In his new collection of poems and essays, Letters to My City, Mike Sonksen explores and examines the city of Los Angeles as well as its people, neighborhoods, culture and history over generations. It’s both an up-close view and one from 35,000 feet floating above the geography and the psychology of the city that come together to evoke and define a sense of place, and our place in it. An excerpt of two poems from Letters to My City, and a preview from the author’s upcoming title, The Oral Tradition.


Letters to My City

A poem of address, prose for what’s next, generations of poets, generations of musicians,
A city of artists, a freestyle fellowship, an academy of architects, designing nature based
Solutions, the Garden City Movement, a sacred pilgrimage, bioregionalism, geographic
Literacy, economy of experience, a monument to memory, memorize imagery before
it’s not here anymore

Sing one for the river, take out the technocrats, speak people first language, practice praxis,
Put theory into practice, apply urban acupuncture, share a neighborhood story, an unwritten
Elegy, the last day you ever saw your grandfather, your 4th grade teacher, movements
of people, urban apostrophe, an arrival story, the landscape vernacular, behold the Central Library, the legacy of the Women’s Building

One for Wanda, the spark of creation, on location, a city drive with your mother, a hug from your brother, a song about your sister, music is the heartbeat, a field of great streets, night and the city, the gospel of beauty, pound the pavement, fight the good fight, bridge the divide, grow something, put people over profit, celebrate the present, we are the movement


Los Angeles A to Z
Around Arcadia, Alhambra and Artesia after Atwater and Arleta along Atlantic,
big rig trucks blow by Balboa, Bellflower, Beverly Hills & Burbank but not Bergamot. Burbs be calm connectors cool out in Carson, Crenshaw, Covina, Cudahy, Culver City, Coldwater Canyon & Commerce Casino. Commuters catch the crunch
down Doheny delivering dudes to Downey, don’t dismiss Dolby in Downtown Disney,
eventually east of El Monte is easier than El Segundo, exit Etiwanda
for Ford factories far faster than Flower or Figueroa, Fontana flora & fauna
Groves got ghost in Glendale on GlenOaks, gates got closed in Garden Grove, Gardena &
How many hosts had high hopes in Hollywood? How about Halloween’s home in Hawthorne? Who got hoodooed on Hoover? How about hype in Hacienda Heights?
Is it intricate on Imperial? Is industry invisible to individuals in Inglewood?
Is it indivisible to
jump junctions on Jefferson? Juxtapose jets again, justice is jettisoned in a jurisdiction
kicking it in Koreatown, catch karma clowns cataloging key kinetic characters
living in Los Angeles & Lennox, look at Long Beach’s long streets like Lakewood
learn about La Mirada, La Palma, La Puente, Lomita & Lawndale
meet Morrissey in Montebello, Monty in Montrose, make a mark in Monterey Park, maybe more in Monrovia
Nobody knows Norton on Normandie or north of Northridge, nor their neighbors
on Nordoff in North Hollywood
O Olympic, Olive & Olvera Street, order over in Orange County, operate on Ontario’s observatory
pedestrians pose in Pico Rivera, pursuing passion in Pasadena, pour it out in Paramount
queue up quickly at Queen of the Valley, quest quintessentially for quality at quiet cannon
remember Robertson, the Rose Bowl, Rosecrans, Rose Hills & Rosemead
Somewhere south of Santa Ana, Sam Sanders sings San Marino songs saluting Soto
tourists take trains to Trader Joe’s, Tulare, Turnbull Canyon, Torrance, Tujunga & Tarzana
under Universal City up to Union Station up above University
voyagers vibe on Vermont & Victory viewing Van Nuys, Valley Village & Victorville’s vicinity
wandering west to Watts, watching westerns on Winnetka, West Adams & Westchester
examine Excelsior’s exposition along Ximeno exiting Xanadu
You got young yogurt on York Boulevard, youthful unity in Yosemite
Zankou is zen, zone into zeitgeist zip up your zoot suit
& zoom zoom zoom Zion to Zuma



Ninety-Two Degrees
Ninety-Two Degrees
personal geographies
1992 till infinity
Driving across the city

Ninety-Two Degrees
before the Super Information Highway
trying to find my way
Through tangled

Ninety-Two Degrees
on a hot Autumn day
Santa Ana winds blowing through UCLA
The scent of fire in the air
Young poets without a care in the world

Ninety-Two Degrees
in the Sculpture Garden
Soaking up Sociology under the wooded canopy
Romanesque architecture, lengthy vistas
College kids kicking it on blankets

Ninety-Two Degrees driving
from UCLA to USC
Visiting Henry on Hoover Street
House parties and house music
Late nights listening to Morrissey
A never-ending story

Ninety-Two Degrees in Downey
Middle Earth, Metallica, the Blasters
Florence flowed faster,
Old River School was cool

Ninety-Two Degrees in Long Beach
Midnight Espresso in Belmont Shore
Seventh Street Roots & Culture
Portfolios before Retro Row

Ninety-Two Degrees in Garden Grove
Sublime and No Doubt played
backyard parties
South Bay to Costa Mesa

Ninety-Two Degrees
smells like Team Spirit
Nirvana is quiescence, jamming Jane’s Addiction,
The Red Hot Chili Peppers
Three Days under the bridge
Weekends that never ended

Ninety-Two Degrees at the Good Life Café
Freestyle Fellowship, innercity boundaries
Bebop in the Crenshaw District
Horace Tapscott’s Pan Afrikan People’s Arkestra
The Language of Saxophones plays
at the World Stage

Ninety-Two Degrees
at Florence & Normandie
Eight Trey Gang banged on Reginald Denny
April 29th, 1992, there was a riot on the street
Tell me: Where were you?

Ninety-Two Degrees on Hope Street
Protestors throwing rocks at the LAPD
Chief Gates in Brentwood
Courting campaign contributions
Looters lit liquor stores on fire;
burned by the infrastructure,
they burned the structure down;
snipers in Koreatown

Ninety-Two Degrees
in Venice Beach
The boardwalk extra hot,
White Men Can’t Jump
Sundown: the drum circle

Ninety-Two Degrees
on Van Ness
Ice Cube said it best,
today was a good day,
the pendulum of LA swings
on tectonic plates,
the earthquake

Ninety-Two Degrees
with Mercury in Retrograde
Long before I had an iphone
or even a beeper
Gas was cheaper
life was easier

Ninety-Two Degrees
Made me.


“Letters to My City” and “Los Angeles A to Z” are featured with permission of the author and publisher, Writ Large Press. “Ninety-Two Degrees” published with permission of the author. The formatting of some poems was changed for reprinting purposes.


Mike Sonksen aka Mike the Poet is a third-generation Los Angeles native. Poet, professor, journalist, historian and tour-guide, he teaches at Woodbury University. His latest book, Letters to My City, was just published by Writ Large Press.

Read our excerpt from Mike Sonksen’s Arrival Stories here.

Photo of the author by Joshua Jones