Sonksen’s ‘Poetics’ evokes that Zen Feeling…
Mike ‘The Poet’ Sonksen is a Filmmaker, he just needs to act on it. My words to my trusted and esteemed fellow traveller and confidante a few days ago at Grand Park, DTLA. We were sitting in Starbucks after he had another on the fly, creative and intense video recording session ,with Javier Guillen, the social media wunderkind of L.A’s new epicenter of community gatherings including New Year’s Eve and July 4th.
Grand Park was that evening the venue of a timely and historic symposium on Hip Hop including break dance luminaries such as Lil Caesar. Javier and Mike, not surprisingly struck this complimentary collaborative vibe and were a few hours away from the documenting of the open air panel discussion in Grand Park, the quadrangle of L.A County Government of Superior Court, Board of Supervisors and Hall of Records. So Mike Sonksenesque, especially because it was not even mentioned or addressed that the community-oriented journalist/poet has written about these power centres and similar over the years as chronicler of his beloved Los Angeles.
‘Poetics of Location’ is the new work by 3rd-generation Angeleno Mike Sonksen. Publishers are Writ Large Press. The photo is my personal autographed copy from the author, who in his very laid-back manner suggested I review. Knee-jerk fashion I agreed, on the strength of my respect and admiration for him. Intuitively I knew there was no way I could tackle Michael’s work as stand alone product or creation. I decided and posit my case here that Michael Sonksen the man is the creative core from which to reference his writing.
Why? Simple. When one meets the humble, soft-spoken Angeleno one is struck that he has a lot on his mind, in unpredictable spurts he reveals some, and we are without fail impacted by his passion for history, community, cultural dynamics and social justice of his beloved, albeit elusive Los Angeles.
Enough preamble. We’re going in, as we say in House music circles (my preferred genre these days) to enjoy the DJ session. Our Maestro Dj is Mike Sonksen who will send you wild, unless one pays attention to the clues subtly left.
The session Mix is Poetics of Location: 25 Poems and an extended essay addressing poetry of place, urban history, architecture, social justice and community arts.
Modernism is wonderful metaphor of Poetics
Opening poem is Modernism in Part One of Poem on Location. Immediately I sense the movement and geometry expressing core Sonksen values through poetry. Excerpting selectively :
evolved after Darwin
the dreadful decade
Jim Crow America
Sonksen takes by the horns late 19th and early 20th century European intellectual tradition, which while reaching along scientific enquiry, spawned inhumane and intolerant American constructs.Sonksen is not a cheerleader of this unaccountable ‘Modern’ thought. Skipping ahead allowing the reader of Poetics to enjoy the Modern journey surprises.
the rise of film & television
moving pictures became scripture
D.W .Griffith’s ” Birth of a Nation,”
the movie star was born at the Egyptian
Like the Dj dropping a teaser of a hit track and then pulling it back, this is a set up by Sonksen for next poem in Part One: Turn a New Leaf titled ‘After Watching Birth of A Nation’.
The South’s new rebellion, the South Carolina
State House of Representatives,Freedman’s Bureau, Dixie’s nemesis,
equal rights, equal politics, equal marriage,
40 Acres and a mule, John Wilkes Booth,
Heady stuff here. Sonksen warned in the book’s Introduction where he references Community Artist’s role, “the passing of knowledge across generations is one of my central objectives.” That is what’s going on. In a few words as a Zen haiku does, Sonksen tickles the enquiring spirit of those with such an inclination . An enquiry into Southern history, reframed by D.W. Griffith initiating the strategic role of Hollywood in shaping public sentiment.
Sonksen’s earlier work ‘I am Alive in
Los Angeles’ the code-breaker
I have a secret tool to decode Sonksen’s Zen Sutra of Poetics, I ‘reverse engineered’ to his work a decade ago “I Am Alive in Los Angeles!”. I read this bold statement on Los Angeles and discovered on p. 29, “The Real Hollywood.”. Less we get it twisted , Mike reminds us.
There’s Hollywood the Industry
and Hollywood the neighborhood
More on that poem for the future review of “I Am Alive in Los Angeles!” However once more in the Introduction of Poetics the author explains:
“One of my lifelong missions is to map the lesser known sites and the communities of literary Los Angeles.”
Agreeing with a fellow poet and literary scholar, “that mapping important writers and venues is necessary because Los Angeles poets have always been invisible relative to the attention paid to screenwriters and content creators in the film and television industry.”
