Review: It All Comes Down to This by Karen English

A Little Told L.Á. Perspective

FROM: Cultural Daily

It All Comes Down to This, a middle-grade novel by Karen English, begins with class privilege. “I saw [Mrs. Baylor hauling] herself heavily up the hill,” says 12-year-old Sophie, the narrator, looking out her den window. Sophie’s mother is interviewing housekeepers and this Black woman, Sophie can see, “resented that the hill was steep.” Sophie’s family has recently moved into this two-story house adjacent to the Baldwin Hills. It’s 1965. Los Ángeles. The city and country are beginning to change.

At the outset, the reader learns that Sophie and her family are Black when Sophie describes her mother as having “a Dorothy Dandrige kind of beauty.” Then Sophie introduces brief backstory, saying her family used to live “on Sixth Avenue near Adams,” a neighborhood that’s historically Black. Now, they are the first Black family integrating the upper middle class white neighborhood of View Park, a neighborhood that would evolve into one for wealthy Blacks.

Sophie’s family is already economically privileged because her father’s a lawyer and her mother’s an art gallery curator. These are two high-powered, intellectually demanding, time-consuming, white-collar jobs, making them a rare Black family to have acquired wealth. Sophie’s mother therefore quickly hires the disapproving housekeeper Mrs. Baylor, English briefly mentioning she’s a Jamaican immigrant. English divulges such character-building facts by keeping them appropriately concise, like when Sophie notices Mrs. Baylor’s “…odd scar on her wrist.” English is not interrupting the flow of the narrative to explain the information, which prevents her from talking down to her young readers.

However, from the beginning, Sophie comparing her mother to Dorothy Dandridge indicates why it was easier for her family to acquire wealth and privilege than for the vast majority of Blacks: her mother’s shared light skin. She could pass. Sophie’s at the age where she begins to learn and understand this skin privilege: colorism. Read Rest of Review Here


A Nontraditional Life: Navigating With(out) Instruments by traci kato-kiriyama

FROM: Compulsive Reader

Reviewed by Brian Dunlap

Navigating With(out) Instruments
by traci kato-kiriyama
The Accomplices/Writ Large Press
December 2021, Paperback, 264 pages, ISBN-13: ‏978-1951628000

In Navigating With(out) Instruments, artist and activist traci kato-kiriyama opens their book of poems, micro essays, and notes to self, with a poem titled “Warning.” It repeats the same sentence six times creating a haunting echo: “warning/a book/of/poetry/is/a/trigger.” Before the book officially begins, the reader knows their poetic philosophy, that poetry’s to confront the hardest truths, personal, political, racial, communal, and familial.

Immediately, in section one titled “ICON 1: Have Abandoned Plane, Walking in this Direction,” the book inhabits this philosophy to confront. kato-kiriyama has reached her 30s, and it’s the time in a woman’s life to have children before it’s too late. That’s still society’s expectation, that women are nurturers to others, not autonomous beings.

It begins with kato-kiriyama’s decision not to have kids, that they make clear they are chronicling their nontraditional path in life. By pushing back against society’s bombardment of parental images—“stop sending paper infants to my doorbell…//cease your tapping/we’re a house of cats,” in the poem “My Periodic Wavering On Pregnancy, circa my 30-something years”—the reader sees a woman of color determined to make her own life, not have it made for her.

This notion expands, as kato-kiriyama ponders in the set of Notes To…, at the end of “ICON 1,” if the memory of the individual and their community can “be passed on outside of the vessel of/DNA.” If so, can the individual/kato-kiriyama, who doesn’t have kids, create a “a pan-generational consciousness/through the past, present, and future in concert with each/other,” if not expressed? kato-kiriyama makes a convincing argument in the negative, as they explicitly express their pan-generational consciousness throughout. Read Rest of Review Here

Dear White America

FROM: Reimagine America: an anthology for the future

I am one of you,
family fought in the Revolution,
relatives immigrated
from Scotland and Germany.
My father’s side
owned a slave,
Jerry, seven
years old.

I am one of you.
After I got pulled
over for missing a stop sign
in Moreno Valley—
traveling with two Latino
friends, Jose and Mesa—
the cop asked
half joking,
“Are you safe?”
Did I know them?
They hadn’t kidnapped me
had they?

I am one of you.

I am one of you
only in appearance. Seen too many
innocent black males
watch you rip
brown four-year-old migrant
children from their
parents, use the Devil’s tongue
to spit your rhetoric:
these detained “illegal” children
do not require soap,
even beds,
to accept you actually
“All men are created equal.”

