The City of West Hollywood will celebrate National Poetry Month 2022 in April with a variety of events and exhibitions honoring poets and the art of poetry. Throughout the month of April, the City of West Hollywood will honor living poets by featuring selections of their poetry on street pole banners along Santa Monica Boulevard. Currently there are 46 poets honored, and each year the West Hollywood City Poet Laureate selects two additional poets to honor. This year’s honorees are Presidential Inauguration Poet Amanda Gorman and Da Poetry Lounge’s Shihan Van Clief.
Amanda Gorman is the youngest Presidential inaugural poet in United States history. She is a committed advocate for the environment, racial equality, and gender justice. After graduating cum laude from Harvard University, she now lives in her hometown of Los Angeles. Amanda was one of the Variety Power of Women honorees, one of the cover stars for Glamour’s Women of the Year, and one of TIME magazine’s Women of the Year. The special edition of her inaugural poem, The Hill We Climb, was published in March 2021. Her debut picture book, Change Sings, was released in September 2021 and her poetry collection Call Us What We Carry in December 2021.
Shihan Van Clief is the co-founder of Da Poetry Lounge, the largest weekly poetry slam in the United States, and the Festival Director of the L.A. Get Down Festival of hip-hop and spoken word, which takes place at the Greenway Court Theatre at Fairfax High School and is funded through a City of West Hollywood Arts Grant. Shihan was raised in the Lower East Side of New York City by his father who took his son to Puerto Rico every summer so he could understand the importance of where he came from. He is well-known for his debut performance on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, and is a National Poetry Slam champion.
On Monday, April 4, 2022 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 be viewable on the City’s WeHoTV YouTube Channel. The West Hollywood City Poet Laureate will also debut a new poem he has created titled WeHowl (inspired by the poem Howl by Allen Ginsberg). The text of the poem can be found below.
On Wednesday, April 6, 2022 at 6 p.m., as part of the City’s WeHo Reads series, there will be a poetry reading featuring four transgender poets in a reading and dialogue about the future and the intersections of science fiction and poetry, activism and language. Curated and hosted by West Hollywood City Poet Laureate Brian Sonia-Wallace, readers include Ryka Aoki, LA-based poet and author of the new sci-fi novel Light from Uncommon Stars, Harry Josephine Giles, Scottish poet and author of Deep Wheel Orcadia, in conversation with young poets, along with organizers Simba the Poet(Nashville) and Ava Dadvand (from Los Angeles, currently writing and studying at Yale). The event, titled WeHo Reads: Trans | Future | Poetics, will take place online and is free to attend. For more information and to RSVP: www.weho.org/wehoreads. The event can be viewed on the City of West Hollywood Arts Division YouTube channel.
Throughout the month of April, with the support of an arts grant from 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. For more information, visit http://greenwaycourttheatre.
The City of West Hollywood began its City Poet Laureate program in 2014. 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. Current City Poet Laureate 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 (now known, starting in 2022, as the WeHo 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. In 2021, Brian Sonia-Wallace was selected as one of the recipients of the Poets Laureate Fellowship by the Academy of American Poets in conjunction with his role as West Hollywood City Poet Laureate. The Academy provided each of the 23 Fellows $50,000 each, and more than $100,000 in total to 14 local 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations that have agreed to support the Fellows’ proposed projects, including the local organization Being Alive, which supported Sonia-Wallace’s project.
For additional information about the City of West Hollywood’s National Poetry Month 2022 activities or West Hollywood 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/community/arts-