L.A. Letters Guide for National Poetry Month 2013

Thousands of poets across America are writing a poem a day this month because April is National Poetry Month. Last April I wrote two stories about the bustling landscape of poetry across Southern California. The first story covered longtime venues like A Mic & Dim Lights in Pomona, Beyond Baroque and the Talking Stick in Venice, Tia Chucha's Bookstore in Sylmar, and Tuesday Night Café in Little Tokyo. The second story highlighted places like the Rapp Saloon in Santa Monica, Redondo Poets, and Tongue and Groove in Hollywood.

A year later the story remains the same with these venues: consistently excellent poetry. Be sure to read those articles to find the diverse spaces in L.A. where poetry can be found:

  • L.A. Letters Guide to Finding Poetry in Los Angeles, Part One
  • L.A. Letters Guide to Finding Poetry in Los Angeles, Part Two

    This week L.A. Letters covers even more poetry venues, from the inner city to the Inland Empire, Orange County, San Gabriel Valley, Long Beach and everywhere within reach. Those missed will be covered in the coming weeks. Venue details can change often and different hosts may emerge as well, so forgive any omissions or names forgotten; there are so many readings, language events and great poets around L.A. that no one can keep track of them all. I know because I have tried.

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    Since 1997, when I graduated from UCLA, I've participated in over 1200 readings in every location imaginable. What's more is that luminary Angeleno poets like Laurel Ann Bogen, Wanda Coleman, Kamau Daaood, Michael C. Ford, Sesshu Foster, Eloise Klein Healy, Suzanne Lummis, Lewis MacAdams, Luis Rodriguez, Amy Uyematsu and Terri Wolverton have each done thousands more than that, dating back to the generation before X.

    Before sharing a list of more poetry venues, it also must quickly be said that bookstores like EsoWon Books, the Last Bookstore and Skylight Books have readings multiple nights a week. Frequent readings are also held at institutions like the L.A. Central Library, West Hollywood Library, and organizations like Corazon del Pueblo in Boyle Heights, Pen West, and Writers at Work. It's safe to say that wherever you are in So Cal, there is a poetry event going on tonight fairly close to you. Time, geography, and the price of gas is sometimes the only factor to get in the way. Some events occasionally have unexpected cancelled days because of holidays etc., so definitely check online or call before you go.

    For those ready to listen or recite poetry, the cup runneth over. Here's a list of poetry spaces for 2013 in alphabetical order; I have read at all the mentioned venues except for two.

    Agape International hosts the monthly open mic night, "The People Speak." Hosted by Chaim Dunbar, Quanta Beasley and DJ Diego Reyes, they feature high vibration conscious poetry, song and selected readings. Their signature dynamic mix of spoken word and acoustic music is held on the first Friday of every month. The uplifting tempo has been known to send writers home energized and ready to write more. Free admission, Love donations welcomed.

    Agape International
    First Friday of each month, 7 to 9 p.m.
    5700 Buckingham Parkway
    Culver City, CA 90230

    Between the Bars in Pomona | Photo from Between the Bars Facebook

    Between the Bars is an open mic in Pomona, co-hosted by David Romero and Matt Sedillo. Named after a song by singer/songwriter Elliott Smith, Romero says, "find what you're looking for at Between the Bars ... Songs, words, verses and rhymes ... Our expression is our weapon. Between the Bars, we're condemned to be free." They currently run every second and fourth Wednesday, but will be switching to every second and fourth Tuesday starting in June. They also highlight social justice issues and allow for various nonprofits to come in and present their causes. Their resident percussionist Atomic Drums adds the magic of improvisation to the show.

    Between the Bars
    2nd & 4th Wednesdays; 2nd & 4th Tuesdays starting in June
    256 Main Street
    Pomona, CA, 91766

    BlueBird Reading at the Avenue 50 Gallery is hosted by Jessica Ceballos on the 2nd Sunday of each month. Carrying on the legacy of other Avenue 50 Readings like the series by Don Newtown, the Bluebird Reading aims to unite writers across North East Los Angeles.

    2nd Sundays 2 p.m.
    131 N. Avenue 50
    Highland Park, CA 90042

    Aside from the weekly writing workshops held at Beyond Baroque and the World Stage, the Cobalt Café, a weekly open mic hosted by Rick Lupert, is the longest running poetry event in Southern California, dating back to the early 1990s. Lupert is a selfless pioneer that started his Poetry Superhighway website when the internet was just taking off in 1994. Aside from being one of poetry's digital pioneers, his live series continues to features poets from all over L.A., and quite often nationally, week after week, year after year. Closely affiliated with the Valley Contemporary Poets, Lupert's venue and website are excellent starting points for anyone interested in local verse culture.

