Hint to aspiring writers on campus: if you want to get published, hang out with Mike the Poet.
Equal parts scholar and performer, Woodbury faculty member Mike Sonksen, also known as “Mike the Poet,” is a third generation L.A. native acclaimed for publishing essays, poetry, performances and mentoring young writers.
Teaching in Woodbury’s Interdisciplinary Studies department, Sonksen has guided more than 30 students along the path to publication within the last year alone. Whether in Cultural Weekly –- a favorite –- or at public readings events like the Grand Park Our Voices Festival and monthly poetry performances with the city of Glendale, Woodbury’s resident journalist/historian/poet/muse is a ready source of inspiration, encouragement and wise counsel.
So, what is Mike the Poet’s M.O.? Consider an excerpt from his piece “Is Hope Alive in the Age of Trump? Poets and Writers Creating a New Vision,” published in his regular column LA Letters with KCET: “After watching a documentary about Walt Whitman and discussing his poem ‘Song of Myself’ in class, my students wrote response poems using a few of Whitman’s lines as a starting point. I did not specify exactly what they should write, but I told them to use the spirit of Whitman to go in any direction they felt that would connect to their own life and how they feel in this moment. One student started her poem using Whitman’s phrase: ‘It is time to explain myself — let us stand up.’”
Students grasp that sensibility immediately, as Kendra Quadra did in her recent essay, “Limitless: The Story of Dani Bowman” in Cultural Weekly. It’s all about process and style and freedom of expression: “I’m now in Professor Sonksen’s ‘LA Stories’ class. I look around the room, see a few familiar faces, and exchange smiles. Professor Sonksen warms the class up by giving us a writing exercise, which we can volunteer to read out loud.”
Sonksen believes in empowering students and his classes combine the spirit of a Socratic dialogue with an open mic. Students do a lot of in-class writing and then share their work with one another aloud. Sonksen has co-hosted open mics on campus with Woodbury Professional Writing faculty member, Dr. Linda Dove and Woodbury’s online publication, Moria.
He has also collaborated heavily on campus with faculty member Risa Williams and 7500 Magazine. Williams states: “Mike has been a consistent guest speaker in my 7500 Digital Journalism class. He has gone on to mentor many of my students, even helping a few of them get published. We are working together on building a relationship between 7500 and KCET to foster new writing voices.”
Williams and Sonksen recently took a team of Woodbury students to KCET’s Burbank studio for a field trip. Over the last year, Sonksen has also taken students on field trips to Los Angeles City Hall, the Museum of Neon Art, Leimert Park’s World Stage, Boyle Heights and the Theodore Payne Foundation. Sonksen credits the Interdisciplinary Studies program chair Dr. Will McConnell for creating classes like “Journeys, Natures and LA Stories,” where students can directly engage with local landscapes and academic texts in a synthesized fashion that concertizes theory into direct action.
Since his graduation from UCLA in 1997, Sonksen has published more than 500 essays and poems. His regular KCET column, L.A. Letters, celebrates literary Los Angeles. He holds an Interdisciplinary Master of Arts in English and History, and his prose and poetry have been included in programs with the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office, Grand Park and the Music Center. His most recent book, “Poetics of Location,” was recently published by Writ Large Press.
His first book, “I Am Alive In Los Angeles!,” has been added to the curriculum of several universities. Of late, he has graced the pages of The Academy of American Poets, The Architects Newspaper, KPCC’s Unheard LA, Entropy, Cultural Weekly, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and LA Taco. The Associated Students of Woodbury University recently awarded Sonksen for “Excellence in Teaching” in the College of Liberal Arts with a plaque.
Sonksen likes to tell his students that they can accomplish whatever they put their mind to when they work hard, and that “the city is ours!”