You were born and raised in the Bronx, what brought you to LA?

For better or worse, I really didn’t think about it much, I just did it. I had a best friend who moved out here and I was curious to see the city that Bukowski wrote about. I was only writing for a few years at this point, still trying to find my voice, but I thought throwing myself into a whole new strange world and starting from scratch would give me the kick in the ass I needed.

To be quite honest, it damn near killed me. Writing was the only thing that kept me going… that and booze, lots and lots of booze.

today
will not
get away

it will be
hunted and
stalked

opened
and entered

feasted upon
and finally
laid to rest

well lived
and unwasted.

What does it most often look like around you when you write? Do you have a zone?

I like a big desk and a bulletin board. I decorate my writing space with earthly treasures and many different notes that help guide me through my process. I also like to have space to get up and dance while I work because moving my body makes it all better. I like to be in complete solitude while I write. The best is a room with a view of nothing but landscape and a nearby wall that I can tape paper and images to. I’ve been lucky enough to conjure this at various times in my life and am in awe of the privilege. I seek out solo retreats in Joshua Tree and Humboldt County. The natural world, as opposed to the urban, is a consistent part of my practice.

Start by loving a God that lives
Inside the shell of a black beetle.
Now get a little older
And become a Jew
Who loves a God inside letters
That read backward on the page.
Older still and Christ comes
To teach some other version
That wipes us all clean
When we get dunked
In an above-ground swimming pool.

What was the genesis of this book?

Save Our Ship was inspired by “The Diverse Vices of Women, Alphabetized,” a renaissance alphabet intended to instruct women to avoid sensual pleasure, particularly that of speech. I overheard my art history colleague, Theresa Flanigan, mention her work on it, and my poet-spidey-sense tingled: I knew I could use it. I began by writing against it, but the result was too one-note. Meanwhile, I had become increasingly obsessed by the climate crisis and sixth extinction. So feminist rants were joined by environmental freakout poems, with some more quotidian poems mixed in, I hope leavening the whole with some humor. My elevator pitch is: “#MeToo meets Global Weirding, in abecedarian form. But in a good way.”

Your clamshell rings and rings
                                                         wrapped in seagreen plastic

         Mer-crone calling Fisher King

The number you are calling has a voice mail box that has been deluged

          a drowned sailor picks up

… crusts of dried salt in the streets …
                                                                      you’re breaking up …

          the tide of pink jellyfish
                                                      big as washing machines
                                                                                                     rises

When did you first think about talking to the dead?

As a child first without thinking, it seemed normal to have a cast of characters always in my head separate from the voices we all carry. They have their own languages. But with intention, not until my brother suicided; then I thought there must be a way to tune in and reach specifically, blood of my blood and coded the same as we are. I spent two years meditating while writing BASIC PROGRAMMING creating a visual narrative that involved walking 108 steps, one for each isolated inhale or exhale down a spiral staircase to the underworld where I could shed this coil and find him. If I lost count going down or my focus wavered, I would get up from the mat. And when I finally reached the bottom, I realized I didn’t know what to do at that point. You have to know how to get back up safely.

110 < >

By Megan Burns

Poem

what I do/ bemoan loss/ my betrayal/ what’s good/ never
traveled a land of dead to get me/ would you/ never waded my city
to pull photos from floodwater stained walls/ would you/ never tried
to pull my spine, notch vertebrae notch through back where I’m split/ spit on me/ would you/ never lowered yourself into mud spewing vomit, your lies that bile thick hanging from your chin/ or clawed your eyes out to not see pain you cause me/would you/ never put muzzle back of my head/ but you did/ never pulled trigger sending metal biting through wishes, dreams, nightmares / never put your mouth on mine & sucked out my breath or put it back in/
wouldyou/wouldyou/wouldyou/

photograph by Emily Raw

Here’s a way to start a self-interview. How are you not yourself?

How am I not myself? I’ve had to cut out dairy, I moved twice in a year, I’m trying to leave academia. I hardly recognize myself.

liver licked out of shape,
moldova moya, liquor
loves your shakes

louder the laughing,
lucky the fool, moldova
moya, playing pool

laid out, olives
like eyes, moldova moya,
milk and lies

What’s your latest creative project?

My new book is titled, Letters to My City. It’s a mix of essays and poems about Los Angeles and beyond.

The UCLA PhD candidate in History, Peter Chesney offers this synopsis on the book: “A street poet and a tour guide, through L.A. places and L.A. letters, Mike Sonksen means it when he says he’s going to share authority with folks at the grassroots in this multicultural city. Mike delivers on his promise and more, amplifying voices I for one might never have heard without him. That and he taught me, a critic of car culture, that an ethical manner of reading space, even as you drive through it, is possible. Props to a man who does the hard work of listening to the sound of the city!”

The Riots were the week before my prom
A month & a half before my graduation
Southern California was a time bomb

Race relations warring like Vietnam
My crew more like the United Nations
The Riots were the week before my prom

So Cal needed mindfulness like Thich Nhat Hanh
Multicultural coalitions for communication
Southern California was a time bomb

The poem featured here in TNB, “Catch,” like much of your work, involves childhood and parent-child relationship. You’re on in years, but still preoccupied with childhood it seems.

Yes, and it’s fair to use the word preoccupied—not only with my own childhood, but with this basic layer of our humanness that I feel we never outgrow. I work as a psychiatrist with a therapy practice, so, as you might imagine, I’ve seen what children we really still are beneath our apparent adulthood. And that’s not bad! Without our child-selves alive inside, we wouldn’t have any music or poetry, I’m sure!

Part of my preoccupation is the search for safe space for feeling sad or lost or helpless—space, creative or therapeutic, for feeling and expressing how it is without a dad there, or without a mom freed-up enough to be engaged. Whether we’re six or sixty, finding true holding for our distress can be as elusive as it is necessary. Many of us, young and old, trudge on without this, and it is, I believe, of great consequence. Much destruction comes of such secret lonely torment.

Catch

By Jed Myers

Poem

All the fathers are gone, under
the grass, above us in the earth’s
greenhouse haze, in stream silts
where the burial hills are awash
in the unprecedented monsoons,

some never found, swamped shot
in the rice marshes and ultimately
part of the crop, some taken in bits
as they sank into the mouths of fish
and bottom scavengers, some chopped

into manageable chunks and wrapped
to be kept from the air and stashed
behind Sheetrock while the cops passed
for unbroadcast reasons—all
the fathers, it sometimes seems, are gone,

Photo credit: Alexis Rhone Fancher

 

Hello Rick. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me.

Oh, it’s my pleasure Rick, though, full disclosure I’m just answering your questions by typing. We’re not speaking out loud. I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea.