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News and Venues for National Poetry Month 2014, Part One

Over the last three years I have listed dozens of venues for poetry around Los Angeles. Most of the venues I've noted in the past columns remain the same as years past, but there are always new venues and a few changes from time to time. This week L.A. Letters celebrates National Poetry Month with a litany of locations for live poetry.

There are many open mics where anyone can share a poem within a short time span, as well as showcases where more experienced poets are featured in extended sets. There are workshops where you can submit your work, as well as venues that also feature musicians, like the Hotel Cafe. Bookstores like Booksoup, Skylight Books, Stories, Vromans, and museums like the Huntington, Hammer, and Getty host special poetry events as well. Other literary events can be found at the Annenberg Beach House, the Ruskin, the Griffith Observatory, and dozens more off the radar.

As always double check with the venue because some weeklies occasionally are off for a holiday or other reasons; nonetheless I have been to all of the venues listed below and can say that they each are an excellent starting point for poetry enthusiasts. More events will be listed in the coming weeks. The list below includes as much as I could fit in one piece.

The Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate program contest was just announced. Poets between the ages of 14 to 19 are eligible, and the submission period starts now. They have until May 19 to apply. The Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate program intends to identify youth writers and leaders who are committed to civic and community engagement, poetry and performance, and Human Relations, Diversity, and Social Justice across Los Angeles. The top 12 finalists will be chosen to perform for a chance to be named the L.A. Youth Poet Laureate, and win a book deal (on Saturday, June 14 at Central Library's Mark Taper Auditorium). They can apply online here or via email: poet@urbanword.org.

Another new development is that the popular poetry space, A Mic & Dim Lights in Downtown Pomona's Arts District, is now a monthly event rather than a weekly. After 14 consecutive years with very few weeks off, the host Cory Cofer, aka Besskepp, deserves some rest. Beginning with the magnanimous host himself, this space never disappoints. As always the idea of going from a weekly to a monthly means less is more. The event will be shifting to more of a showcase, with lot of heavyweight poets on the bill. Besskepp has singlehandedly helped launch the careers of hundreds of poets from the Inland Empire area. The man is also an award-winning high school teacher, and he founded the Poetry Club at Nogales High School, which has produced a number of dynamic young poets, several that have received scholarships for college based on their writing ability. DJ James Brady grew up in the Golden Age of Hip Hop and he's been with Besskepp since day one. Their first night in the new monthly format was April 3, and they featured Simply Kat and Rudy Francisco.

The Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont is hosting a special event called "A Garden of Verses." Throughout the garden different poetry stations will be set up. Haiku Station will be led by Deborah P. Kolodji, a central figure in the Southern California Haiku Study Group. She's invited some of her most esteemed colleagues to join her in sharing haiku, from 10 to 3 p.m. on Saturday April 5. Many other groups of poet will be on hand as well.

On April 11, Mujeres de Maiz, a collective of women poets and artists from Boyle Heights, will be walking through Boyle Heights and stopping at seven sites to share their words. Describing the event as a "poetry procession," the participants explained the idea behind their event: "We walk this path of the city stopping at historical places and we read and sing our offering as an exchange; we offer it to the city, to the people that inhabit it, we speak our peace and we leave it there and we move forward." Similar in spirit to the Luis Rodriguez Poetry Locomotive, this event will be thrilling for those who like their poetry in public and off the shelf.

The Alhambra-based poet Don Campbell is the director of the San Gabriel Valley Poetry Festival. Campbell's weekly events are held on Saturday afternoons at the Santa Catalina Branch of the Pasadena Public Library on Washington. This year Campbell is also partnering with a collective of scribes called ZZyZx WriterZ.

Together they are hosting four different events to celebrate National Poetry Month. First is their monthly ZZyZx Read Around at Garfonos Pizza on Tuesday, April 8, 7-10 p.m. They invite all genres and walks of writers to come, share, and critique their work in a casual atmosphere.

Second, their bi monthly Holy Grounds open Mic nights. On Friday, April 11th, there will be poetry writing workshops and open Mic; on Friday, April 25, they will feature poets and musicians, plus open Mic. Both run 7-9:30 p.m.

In the leafy city of Arcadia they are partnering with the Nuvein Foundation for Literature & the Arts for a teen poetry competition. Held at the Arcadia Public Library on Friday, April 18th at 3:30p.m., the event is called Poetry in Motion. Members from ZZyZx writers will be MCing and judging the students' performances for prizes donated by the Nuvein Foundation and the library.

Gatsby Books, owned by Sean Moor in East Long Beach, across from Cal Worthington, has been hosting frequent poetry events every week. Rotating between selected author events and some regular events, Gatsby Books has filled a big void for the Long Beach literary community. One of their most popular events is called Cadence Collective, held on the second Monday of each month. The venerated writer Brendan Constantine has been on the scene. Their stock of book titles is also worth noting. They have a nice shelf of local poetry and no shortage of small press titles. They had almost as many small press titles as Beyond Baroque and Small World Books in Venice.

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Lionlike Mindstate is in Pomona just a few blocks from where A Mic & Dim Lights is located. Hosted by Judah One and Treesje Powers, they are held on the first and third Wednesday of the month at 9 p.m. In addition to the great poetry and beats by Subira, they offer free cupcakes. Held at Machine Pomona Creative Space 273 S. Park Ave. Pomona, CA.

Sunday Jump is a free poetry open mic series held in Historic Filipinotown every first and third Sunday, from 5-7 p.m. at Tribal Cafe on Temple. Started by Eddy M. Gana Jr., Stephanie Sajor, and Janice Sapigao, their space is warm and inviting. The founders write, "You will find a friendly, open space for people of all ages to express themselves freely. Sunday Jump: giving voice to the community!"

Beyond Baroque remains a literary epicenter with several author events each weekend, along with a few open mics, usually on Sundays. Both Billy Burgos and Jessica Ceballos have been hosting monthlies there on Sunday over the last few years.

Held every Tuesday night, Cobalt Poets at the Cobalt Café is one of the longest running poetry open mics in not only Southern California, but the nation. Located in Canoga Park, many poets from the 818 began here. Rick Lupert has been hosting his poetry events there since 1994. With his efforts both digitally and in publishing, Lupert is one of the biggest poetry advocates in the city. Beyond Baroque is awarding him with the award of "Distinctive Public Service to the Los Angeles Poetry Community" for the 2014 year.

There are many other events to list and in the coming weeks I will add more. The Los Angeles poetry community reflects the diversity of the city and there's a reading for everyone. Get out in the city and see for yourself. The aforementioned venues are the tip of the iceberg in the undulating topography of L.A. Letters.

About the Author

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