I am not like you
as my eyes reveal a world
in vibrant color.

These people
shape the landscape
of my home. Grab agency
from those
intent to stomp it out. Rrelentlessness
I can taste in each bite
of Ban Mi, feel in each
turn of phrase spoken
at a reading,
in deep conversations our friendships
have afforded us.

Only in appearance
am I one of you.

A Historic Seaside Community

FROM: Tropics of Meta

My dad and I stand in front of a plaque set in stone. Mexican fan palms tower on either side, sand at their base cordoned off by concrete. Families walk by distracted by conversations or by keeping an eye on their own children. Rollerbladers and bicyclists glide across the bike path, dodge pedestrians strolling in their way.

No one pauses to read the plaque’s words. I don’t see anyone glance over.

The first and biggest words read in capital letters: “THE INK WELL.” And underneath: “A place of celebration and pain…an important gathering place for African Americans long after racial restrictions on public beaches were abandoned in 1927…they encountered less racial harassment [here] than at other Southland beaches…”[1]

We scan the wide expanse of footprint-laden sand. A sky blue lifeguard tower keeps watch near the horizon, a line of dot-sized sunbathers and recovering swimmers extending from either side. Volleyball nets are strung above the granules and Latinos relax on the short concrete divider between the sand and bike path. Read Rest of Article Here

A Review of Let the Buzzards Eat Me Whole by Ingrid M. Calderón-Collins

FROM: Lit Pub

NOTE: My Latest Book Review

Let the Buzzards Eat Me Whole by L.A. poet Ingrid M. Calderón-Collins, comes at you raw, unapologetic, heavy. From the first three lines of this poetic memoir, you know she’s going to be honest. This is her immigrant story and as she makes clear, she is in control of her own narrative.

I am 40,
I have saggy tits, white pubes and a story
to tell…

It’s evident Calderón-Collins will tell the reader the truth about herself, the entire truth, as she’s “lied my way through life not only/to others, but also mostly to myself.” This is in the untitled Introduction where she explains the essential reason for writing the book, for replacing the harmful “magick,” of making and portraying herself as someone she’s not, to a healthy, honest, truthful “magick,” “a magick that loved me back,” to make clear that her trauma did happen, that it’s not dismissible and to make clear the recursive process she uses to build a healthy life to avoid the setbacks trauma brings.


Ingrid M. Calderón-Collins was born in El Salvador in 1980, at the outbreak of the civil war between the government and a coalition of left-wing military groups. It was a time of unrest and violence, prompted by socioeconomic inequality, where “men/[walked] around/in dirty green uniforms,” where “I’d hear shots go off.” At the same time she fought her own personal war, the kind she said that, “lived/in dark houses.” The sexual abuse began at age four when Don Chepe and his wife were left in charge. Read Rest of Book Review Here

Me. Us. Our.

FROM: PacificREVIEW 2020

NOTE: Originally Published in April

I come from a city
where people of color
fill its streets. Where
sweatshop worker Win Chuai Ngan
cut out an ad
found in a thrown out
Thai language paper
for a Thai temple. One night
with clipping in hand
he jumped the razor wire fence,
took a taxi to the temple
and told his story.

I come from a city
where Kazuo Inouye,
after the second World War,
as a realtor, was instrumental
in desegregating L.A. neighborhoods.

Yet, Kazuo was powerless
against white flight,
against white choice.

I come from a city
of immigrants,
where I met Alsih
who left Bangladesh
for a chance at employment,
a government
that is less corrupt. Where
his mother was pregnant
with him inside
as his homeland
fought for their independence
from Pakistan.

now working at a convince store
in Santa Monica.

Me. Us. Our city.

The Tongva,
who are often forgotten,
still live among us,
who are our neighbors
and poets. Our friends.
They were coerced to be slaves—in
missions San Gabriel and San Fernando. Forced
to survive; identified as Mexican.
Learned to speak Spanish.
Converted to Catholicism. Slavery
outside the South.

Me. Us. Our.
Angeleño history.

The Tongva stepping from the shadows.
Indigenous People’s Day.
Haramoknga American Indian Cultural Center.


I come from a city
where people of color
fill its streets. Where
concrete screams reforms. Where our
students’ feet pounded pavement,
walked out of high school in protest
for immigration reform. Where
we raised up our signs to protest for amnesty
for refugees escaping Sandinistas, spoke out
in anger at federal neglect
on the crisis of AIDS.

