Poetics of Location

I’M MORE THAN a little tardy posting this but projects have been flying in and out the door,  and my fingers are trying their very best to keep up. But this afternoon from a couple of weeks back remains on my mind.

Mike Sonksen (AKA Mike the Poet) is a civic treasure. He’s one of those faces that float into view at almost every poetry event and almost every corner of town. He’s a many-generation native of Los Angeles and with that he’s taken a multilayered interest in the city. All of it is up for exploration and inquiry.

Mike is also known around the poetry scene for his indiosyncratic city tours — on foot, by bus, via Metro —  that have always featured the energy and of freestyle poetry and history. For as many years as I have known him, this was the very first time I had  been able to take part in one of the downtown walkabouts.  This round he featured otherIMG_9387 poets along the way, among them — Traci Akemi Kato-kiriyama, Rocío Carlos and F. Douglas Brown —  who paused to share observations or self-reflections about sense of place or considered their personal place within with ever-shifting landscape of Los Angeles.

Much of the day and night before, it had been storming. Uncharacteristic downpours for May. But by mid morning the rain eased and the clouds pushed back enough to give the sky depth and offer a poem itself. We walked up and down hills, stood on overpasses and beneath flowering jacaranda trees to listen to aural snapshots of the city. Tourists in our own town. Just as we finished for the day, the clouds gathered again and the rain made an encore. Polite enough, however, to wait until the very last word. It was as if Mike had arranged it. Not once did he appear worried that we’d rain out, have to run for cover. Not one minute. He knows better. He knows how to read not just the streets, but the skies and the promises they won’t break.

To read Mike’s latest about L.A. new poet laureate, Robin Coste Lewis, click here.

 

 

“call it what you like . . .”

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FOR A COUPLE of months now, I’ve been telling a friend about an ongoing issue  I’ve had with one of the baggers at my local market.  Not a huge issue, but a head scratcher. Strangeness sunk into the mundane.

A few weeks ago,  he refused to sort or bag my purchases. Just walked away, arms folded, head-shaking — to the checker’s chagrin.  My friend suggested that I stop spending money in the market  — especially since it hadn’t been  the first time (this head-shaking incident was just a bit more dramatic than others prior).  “That’s why you pay a little more. Avoid that mess.”

True.

Well today, I needed to  make a quick neighborhood run. No time for fancy. I head to my old spot. I’m almost out the door with my essentials —  my coffee stash, fixings for dinner. I have almost successfully avoided him when, just as I near his checkout lane,  he does a quick double take and then pauses to  crook his finger in that “come-over-I-have-something-special-&-top-secret-to-share” manner.

So I do.

With reservations.

He asks: “Do you know Mike Jackson?”

I say no. (Not realizing where this is going.)

He says: “Well he’s in heaven. Prince is on his way too, you know.” He winks. Like we’re old friends, sharing some insider 411.

Then comes the smile.

I suppose all this must be his version of a truce.

 

(image via mashable)

Green Space

YOU WOULD have to be living beneath a rock to not know that we Angelenos are  deep in the throes of a drought. Even my friends, thousands of miles away,  ask about what that might mean, are versed in the details. So, with a sense of great surprise, I’ve been noting how many residents are still showering their beloved front lawns with affection — read: lots of water — despite fines and the threat of other penalties.

It’s hardly something that one can hide.

Now, months into no rain and state-imposed water restrictions,  the dramatic side-by-side differences are everywhere. That checkerboard of front yards made me realize just how much our symbolic first impression might still mean to us.

My short meditation on lawns and how they figure into the Southern California imagination is up here at Zócalo Public Square.

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“Slippery Oasis”

image by Damon Casarez linked via Los Angeles Magazine

NICE PIECE up at Los Angeles Magazine by Jesse Katz about Westlake’s “slippery oasis” known as MacArthur Park.

A snip:

The people who turn up in the lake these days may look different from those who perished a century ago. They may come from different parts of the world and inhabit different social echelons. We may have a more sophisticated vocabulary for their breakdowns, a more nuanced understanding of addiction and despair. But the guile of the lake—the melodrama of our city—is not a modern condition.

Every fall, I think about my old across-the-landing neighbor who worked graveyards undercover with LAPD, his beat to spin around those shadows in the Park. I know he could write a book or two. Jesse’s piece brought all that back…me standing, balancing with my laundry listening to native noir stories.

More of Jesse’s wonderful, moody piece here