the sky
With free wings, they take back their brightness, their claim
To the ether, to play. Higher, higher, fly
The doves, white white. Ah, if the sky
Were real, [a man said to me, passing between two bombs]
Cypresses, behind the soldiers, are minarets protecting
The sky from collapsing. Behind the barbed-wire fence
Soldiers are pissing — protected by a tank —
And the autumn day ends its golden stroll in
A street vast as a church after Sunday mass …
[To a killer] If you had considered the face of your victim
And thought about it, you would have remembered your mother in the
Gas chamber, you would have freed yourself from the rifle’s logic
And you would have changed your mind: this is not how
One reclaims an identity


HEARTS GATHERING: A Valentine’s Night of Poets, Laureates & Music

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009



diprima poetryflash1
Diane diPrima

Poetry, Laureates & Music for Valentine’s Night

mccluresm three-hearts

Michael McClure

edamaxym106 Eda Maxym

kentblow muske-dukes-green1 al-striped-shirt-tie

Stephen Kent                     Carol Muske-Dukes              Al Young

wes-scoop-nisker dan-robbins-gualala1 kpfa-941

Wes “Scoop” Nisker¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Dan Robbins


Saturday 14 February 2009
St. Valentine’s Night

‚ÄĘ HEARTS GATHERING: Poets, Laureates & Music for Valentine’s Night, a shared benefit for KPFA Radio and Poetry Flash, also presented by Moe’s Books (who will have books by the readers available for purchase), featuring a major reading by Diane diPrima, Michael McClure, newly named California poet laureate Carol Muske-Dukes, 2005-2008 California poet laureate Al Young performs with powerful jazz bassist Dan Robbins, with a special appearance by Stephen Kent, master player of Australia’s didjeridu (performing with Eda Maxym), hosted by Wes “Scoop” Nisker.


King Middle School Auditorium, 1781 Rose Street, at Grant, Berkeley, free parking and wheelchair access, advance tickets $15 online and at supportive bookstores/$20 at the door, 8:00 pm.

510.848.6767 Ext 611