Los Ángeles at Ground Level: Letters To My City by Mike Sonksen

FROM: Lit Pub

The poet Mike Sonksen knows more about Los Ángeles than almost anyone. It began when he was a kid, his father and both grandfathers introducing him to the sprawling city by taking him on destination drives. Due to his father’s love of architecture, having, “taught me about…Frank Lloyd Write from an early age,” Sonksen “had a natural interest in maps and geography.” Those drives fostered that interest, dipping in and out of distinctly planned and inhabited neighborhoods that made up the patchwork quilt of, not only the city, but Los Ángeles County.

In Sonksen’s new book Letters To My City (The Accomplices/Writ Large Press, 2019), he explores the city’s geography and architecture from the ground up, from his perspective as a third-generation Angeleño. The book is a collection of his poems and articles that span his 20+ years of exploring, not only the landscapes of Los Ángeles, but the people and cultures and histories of communities like Little Tokyo, The Eastside, Leimert Park and even Cambodia Town in Long Beach.

Early in Letters, Sonksen includes his remembrance of local human interest reporter Huell Howser in, “Huell Howser and the Gospel of Beauty.” Howser hosted “California’s Gold,” on local PBS, highlighting landmarks, small towns, places of interest or events in California that were not well known, including countless in L.A. and Southern California. In each episode Howser conducted impromptu and informal interviews with locals involved with the sites he visited. When the show debuted in 1991, Los Ángeles and California were beginning to take a serious interest in and find significance in its own history. Howser, according to Sonksen, “provided the common ground for people to relate and meet on,” especially in Southern California, where Howser lived, “like he did for my dad, grandmother and me.” Plus, “‘California’s Gold’ reinforced my own burgeoning interest in this history; I saw Huell as a messenger to stick to my own California dream.”

Along with the article, “Community, not a Commodity: The Ethics of Giving a City Tour,” the opening 35 pages or so of Letters To My City act as explanation of Sonksen’s aesthetics and why he tells the stories he does: Get the History Right, Sharing Authority and Debunking Stereotypes and the unofficial, The Right to the City.

The concepts of Mike Sonksen’s aesthetics are apparent throughout Letters To My City. He shares his authority by quoting long time Cambodian residents of Long Beach’s Cambodia Town in “Driving Down the 105,” as a way for them to tell their neighborhood’s history. When he profiles a person, such as the late dynamic Chicana writer from Oxnard, California, Michele Serros, he lets those who knew her personally, speak to who she really was. Read Rest of Review Here


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