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L.A. Letters Guide to Finding Poetry in Los Angeles

This edition of L.A. Letters is dedicated to National Poetry Month.

L.A. has a lively landscape of bookstores, venues, literary journals and poets. Academic poets, avant-garde poets, page poets, queer poets, hip-hop poets, punk rock poets, Chicano poets, street poets, surreal poets, language poets -- poets all over the city. As April unfolds, this column will cover as many of them as possible. Here are a few to get the ball rolling.

Sites like Beyond Baroque, the Last Bookstore, Skylight Books and Stories host readings multiple nights a week. I've accidentally walked in on legends more than once, like the time I saw City Lights author Kamau Daaood at Skylight Books on my way home one night. Leimert Park has hosted more poetry events than almost any other district besides Hollywood or Venice. The World Stage Writers Workshop became famous during the Nineties. Eso Won Books and Kaos Network also host frequent author events and readings.

Recently I went to Beyond Baroque because Jerome Rothenberg and Amy Uyematsu were being featured. Rothenberg has had a fruitful career as a poet, editor, recording artist, anthologist, translator, cultural critic, and provocateur. Born in 1931, he's been advocating Ethnopoetics and the Oral Tradition since the sixties, a generation before the advent of the Poetry Slam or the rise of Spoken Word in the 90s. Furthermore, he's edited a number of anthologies that have greatly expanded the Western canon such as "Technicians of the Sacred," "Shaking The Pumpkin," and "Revolution of the Word." The man is a leviathan. He still had ample electricity in his eighth decade -- I enjoyed watching him light up the stage.

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Beyond Baroque | Photo by Kelly Simpson/KCET Departures
I first became aware of Amy Uyematsu from her 1992 book "30 Miles from J-Town." Uyematsu is a pioneering Japanese-American poet. In 1971 during her time at UCLA she co-edited "Roots: An Asian Americn Reader," one of the first anthologies in Asian American Studies. Her most recent book "Stone Bow Prayer" was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2005. A math teacher by day, her poems are hard hitting yet elegant. In "I'm Old Enough to Know Better," she satirizes sleazy men that make false assumptions, replying, "I'm not Korean, I'm Japanese." Humor, heartbreak, wisdom and compassion inhabit her poems. It was great to finally see her read live, let alone on the same bill as Rothenberg.

Beyond Baroque
681 Venice Boulevard
Venice, CA


Since 2000, A Mic and Dim Lights has been held every Thursday night in Pomona. Cory Cofer aka Besskepp is the host of the show. HBO Def Poet, award-winning high school teacher, a master's degree -- his resume is deep. Beyond his own accomplishments he has mentored hundreds of poets in the Inland Empire, many of whom started on Thursdays because of Besskepp. When he opened the venue a decade ago, poets from the Inland Empire had to drive to Hollywood, Leimert Park or Venice to get their dose of Spoken Word. Besskepp and his DJ JB filled a void, and now it's an institution. Held in the Pomona Arts Colony, the venue is a mix of Spoken Word, page poets, emcees, local poets and college poets from Cal Poly and Claremont.

A Mic and Dim Lights at Pomona Arts Colony
300 Second Ave.
Pomona, CA
9 PM


Small World Books is on the Venice Boardwalk and it just might have the most comprehensive list of poetry titles in the city. I've found hard-to-find titles there by Kamau Brathwaite and Terrance Hayes. Furthermore, their "Mystery Annex" in the back is equally stacked with hundreds of titles. They are located near Horizon, just north of the Windward Circle. Small World is a cozy bookstore, but loaded to the rafters with a reservoir of books and literary magazines.

Small World Books
1407 Ocean Front Walk
Los Angeles, CA


The Talking Stick Coffeehouse on Lincoln hosts several nights of poetry every month. The space feels strangely bohemian in this age of Starbucks. Not only is it one of the last real coffeehouses left, its' also big enough to fit over 100 people. Performances include singer-songwriters, Venice performance artists, poets, hip-hop emcees, and frequent surprises. Their best known poetry night is the third Friday of every month, the Venice Mozaic, hosted by Nickie Black and Ordell Cordova.

Venice Mozaic at Talking Stick Coffeehouse
1411 Lincoln Blvd.
Venice, CA
Third Friday of the month, 8 p.m.


Tia Chucha Centro Cultural is a bookstore/gallery/performance space founded by Luis Rodriguez. Originally planned to be located in East L.A., but Rodriguez's wife Trini suggested Sylmar because this part of the Valley lacks bookstores and galleries. Tia Chucha's is more than a bookstore; it is a cultural arts center featuring Chicano history, indigenous, contemporary and social commentary issues, Spanish-language, and bilingual children's books. When he's not travelling, Rodriguez is often at the space, sharing poems and conducting workshops.

Open Mic at Tia Chucha's Cultural Center
13197-A Gladstone Ave.
Sylmar, CA
Every Friday 8-10 p.m.

Tuesday Night Café | Photo by fromskyline used under a Creative Commons license
Tuesday Night Café is a twice-a-month open mic in Little Tokyo held on the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays. Now in their 14th year, the creator and founder is Traci Kato-Kiriyama, a writer, performing artist, educator and grassroots organizer. She has a great team of writers, musicians, filmmakers, DJ's and more involved in their Tuesday Night Project. Johneric Concordia is the host and DJ Waxstyles is their resident on the wheels of steel. Located outside in the Aratani Courtyard between Temple and First, they often get a crowd of a few hundred people hearing the poets and live music.

Tuesday Night Café
120 Judge John Aiso
Los Angeles, CA
1st and 3rd Tuesdays



Mike Sonksen aka Mike the Poet is a spoken word artist, tour guide, educator, journalist, and historian. L.A. Letters celebrates bright moments from literary Los Angeles with spoken and written word. See his Departures StoryShare videos here and here. Keep up with his activities by following his tumblr and Youtube channel.

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Top photo of Boyle Heights by Salina Canizales used under a Creative Commons license.

About the Author

Third-generation Angeleno Mike "The Poet" Sonksen is a poet, journalist, historian, tour guide, and teacher.
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