Gerald Locklin (1941-2021)

Posted on January 18, 2021
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Sunday, January 17, 2021

Gerald Locklin (1941-2021)

The W-E Bicoastal Poetry Reading Series took place this afternoon and it went very well, though my heart was incredibly heavy. Shortly after 1 p.m., I learned that Gerald Locklin had died shortly before 8 a.m. Eileen Klink, the chair of the English Department at CSU Long Beach, sent out an email mid-day announcing his death, which was due to covid-19.

Most of the Los Angeles poetry community has heard the news by now. Out of respect for Gerry and his family and friends, I am not going to saything other than he was one of the founders of Stand Up poetry, a movement whose earliest practitioners were based in Long Beach. It became well enough known that Edward Field make a special point in his anthology A GEOGRAPHY OF POETS of mentioning the unlikelihood of anything poetic coming out of Long Beach. Poetry in California was supposed to have its pedigree in North Beach, not Long Beach, but Locklin had a gift for the comic poem that influenced an entire generation of poets in Southern California.

If Locklin went unrecognized by East Coast canon shapers, he didn’t let on that it bothered him that much. He was too busy working on the next poem. I’ll grant anyone that it’s impossible to publish 3,000 poems and have all of them be of equal quality, but it’s not necessarily the poet’s job to be the adjudicator. Some of his finest poems are his ekphrastic commentaries that he started producing in the last portion of his writing life, and I don’t believe he would been so deft at that form if he devoted himself to a poetics of casual improvisation.

If you are not familiar with his work, it shouldn’t be too hard to find one of his books or a few representative poems in an anthology such as Charles Harper Webb’s STAND UP POETRY or my anthology POETRY LOVES POETRY. or Suzanne Lummis’s GRADN PASSION and WIDE AWAKE: Poets of Losn Angeles and Beyond.

Gerald Locklin was born in 1941 in Rochester, New York and went to Catholic schools, an experience memorably recorded in his classic Stand Up poem, “The Criminal Mentality.” He earned a M.A. and Ph.D. from Arizona State University, which is where I believe he came to know one of his early compatriots in the Stand Up movement, Ron Koertge. Locklin started teaching college in Southern California in the mid-1960s and earned a formidable reputation as a professor whose knowledge of literature matched his willingness to spend time in local bars: one of his best-known early. poems was entitled “Beer.” His literary alter ego, Toad, never seemed to lack for anecdotal levity.

L to R: Ron Koertge, Ben Pleasants, Charles Bukowski, Steve Richmond, Gerald Locklin. Photograph by Mark Sullivan, Los Angeles, 1975.

In an interview, Charles Bukowski was asked about his opinion of contemporary poets in Los Angeles. Bukowski dismissed them all as mediocrities, except for one: Gerald Locklin. It should be emphasized that Locklin did not earn that praise because he was Bukowski’s drinking buddy. Locklin more than once commented that the secret of his relationship with Bukowski was that he kept his social distance from him.

Fortunately for the rest of us in Los Angeles, Gerry embraced us with a Fastaffian generosity. I could say he will be missed, but that had already begun before he died. I am lucky enough to have those memories to console me. R.I.P., