Saying Goodbye to Verse Come, Verse Serve With Mike Sonksen

Over the last five years, Verse Come, Verse Serve provided our students with a platform to share their original writing with the campus community. Sometimes shaking with nervousness, sometimes boldly approaching the podium, dozens of students have bravely taken part in this open mic event, reading their poetry and prose to a lunchtime audience. Verse Come, Verse Serve has also hosted remembrance events, such as César Chavez Day and Martin Luther King Day. This year marks Verse Come, Verse Serve’s fifth anniversary and final year. The beloved program will end with founder and CLAS adjunct faculty member Mike Sonksen’s departure from the university. We interviewed Sonksen to learn more about the program’s history and what it has meant to him.

How did Verse Come, Verse Serve get its start? 

We started in January 2019 when Dr. Reuben Ellis was named Interim Dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. He asked if I would like to do something special for the College. I told him that I wanted to start a frequent open mic for our students. Starting in 2017, [CLAS faculty member] Dr. Linda Dove and I had collaborated on a few readings every semester, but I thought we needed to increase the frequency to every two weeks. Reuben agreed, and we decided to hold the event on Tuesdays at noon, usually on Woody’s outdoor patio where we would have a built-in audience.

Why did you want an open mic event at Woodbury? 

I have hosted open mics for two decades and at every school I have taught at. I witnessed time and time again how students reading their writing aloud leads to civic engagement. It also increases their confidence and helps them build public speaking skills. I knew we had to start something, and it’s safe to say it’s been a smashing success, with participation by students, faculty, and staff across university departments and divisions. Those Tuesday afternoons felt like the campus coming together.

What impact do you believe Verse Come, Verse Serve had on Woodbury Students? 

Verse Come, Verse Serve is student-driven, and students serve as event hosts. The first hosts were Aspen Leavitt and Laila Cooke-Campbell. In fall 2020, Joshua Jones joined Aspen as the co-host before he graduated in spring 2021. Aspen Leavitt remained the host until his graduation in spring 2022. Sarena Vazquez was the host for 2022-2023, and in 2023-24 our final host is Jaclyn Navar. Although we have had a lot of repeat writers at each event, over 80 students and at least ten faculty and staff members–including Dr. Lisa Cooper, Dr. Douglas Cremer, Dr. Linda Dove, Dr. Reuben Ellis, Rachel Farnsworth, Keith Gibbs, Laurel DiGangi, Dr. Will McConnell, Randy Stauffer, and Dr. Rossen Ventzislavov–have shared their work in the series.

Verse Come, Verse Serve was also especially relevant during the lockdown phase of the Covid-19 pandemic. We held it online and, during the year-and-a-half we were at home, it was a refuge for student poets and faculty to hear one another and exchange energy. We also had quite a few guests from the Greater Los Angeles poetry community come and share their work.

Any parting words? 

Helen Keller once said, “Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much.” Verse Come, Verse Serve adhered to this spirit to promote student voices and to create community. I am thankful for the five years we spent together.

Mike Sonksen standing at a black podium with a woodbury university plaque on it. Mike's hand is raised in a fist as he speaks on a mic at Verse Come Verse Serve.

At the last Verse Come, Verse Serve, former CLAS Dean, Dr. Douglas Cremer, shared this poem honoring Professors Linda Dove and Mike Sonksen for their commitment to building Woodbury’s literary programs, saying, “it has been nothing but a pleasure to work with you both. Such a melancholy evening and day that you both still made bright. With much affection, Doug.”

On the occasion of . . .

What you build is not your own
It will never last

The fate of Ozymandias is also our fate
It is already past

And yet we build
write, play, create

We do not see ourselves as Sisyphus
Endlessly chasing things
about which we ought not bother

For in the midst of making
We find ourselves
find each other, find . . .

Trembling as we reach one another
Across our divides
in the threads we weave

In the knots that bind us in this life
They do not unravel
neither here nor now nor ever

For when the dust swirls
Wiping away the traces of tears
As the dryness sets in

These ruins will speak of these lives
Still bound together elsewhere
For what we leave
is not what we carry away

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