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Mike Sonksen

Episode 112

Builder, Poet, Historian

Mike Sonksen, aka Mike the Poet, is a 3rd-generation Southern Californian. Poet, professor, journalist, historian & tour guide, his book Letters to My City was published by Writ Large Press. For 25 years, Mike has given tours through the City of Los Angeles. He earned his Bachelor’s Degree at UCLA in 1997. In June 2014, he completed an Interdisciplinary Master of Arts in English and History from the California State University of Los Angeles. Following his graduation, Mike has published over 500 essays and poems with publications and websites like Poets & Writers, Metropolis, KCET, Alta, Wax Poetics, PBS, LA Taco, LA Review of Books, LAist, Boom and the Academy of American Poets. His poetry’s been featured on Public Radio Stations KCRW, KPCC & KPFK & Spectrum News. Mike is currently the Coordinator of the First Year Experience Program at Woodbury University, and he has been awarded by the Los Angeles Press Club.

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Mike Sonksen Quotes

  • “Just about everywhere I write about is a place that I had a job in, that I had a family member in, that I had a good friend in…”
  • “Poetry is a lot of different things, but in some ways, poetry is really feeling.”
  • Mike grew up in Cerritos near Los Angelas. 
  • Mike grew up in a hard time; in his last year of high school, the LA riots occurred. 
  • Mike went to UCLA.
  • After Mike graduated, he bounced around LA and lived in a variety of neighborhoods. 
  • Mike then met his wife, who was from Monterey Park.
  • Mike was taken with Monterey Park.
  • Mike hosted many poetry slams and open mics through the years 
  • Mike became a teacher and a historian in the area.
  • Milke is still shaping young minds and Woodbury College. 

Scott and Russell have a guest entrenched in the area. He is a poet, journalist, and builder of community, Mike Sonksen.

What is your connection to the San Gabriel Valley?

Maine loves the SGV. He has lived there for roughly 17 years. He wasn’t born in the area; he grew up in Las Angeles and was born in Long Beach.

However, Mike’s wife lives in Monterey Park for 44 years and lived there after immigrating from Japan.

Their Family owned a Japanese restaurant in Monterey Park called Kiyo.

Monterey Park was actually the first city in America that had an Asian Majority.


What was early life like for you?

Cerritos is similar to Monterey Park, according to Mike. There were a lot of Asian people in the area, and Mike grew up with many different kids from different nationalities in the area.

Cerritos was a great place for Mike to grow up, and his mother still lives in that house. It really prepared him for the world at large.

Mike has been teaching for about 15 years and writing before that, and Cerritos help bring out that passion.

After Cerritos, Mike went to UCLA. He bounced around all over LA until Mike met his wife and landed in Monterey Park with her.

How did you cultivate your writing and journalism?

In 1992 the LA riots happened the week before Mike’s prom was scheduled.

From his youth and experiencing everything going on around him and going to friends’ music shows, he started to write about what he was experiencing.

The 90s pushed Mike into being a writer through strife and desire.

Mike worked as a tour guide. He even still occasionally gives LA historical tours.

What does poetry mean to you?

Poetry is really feeling it trying to describe things you can’t quite put your finger on.

It’s somewhat undesirable.

Poetry kind of has a freeness that pros don’t have. However, it also has its own special set of rules.

Mike, what does it mean to host a poetry event?

They are mostly open mic events, though sometimes they are showcases.

Mike came from a hip-hop and rock background and drew influence from those performances.

There are lots of subclasses of poetry. Mike falls into more of a spoken word form of poetry, as do many people of color do as well.

It really started as young people talking about their lives and things around them, and Mike got into that realm. Mike mainly does them now with his students. He has actually published about 300 of his students.

What do you teach at Woodbury?

Mike is part of the interdisciplinary studies department of the school. But recently, he became the faculty coordinator for the first years of college.

They help students onboard into college. He teaches many classes, but he helps students get into school and helps them find themselves in school. Mike even takes that open mic idea and brings that into his classes to encourage open discussion and expression.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Mike was really influenced by a previous professor of his, Mike Davis, who wrote about LA History. He grew up loving Ginsburg and Kerouac, the beat generation. He also loved Langston Hughes.

Picture of Mike Sonksen

Mike Sonksen

The Cascades Park

Whittier Narrows Park

Myrtle Ave in Monrovia