The City of West Hollywood is celebrating National Poetry Month in April with various events and exhibitions honoring poets and the art of poetry. The City will feature selections of their poetry on street pole banners along Santa Monica Boulevard.
Currently there are 43 poets honored, and each year the West Hollywood City Poet Laureate selects two additional poets to honor. This year’s honorees are Ryka Aoki and Tommy Pico, with an additional banner honoring City Poet Laureate Brian Sonia-Wallace also being added this year.
Ryka Aoki is author of Seasonal Velocities, He Mele a Hilo (A Hilo Song), Why Dust Shall Never Settle Upon This Soul, The Great Space Adventure, and the forthcoming Light from Uncommon Stars. She is a two-time Lambda Award finalist, and winner of the Eli Coppola Chapbook Contest, the Corson-Bishop Poetry Prize, and a University Award from the Academy of American Poets. Aoki is also the founder of the International Transgender Martial Arts Alliance, and Executive Director of Dissonance Press and The After School programs at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center, in Venice, California.
Tommy “Teebs” Pico is author of the books IRL, Nature Poem, Junk, and Feed. Originally from the Viejas Indian reservation of the Kumeyaay nation, he now splits his time between Los Angeles and Brooklyn. He co-curates the reading series Poets with Attitude, is poetry editor at Catapult Magazine, writes on the FX show Reservation Dogs, and is a contributing editor at Literary Hub.
On Monday, April 5, 2021 at 6 p.m., the City Council of the City of West Hollywood will, at its regular meeting, issue a commemorative National Poetry Month proclamation, which will be received by West Hollywood City Poet Laureate Brian Sonia-Wallace. The presentation will take place online and is viewable on the City’s YouTube channel. The West Hollywood City Poet Laureate will also debut a new poem he has created, which combines lines submitted by 53 West Hollywood residents and visitors. The poem is also available to read here.
On Wednesday, April 7, 2021 at 6 p.m., as part of the City’s WeHo Reads series, there will be a poetry reading and conversation about representation in relation to the history of the local LGBTQ rights movement with Gustavo Hernandez, a poet with a new poetry collection Flower Grand First, and Rocío Carlos, author of the (other) house whose work was included in LACMA’s Pacific Standard Time exhibition, Those of This America. The event will also feature musical guests Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles, who have as part of their group the first openly transgender woman in the history of mariachi. The event, titled Exploring the Landscape of the Gay Rights Movement, will take place online and is free to attend. For more information and to RSVP: www.weho.org/wehoreads.
On Wednesday, April 14, 2021 at 6 p.m., as part of the City’s WeHo Reads series, West Hollywood City Poet Laureate Brian Sonia-Wallace will bring together poets near and far for an exploration of thresholds in language, gender, generation, and geography. Featured poets include Terry Wolverton, Alyesha Wise-Hernandez, féi hernandez, Alan Pelaez Lopez, and Harry Giles. The event will culminate in writing prompts to get your creative juices flowing and a virtual afterparty for participants to share their work. The event, titled “It is time to cross the threshold on your hands” (after a line by poet Kayleigh Zaloga), will take place online and is free to attend. For more information and to RSVP: www.weho.org/wehoreads.
On Fridays and Saturdays through the month of April, with the support of the City of West Hollywood’s Arts Division, Greenway Arts Alliance will present the annual L.A. Get Down Festival. The festival is a celebration of hip hop and spoken word, presented in association with Da Poetry Lounge. Most events are $10. For tickets and information, visit http://greenwaycourttheatre.
The City of West Hollywood began its City Poet Laureate program in 2014, with each poet serving for a two-year term. The City Poet Laureate serves as an ambassador of West Hollywood’s vibrant literary culture and leads the promotion of poetry in the City, including assisting with its annual celebration of National Poetry Month.
Brian Sonia-Wallace began his appointment in October 2020 following West Hollywood’s third City Poet Laureate, Charles Flowers (2018-2020). Previous City Poet Laureates include Kim Dower (2016-2018), who initiated the Citywide Collaborative Poem, the first of which was animated into a five-minute-long video: “I Sing The Body West Hollywood” and Steven Reigns, West Hollywood’s inaugural City Poet Laureate (2014-2016), who implemented the City’s annual Poetry Month street banner project, which honors living poets and brings snippets of poetry into the streets of West Hollywood.
Brian Sonia-Wallace has been writing poems for strangers and neighbors on the streets of West Hollywood and at City of West Hollywood events since the WeHo Reads 2014 season. A social practice poet straddling the lines between literature and community engagement, his 2020 debut from Harper Collins, The Poetry of Strangers: What I Learned Traveling America With a Typewriter, was lauded as “full of optimism and wide-eyed wonder” by The New York Times. He teaches creative writing through the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and Get Lit – Words Ignite. In 2019, Sonia-Wallace received a grant from the City of West Hollywood’s One City One Pride LGBTQ Arts Festival to create Pride Poets, a project that brought poets on typewriters to the streets of West Hollywood to create more than 700 original works based on one-on-one interactions, and in 2020 brought together more than 100 LGBTQ+ poets for virtual shows during the COVID-19 quarantine. Pride Poets has been featured in the publications The Pride and The Advocate, and Sonia-Wallace’s work has, additionally, been profiled by The New York Times, The Guardian, The Poetry Foundation, NPR, ABC7, and Telemundo.
For additional information about the City of West Hollywood’s National Poetry Month activities or City Poet Laureate program, please contact Mike Che, the City of West Hollywood’s Arts Coordinator, at (323) 848-6377 or [email protected], or visit www.weho.org/arts.