And we speak out today
because our parents
come from the Mexico of old,
because we
pray to Allah 5 times
each day, because I,
a white man,
had a great-great grandmother
who spoke in a true Scottish brogue.

Holding America Accountable: be/trouble by bridgette bianca

FROM: Lit Pub

Poet bridgette bianca wants you to know about black people. About black women. About herself. She wants you to understand that their lives are always in danger; that they ready themselves with armor for what the day will throw at them, how amazing; how “bad” they truly are.

In doing so bianca breaks up her debut collection, be/trouble, into four sections—“and the living be,” “this much i know is true,” “our fallen” and “ain’t we a dream too”—sprinkling in their amazingness between all the pain and violence and death they experience every day. bianca breaks her collection into helpful sections, not to make the poems easier to understand or easier to take in, but to ensure she, a black woman, is being heard. As such, she makes clear that her audience is white America, as she pushes back against America’s long and continued history of silencing black women, only noticing them when they can comfort—care—for white people during their most difficult times.

In the first poem “at least i can say” bianca opens by giving context for her discussion of black lives saying from personal experience, “i have/always been keenly aware/that i/could die any day” and “i have/always been sure something/was trying/to kill me.” It’s how black lives are lived each and every day. Danger, death, the possibility of it affecting every choice, as she says in “a saturday night,” about driving while black. bianca asks, “what do you do when you see lights in the rearview mirror/what do you do when the siren loops around your throat.” The use of “you” draws in and implicates the reader in this discussion on policing, effectively gives them a moment to reflect on their own experience, to allow bianca to make her point about how her experience, and by extension black peoples, are different from the readers’. Read Rest of Review Here

6 Sessential L.A. Kid Reads

FROM: L.A. Parent

The first time I truly felt connected to L.A. was through the novels of Francesca Lia Block. I first learned about her from a panel she was on at the first Los Angeles Times Festival of Books in 1996. I was in the 5th grade. That day, I bought, and she signed for me, her first and most famous novel, “Weetzie Bat.” It’s a short novel set in Hollywood, where she was born and raised, about Weetzie Bat and her best friend Dirk navigating life and love in an almost dreamlike version of L.A.

As an native, I found it powerful to read about places I’d been to and discover new places in my city, even if some of the finer points of Block’s novel went over my head. I was beginning to explore who and what L.A. is and who lives here and to learn about the world I was growing up in. What I didn’t know at the time, and wouldn’t know until I was much older, is  that Block’s young adult novels and stories are a part of a vast literary cannon of L.A. literature. Read Rest of Article Here

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

Those Who Came Before Us

2018 Jeff Marks Memorial Poetry Prize winner, december magazine
Included in my chapbook Concrete Paradise

On Sawtelle
I hear Japanese flowing
between the laughter of young friends.
One wears a UCLA sweatshirt. In
Little Osaka. In
West Los Ángeles.

Taiko drums boom
through the parking lot
of the West Los Ángeles Buddhist Temple.
July. Oban.
Sending a message of thanksgiving
to all who have gone before us.

Of immigrants from Wakayama
who created a Japanese fishing village
on Terminal Island,
gone over 40 years
by the time I was born in ‘84.
Working class families—fishermen—
speaking in their own lingo. Rapid
rough fishermen’s talk, blended with
Japanese and English. Nisei children
attending Japanese language school
after a day of learning English
at their public school. Before
executive order 9066
sent them to internment camps.
Internment camps set up for people
who only wanted to build community.

Since the late 1930s,
Japanese basketball leagues
populate the Southern California landscape
where a few of my friends and peers, where
Klaude Kimura, as we graduated
from one LAUSD grade to the next,
can come together as a Japanese community,
where basketball exists as one of the few places
for Japanese American youth
to hang out with other
young Japanese Americans.
Where, at game’s end—
heads high, breaths heavy—
they shake hands with their opponents,
sweat dripping from their faces.
Inhabiting gaman.
Some parents bringing game snacks
of rice balls or noodles.

And on Sawtelle I
pass Hashimoto’s and Tabuchi’s nurseries,
smell the richness of wet dirt,
see the splash of fuchsias’
tiny trumpet shaped magenta flowers,
reminders of when,
in the 1930s and ‘40s,
Japanese farmed flowers
and strawberries here.

Now, in the early morning, as Angeleños still sleep,
Klaude Kimura,
UCLA grad,
grabs his surfboard,
jumps in his car,
ready to tear up the Southern California waves.