hen the producers of KPCC’s “Unheard LA” recently invited Monterey Park resident Mike Sonksen to host an event in their space, he had no shortage of fellow artists and storytellers to call to join a celebration of LA’s diverse communities and pockets of wonder. He says he and the show’s team were “already on the same wavelength” so things gelled quickly for the show, which takes place at the Crawford Family Forum Wednesday night.
The “good friends and great wordsmiths” who will join Sonksen onstage include two of his former high school students, literary siblings Dante and Monique Mitchell, as well as fellow poet/tour guide Armond Kinard, L.A. Taco editor Daniel Hernandez, NAACP Image Award-nominated novelist and lawyer Natashia Deón, author/actor/activist traci kato-kiriyama, Monrovia poet Luivette Resto, “StoryPhile” host Lee Boek, freelance writer Esther Tseng, and Highland Park poets Sara Borjas and Rocío Carlos. Terry Robinson, aka hip-hopper Hymnal, will perform his surrealist poetry, and Sonksen also invited El Monte-based saxophonist Adrian Ramon, a longtime collaborator with whom he plans to perform a piece.
They named the event “Letters to Our City,” he says, “because the city is ours.”
It also links thematically to “Letters to My City,” a book of poems and essays that Sonksen, a third-generation Angeleno, published earlier this year. It’s an open-hearted love song to his native city, with poems like “Garvey Avenue From Alhambra to El Monte,” “Ode to the Los Angeles River,” “Arrival Stories,” and “Los Angeles: The Land of 1000 Dances” that delight in the history and surprises found in neighborhoods, streets, and individual citizens across LA. Homage is paid to literary inspirations like Chester Himes and Luis J. Rodriguez, and “LA Authors,” one of Sonksen’s signature poems, reappears in slightly altered form from what was seen in his 2006 collection “I Am Alive in Los Angeles!”
That earlier book’s titular poem also gets updated, as “I Am Still Alive in Los Angeles!,” with shout-outs to “millennials on bicycles” and “angels in a city singing/ synchronicity from Central to Century City.” “Elegy to Rootdown & Firecracker,” a key essay, passionately evokes the late-’90s club scene, when the Rootdown, Firecracker and the Chocolate Bar fostered the synergistic spirit of the “Millennial Los Angeles hip-hop, funk, soul underground.”
“People, music, vibes, beats, bass, life,” he writes. “A generation of us can testify, it’s been an amazing ride.”
In the intervening years, Sonksen has become a husband, parent and professor, and he now writes journalistic essays as often as poems. “Letters to My City” reflects his life and worldview now, and the “Letters to Our City” event represents the community that inspired his personal and literary evolution.
“The book is about living your values or living your ethics,” he says.
“Everybody’s sharing the city together, [and] everyone’s story matters.”
Unheard LA presents “Letters to Our City” with host Mike Sonksen and fellow wordsmiths 7:30-9 p.m. Wednesday, July 24, at the Crawford Family Forum, 474 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena; $12. Tickets and other info: kpcc.ticketleap.com/letters-to-our-city–presented-by-unheard-la/. To learn more about Sonksen, go to theaccomplices.org/portfolio/letters-to-my-city-by-mike-sonksen/