The OraL Tradition

By Mike Sonksen

Poem

(Nomadic Rhymers are Timeless)

Poetry started with the oral tradition.
Before books people listened
The word was spoken first
History sung in verse,
Bards, griots, gnostics, troubadours
In the beginning there was the word..

Ancient Sanskrit scribes
Memorized Vedic texts
Through chants & mantras
Recitations like the Upanishads.
Assonance & alliteration,
Soliloquies & monologues.
Early Greek poets called Rhapsodes
Told epic tales including the Iliad
Griots wandered across West Africa
Sharing legends & praise poems
Twelfth Century Troubadours traveled
Town to town telling tales.
Sestinas, villanelles, tell the tale,
The villanelle as a vehicle
Respect to the Italian Renaissance,
Source of the sonnet & ballad.

Nomadic rhymers are timeless!
Elizabethan & Shakespeare,
Back to nature like the Romantic poets.
Get your Wordsworth, cooler than Coleridge,
Lyrical ballads,
Bright stars like John Keats,
Mythical like Lord Byron & Shelley
William Blake & the Auguries of Innocence,
Metaphysical poets, American transcendentalists,
Thoreau & Ralph Waldo Emerson
Singing the body electric with Walt Whitman
Fireside poets gathering families
Around the fire listening to poetry,
The Theatre of the Word..

Nomadic rhymers are timeless!
Yeats, a heavyweight in the Rhymers Club,
Edgar Lee Masters & the Chicago Renaissance,
Sandburg’s City of Big Shoulders,
Chilling with William Carlos Williams
Or in the Wasteland with T.S. Eliot.
Crossing the Bridge with Hart Crane,
Surrealists, Futurists, Dada,
W.E. Dubois & the Smoke King.
Langston Hughes & the Harlem Renaissance,
Black Mountain Poets, Projective Verse,
Beat Generation poet mystics,
Poetry as an occupation like Neruda
Duende with Federico Garcia Lorca
Kenneth Rexroth & the San Francisco Renaissance..

Nomadic rhymers are timeless!
New York School cool with Ted Berrigan.
Frank O’Hara writing poems on his lunch break.
Catching a handshake with Leroi Jones
Before he became Amiri Baraka,
Don L. Lee became Haki Madhubuti,
Can’t forget Nikki Giovanni,
The Black Arts Movement,
Cultural movements,
Academic movements,
Geographic movements, ideological movements,
The word keeps moving!
Confessionalists,
Abstract expressionists,
New formalists,
Lexical integrationists,
Language poets, Household Poets,
Spoken word semiotics.
Narrative linguistics,
Imagists, Objectivists,
Copper Canyon Press,
Check the text.

Nomadic rhymers are timeless!
Warriors of the Word
Pounding the pavement of time
Living their lines through
Experience outside of the academy.
Take it to the concrete,
Go Prairie troubadour like Vachel Lindsay
Factory windows are always broken
Other windows are let alone,
Stream of consciousness
Nomadic rhymers are timeless!
Transcontinental tellers of the tale.
12th Century troubadours,
Greek rhapsodes, West African griots,
Celtic bards, Egyptian Gnostics,
Chanted Buddhist sutras,
Spoken Word Poets & Hip Hop emcees
Nomadic rhymers are timeless.
Three generations on the same stage,
All the ancestors on the same page.

Poetry started with the oral tradition
Before books people listened
The word was spoken first
History sung in verse,
Bards, Griots, Gnostics, Troubadours
In the beginning there was the word.

Name some of your favorite influences.

Here’s a list of authors, artists & musicians that have inspired me. William Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Mike Davis, Jack Kerouac, William CArlos Williams, Walt Whitman, IShmael Reed, HAki MAdhubuti, Tom Wolfe, John Steinbeck, Common, A Tribe CAlled Quest, Nelson Algren, Lonnie Liston Smith, Joan Didion, Jeff Buckley, Ursula Rucker, Marvin GAye, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Joni MitcheLL, KRS-One & the Gospel of Hip Hop.

Live music venues & the art galleries of Underground Los Angeles.

Art Deco architecture & craftsmen cottages.


Why do they call you Mike the Poet?

Back in February 1998 Anthony Fleming aka Tone Tec dubbed me Mike the PoeT when we were freestyling in Flagstaff, Arizona. I had a tourguiding job where I drove to the Grand Canyon every week. Around the same time when I hit open mics around LA there were several hosts that always mispronounced my last name. Somehow Sonksen always gets morphed into all sorts of words. One guy said Svenstarksen, some crazy ish like that!! My partner PhiLLHarmoniC was like just tell the hosts your name is “Mike the PoeT.” Old heads have been calling me Mike the PoeT for a dozen years.


You are also a tourguide?

Yes I’ve been tourguiding for many years now.


How long have you been tourguiding?

I began tourguiding in August 1997. After graduating from UCLA two months before I was job hunting and didn’t see too many jobs I wanted. But eventually I saw an online listing of a tourguiding position with a new company. This was the time when online job hunting had just started and I had always been a bit of a Luddite. Anyhow I decided to apply because the job description included driving week-long trips from Los Angeles to the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas the Bay Area & back.

I emailed my resume and was soon called back. They hired me quickly and put me on the road real heavy for Fall of 1997 and the next few years. I filled several journals with poems, notes & prose on my travels. Whenever I was home in LA for a few days my great friend PhiLL MArtin & I were writing poems, taking city missions & performing poems anywhere we could.