Voila! No wonder Sonksen viewed Griffith’s ground-breaking work with apprehension even if “Birth of A Nation” was screened in President Woodrow Wilson’s White House. History, social justice are in this man’s DNA. It is expressed from that core in his poetry. Serious business this poetry.
For me Modernism is the perfect focus and sample of Poetics because of the mapping issue.
Let’s get to this defining consideration immediately. Please remember Mike Sonksen wears two hats. Poet and journalist. There our author states unequivocally in the Introduction. “The ethic to which I aspire in my poetics is place-making through public poetry following (a) model of place-making through public art, this also applies to the 25 poems here because they too map a geography of my imagination.”
In my view Sonksen is still a bit obtuse at this moment, as I suspected he made connections in his head about what Western Modernity meant to Los Angeles in the American mapping arrangement. Like a Sutra which needs be digested, reflected, processed and repeated, the revelation is there all along awaiting the reader’s patience, sensitivity and clarity. Zen.
On page 5 (in the Introduction)titled ‘Mapping and the Role of Maps’ our Koan master raises the ante.
“The poems map concrete and intangible landmarks whether they be the poems about Union Station and the Painted Desert or my opening poem capturing the spirit of the age called ‘Modernism.’”
Before we jump to Part Two: Landmarks, a subtle but telling verse in ‘Reclusive Butterflies’
Multinational engineers induce transmutation
sequencing chronological collaborations
creating waterlogged grasslands
Then in conclusion ;
Reclusive butterflies believe
it’s time to turn a new leaf
Sonksen believes he is kindred folk with these butterflies as the subtitle of this Part One is “I turn A new leaf.”
Landmarks opens with “Next Stop: Union Station.” Metaphorically from this 75 year old station we hit Central Cali’s Coast where he notes “such serene serendipity,” yet a hint of applause for Nature’s resurgence.
erosive forces crushing
evoking existential exits earnestly
Then we roll past the Boomburbs ;
sitcom suburbs cover America
all along the interstate
We eventually arrive at “The Power of Place,” where Landmarks are itemized always including Sonksen’s registering fights for justice:
Biddy Mason’s freedom papers
the deed to her homestead.
If forgotten Sonksen makes his principled effort;
the story of a working woman of color,
a site of struggle, a sacred place.
Recasting poet Mike as DJ in session. Part Three: Southwest Concerto is the maestro spinning the vinyl of funky classics in a continuous medley climaxing in a crescendo plateau, where we the dancers surrender to the Truth.
We needed that workout of soul and body. We needed to confess and be reminded of the Gospel. Our L.A Gnosis. We are taken to the Church, make that Temple of historico-cultural Truth which counters and smashes the prevailing Hollywood corporate media dominant influence.
An Overpowering Spell of sanctioned accepted narratives. We land on the King’s Highway/El Camino Real which connected the Southwest’s conquest by Catholic Spain’s Conquistadors and Padres.
the lush garden of the new west
progressive visions nurtured
by native daughters
boosters in concert.
a nonstop fiesta.
Mike Sonksen the journalist unsheathes his kitana/pen, or like the Chinese Imperial Prime Minister of deft diplomacy and statecraft of whom it’s whispered, “when the scroll is opened, the dagger is revealed.”
The journalist will steady the hand of the poet to cut through much ambiguity and wasted mis-direction. Perfect moment for the climax of “Arrival Stories” and “The Spirit of Location.”
We return to the calm meditative state after the Santa Ana winds passed
the spirit of location
of oral histories
of public memories
Anchoring experiences to
A scheme of arrangements
A city of emotional landmarks
Mapping a Human Tomorrow
The Dj is letting the last jam slowly, deliberately fade to silence and we become still in body mind and Soul.
Our suspicions are validated in the safe good night (it’s now morning almost daylight) over the PA system.
(From Mike Sonksen’s earlier work “I Am Alive in Los Angeles!”; we know he is very much at home in the L.A underground dance club scene, and claims personal connection with luminaries who graduated from that world past decade.)
We allow the MC/ Zen Master the last word.
“The many years I have worked as a Journalist further reinforce my urge to record historical narratives. All of my work and the poems in this collection are guided by these principles. To be continued…”
Bravo, Michael Sonksen. We thank you for this neat pocket sized work we sense in time may be deemed by many, a Los Angeles Sutra. To be read and re-read with more clarity and understanding each time.
Michael ‘El Tigre’ Foster.
June 20, 2016
Summer Solstice 2016
Los Angeles, CA
2 Mikes @ Grand Park during 4 Days of Hip Hop June 19,2016. Mike The Poet Sonksen and Michael El Tigre Foster