    Cobalt Café
    Tuesdays 9 p.m.
    22047 Sherman Way
    Canoga Park, CA 91303

    Founded by HBO Def Poets Dante, Gimel, Poetri and Shihan in Dante's living room years ago, Da Poetry Lounge is celebrating their 15th anniversary this year. Held in the Greenway Court Theater at Fairfax High School, in recent years they've been joined by cohost Natalie Patterson. Anyone interested in watching or participating in a Poetry Slam, this is where you want to be. To get on the list, arrive extra early, it fills up quick. In addition to being a great poet, co-host Gimel is an outstanding DJ and he's been behind the decks there from day one. After several spoken word recordings over the years, Shihan is releasing his first book this month titled, "The Deciphering Gibberish Project."

    Da Poetry Lounge
    Tuesdays 9 p.m.
    Greenway Court Theater at Fairfax High School
    544 N. Fairfax
    Los Angeles, CA, 90036

    Lionlike Mindstate crew | Photo from Lionlike Mindstate website

    Flight School is the Tuesday night open mic, formerly known as Natural High, held in the Culver City Arts District. Gia Scott-Heron and O. Smith join Hank G for live music and poetry. They are well loved for their hospitality and ambiance. I wrote about them a few weeks back, for more info click here.

    Flight School
    Tuesdays 9 p.m.
    6039 Washington Blvd,
    Culver City, CA, 90232

    The Griot Café at Shades of Afrika in Long Beach is held weekly at sundown. Hosted by Isaac Sundiata, this venue is a favorite for South Bay and LBC poets for the union of mind, body, and spirit present in the room. Located on Long Beach's flavorful Fourth Street, the venue is a gallery/cultural center that sells Afrikan centered Books, Art, Aromatherapy, Health, and Beauty Products. Executive Director Renee Quarles writes, "Shades of Afrika has evolved from being a small retail store to being a cultural center that hosts a variety of social and educational events, lectures and study groups." Frequent guests include Alice the Poet. Don't miss their hot tea also.

    The Griot Café
    Saturdays at sundown
    1001 E 4th St,
    Long Beach, CA 90802

    The poetry events at Half-Off Books are quickly becoming known for their lively mix of academic and punk rock poets intersecting in Uptown Whittier. All of their poetry events are hosted and curated by the Long Beach State MFA and Whittier impresario, Eric Morago. Morago also runs a quarterly reading series at Vinatero Wine Shop in the same area. Next Wednesday on April 10th, the San Gabriel Valley Poets Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, Andres Bermejo, and Christopher Luke Trevilla will read work from celebrated, past poets along with new, inspired creations in a continued conversation between then and now.

    Half-Off Books
    Wednesday April 10, 2013, 7 p.m.
    6708 Greenleaf Avenue
    Whittier, CA 90601

    Library Girl is the monthly poetry showcase organized and hosted by Susan Hayden. Hayden's own writing roots date back to Eve Brandstein's famous poetry events in the 1980s. Hayden was also involved with a legendary reading with Bukowski when she first emerged in the poetry community back in 1987. Close cohorts with Hayden include Peggy Dobreer and Elena Secota. Besides poetry, some short fiction and hand selected singer/songwriters like Mason Summit appear on the bill.

    Library Girl
    Ruskin Group Theatre
    3000 Airport Avenue
    Santa Monica, California 90405

    Lionlike Mindstate is held at the gallery/performance space Machine Pomona on the first and third Wednesday of each month. Started by host David Judah five years ago, spoken word, hip hop and capoeira come together for a night of consciousness. Like David Romero at Between the Bars, Judah got his start at Besskepp's A Mic & Dim Lights a decade ago, first performing there while still in high school. Time quickly demonstrated that Judah was a natural born poet and he quickly accelerated into the spoken word scene. His first book, published by A Mic & Dim Lights Press, "Child of the Sun, Man of the Moon," is coming later this spring.

    Lionlike Mindstate
    1st & 3rd Wednesdays 9 p.m.
    273 S. Park Ave
    Pomona, CA, 91766

    Wendy Ortiz at Rhapsodomancy, October 2008 | Photo from rhapsodomancy.org

    Moonday in the Village is a reading that takes place in the Pacific Palisades on the second Monday of each month. Hosted by Alice Pero and KPFK radio host Lois P. Jones, the reading was formerly held at Village Books. They also have a monthly reading on the Eastside as well, check their site for more.
    [ http://www.moondaypoetry.com/ ]http://www.moondaypoetry.com/
    2nd Mondays 7 p.m.
    Aldersgate Retreat Center & Buerge Chapel  
    925 Haverford Avenue
    Pacific Palisades, CA 90272

    Pasadena Poets meet every Saturday from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Santa Catalina Library in Pasadena for a reading and sometimes workshop. Led by Don Kingfisher Campbell, the vibe is unpretentious and the crowd really listens close. Campbell is one of the most democratic hosts in town and he's given opportunities to dozens of fledgling writers in the San Gabriel Valley. The San Gabriel Valley Quarterly is published from the reading, and culls together the series' best work throughout the year. Those looking for a writing group or safe space to share their work will appreciate the open spirit that lives here.