I began reading my poems to the international travelers on my tours. They asked me to read more. Gradually my poetry, historic tours & overall personality merged into one. Old friends of mine say I’ve been giving city tours since we were in high school anyway. Over the years tourguiding has been a rewarding position I have come back to many times over the last 13 years. I have worked for seven different companies. Most frequently with Red Line Tours, Museum of Neon Art & the Museum of Architecture & Design.  I’m doing a lot of tours this summer in 2010.


Describe one of your tours?

The walking tours with Red Line Tours cover neighborhood architecture, cultural history and overall legends & folklore in Hollywood and Historic Downtown. No longer than 75 minutes or so, we walk about four blocks and discuss Los Angeles history. I’ve been working with Red Line since 2005. I rock a poem at the end of the tour. Sometimes rocking the poem on Hollywood Boulevard, other times in the garden of the roof at the Disney Concert Hall.


What about the Urban Hike Series?

The Urban Hike with A & D is the series of tours we have done for the last 4 summers with the Museum of Architecture & Design. I lead a walking tour through less covered neighborhoods like Leimert Park, Boyle Heights, the Los Angeles River, Koreatown & others. Poetry is a big part of the Urban Hike.


What about the Neon Pub tour?

Oh you mean the Poet’s Beat Cruise. That’s a tour I run with the Museum of Neon Art.  We take a 3 1/2 hour cruise from Downtown LA to Hollywood to Koreatown & back to downtown. It starts @ 8PM. The tour includes 3 short stops @ well known watering holes like the Broadway Bar, Frolic Room & the legendary Bukowski bar Frank ‘ n’ Hanks near the Wiltern in Koreatown. Along the way I kick a few poems, tells some 411 on the Art Deco Movie Palaces & Vintage neon signs & we also play classic songs about Los Angeles that blend into the tour.


You do a lot of different tours, what else do you do?

Besides tourguiding I am also a teacher. The last 5 semesters I have taught Creative Writing at View Park Preparatory Accelerated Charter High School.  My students at View Park are on fire and have started a coalition of teenage scribes called Writers United. We just published the Third Volume of their work entitled VIEWS FROM VIEW PARK. A few of our students have won awards with the City of Los Angeles. They are a great group of young writers. We are going to be doing an event in April 2011 @ Beyond BAroque for National Poetry Month.

This summer I just taught a 1-day writing workshop for Brave New Voices & am teaching a Spoken Word workshop with 826LA for teenage poets in mid August. 826LA is a great nonprofit organization dedicated to improving teenage writing skills. This will be my second year in a row working with them. We will be running the workshop from their Echo Park location.


What’s next for you?

I am finishing the sequel to my first book I AM ALIVE IN LOS ANGELES! My forthcoming book is titled THE NEW BEAUTIFUL: Urban Alchemists & Underground Heroes. The book is a mixture of essays and poems documenting the people & places of the Los Angeles Arts Renaissance over the last two decades. Real wood instead of fools gold, we are the face of the new beautiful. Sometime FAll of 2010 the book will be dropping.


Where can we see you perform around Los Angeles?

I host an event at the Stella Adler Conservatory in Hollywood as well as perform in venues like Mozaic in Venice, Corazon Del Pueblo in Boyle Heights & A Mic & Dim Lights in Pomona. Also great venues like Tia Chucha’s in Pacoima & Avenue 50 in Highland Park. The poetry community in Southern California is stronger than ever. I also speak at a lot of universities around California & the West Coast.


Who are the Poets of the RoundTable?

Poets of the Round Table began with my man Phillip Martin & me. PhiLL is now known as the poetpainter PhiLLHarmoniC. We met in 1992 as freshmen at UCLA. We were both poets and always creative. By 1998 all of our friends were DJ’s, musicians, artists & other eclectic folks. We met the poet Besskepp in 2000 and the Poets of the Round Table began growing. We started doing events in Echo Park, downtown, Venice, PAcoima, Claremont, Highland Park, Long Beach, San Diego & beyond.

The collective grew into a cadre of brilliant poets, DJ’s & singer-songwriters like Blackbird, Mear One, Busstop Prophet, Ordell Cordova, Ratpack Slim, Stricke-9, Hollywood 7, DJ Jeremy Sole, Sarah Cruse, Megan Jacobs, AK Toney, DJ Dave & Black Spinach are some of the figures that have rocked with us over the last decade.


Do you have any recommendations for everyone out there?

I have several choice locations I recommend for connoisseurs of culture. Don’t sleep on selected So Cal’s Bookstores. I am always buying books. Some of my favorite books shops are Eso Won Books in Leimert Park, Skylight Books in Los Feliz, Stories in Echo Park, LAst Bookstore on Main in Downtown, Kinokuniya in Little Tokyo & Vroman’s in Pasadena.

East First Street in Boyle Heights is emerging as a focal point for Eastside art. Check Corazon Del Pueblo & Brooklyn & Boyle Magazine. Art & apparel at venues like Crewest Gallery in the Historic Core, Archrivals in Little Tokyo. Theater @ the Stella Adler Conservatory in Hollywood. Post poetry drinks @ Frank’n’Hanks in Koreatown. These are just a few of my favorite stomping grounds. Hikes in Topanga or Runyon Canyon. Afro Funke` on Thursday nights in Santa Monica. The Los Angeles underground has molded me along with the stories of my grandfather.