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Mike Sonksen: Poetry Meets Activism

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A blog from: The Staff of Poets & Writers

Posted by RW Blogger on 12.05.11

P&W-supported spoken-word artist Mike Sonksen, author of I am Alive in Los Angeles, blogs about poetry and activism.

Whether MFA candidates, avant-garde scribes, spoken-word artists, or traditional poets, there are more bards alive now than ever before. But, what exactly does it mean to be a poet? I think of a quote from Los Angeles poet Kamau Daaood. Daaood told Erin Aubry Kaplan in the L.A. Weekly, "When people run to open mics these days, it's mostly about ego–getting fifteen minutes... I [see] it as a jam session, swapping ideas, getting inspiration from other people."

In 2005, Daaood's The Language of Saxophones was published by City Lights Booksellers & Publishers. Daaood never pursued being published because he was too busy working in the community. Daaood has performed for more than four decades at festivals, galleries, jazz clubs, churches, schools, prisons, or wherever duty calls.

Another poet with the same commitment is Lewis MacAdams. MacAdams studied with Robert Creeley at the University of Buffalo in the 60s and hung with New York School poets. MacAdams became an environmental activist/poet in Bolinas, California, during the 70s and was a fixture at the San Francisco State University's Poetry Center. In 1980 MacAdams landed in L.A. There he discovered the Los Angeles River, and was outraged by the concrete channel housing the watershed. He decided to begin a forty-year performance piece dedicated to returning the river to its natural state.

One night in 1986 he performed a suite of poems dedicated to the Los Angeles River while being dressed up as a totem of flora and fauna specific to the river. This was the birth of the Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR). Twenty-five years after FoLAR's founding, the River has had several stretches restored back to its natural state. MacAdams started the river's resurrection with poetry. His new book Dear Oxygen, published by the University of New Orleans Press collects forty-five years of his life's work. MacAdams like Daaood has spent a lifetime using poetry to improve his community. Their work reminds me of the benchmark for which poets should aim.

Photo: Mike Sonksen. Credit: Chris Felver.

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