    Pasadena Poets
    Saturdays 3 to 5 p.m.
    999 East Washington Boulevard
    Pasadena, CA 91104

    Rhapsodomancy is the monthly poetry showcase held at the Good Luck Bar in Los Feliz. Co-hosted by Wendy Ortiz and Andrea Quaid, they bring four writers together for an epic reading. Known for featuring stalwart poets like Brendan Constantine, they book a nice mix of avant-garde poets along with the more traditionalists. I met the great poet and Whittier College Professor Tony Barnstone there when I was featured with him back in 2006. The event alternates between even months, see their site for the specifics.

    Sunday April 7, 2013, 7 p.m.
    The Good Luck Bar
    1514 Hillhurst Avenue
    Los Angeles, 90027

    Soapbox Sessions is hosted by Jason Brain every Thursday night in Encino. The event grew out of a popular Cal State Northridge student group and they have kept the spirit going years after they graduated. Brain's gregarious personality keeps the crowd coming back for more. Comedians sometimes come in the mix and acoustic artists join the poets in what might be the biggest reading in the Valley. Recently celebrating their 7th anniversary, Sean Hill is a close colleague and occasional host. Held at the Coffee Bean in Encino, they also have a monthly showcase called Sweet Noise.

    Soapbox Sessions
    Thursdays 7 p.m.
    16101 Ventura Blvd
    Encino, CA, 91436

    Stephen Colley, Pasadena Poets | Photo: San Gabriel Valley Quarterly

    Two Idiots Peddling Poetry, held at The Ugly Mug coffeehouse, is a respected Orange County reading that lures many L.A. poets to drive south of their usual confines. Write Bloody Publishing, the Long Beach poetry publisher now based in Austin, TX, has featured many of their authors here over the years. Steve Ramirez and Ben Trigg are the two men who their poet cronies call "the Two Idiots." Known for their witty and intelligent banter, they are also the co-founders of the Orange County Poetry Festival.

    Two Idiots Peddling Poetry
    Every Wednesday 8 p.m.
    261 N. Glassell Avenue
    Orange, CA 92866

    Vibrations in Inglewood has been hosting several readings and live music events over the last year. Featuring healing teas, natural hair and skin care products, and a site-specific cultural center, it is also the home of the Still Waters Writers Workshop every Sunday afternoon from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Curated by Food4Thot and Queen Socks, Still Waters have been organizing some important poetry programs over the last few years, which have included figures like Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez and Kamau Daaood. Food4Thot's forthcoming new book of poetry on his upbringing in Watts is also highly anticipated. See their site for more info.

    2435 W. Manchester Boulevard
    Inglewood, CA, 90305

    The World Stage in Leimert Park was founded in 1989 by one of Coltrane's late great drummer Billy Higgins and City Lights poet Kamau Daaood. "Seeking light through sound" is their mission. Their Wednesday night writer's workshop is internationally known. Figures like Michael Datcher, Peter J. Harris, Conney Williams, Imani Tolliver, Pam Ward, S. Pearl Sharp, AK Toney and so many others have called the World Stage home over the years. They also have improvisational jazz nights as well. Check their site for more.

    The World Stage
    Wednesdays 7:30 p.m.
    4344 Degnan Boulevard
    Los Angeles, CA 90008

    Before closing out this column, there's a special event for teen poets I also want to mention. The Arcadia Public Library is hosting the "San Gabriel Valley Poetry in Motion Teen Event" on Friday, April 19 at 3 p.m. Hosted by Christopher Trevilla and Raquel Reyes, teen poets and musicians from all over the San Gabriel Valley will be competing in a competition officiated by a panel of poets from all over Literary Southern California. Judges include Angela Moore of Moms Write SoCal, Rick Stepp-Bolling of the Coffeehouse Writers, Apryl Skyes of Edgar & Lenore's Press, Gary Imperial of the Whittier Poetry Group, Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo of Beyond Baroque, and Don Kingfisher Campbell of the SGV Poetry Festival.

    There are many other similar events for teen poets all across the Southland. It's no coincidence that many of the poets mentioned above are also teachers. Look for even more youth poetry events as the years go on, Teenagers and poetry are a natural fit.

    San Gabriel Valley Poetry in Motion Teen Event
    Friday, April 19, 3 p.m
    20 West Duarte Road,
    Arcadia, CA, 91006.

    Undoubtedly I have missed many other poetry events. This list is just a starting point; there are dozens of other venues across the city. I will be covering more in the weeks to come. Next week I will highlight several new poetry books and important poetry publishers on both the local and national level. This column is in honor of the ever-unfolding poetic landscape called L.A. Letters.

    Top: Da Poetry Lounge at Fairfax High. Photo from Da Poetry Lounge Facebook.

    About the Author

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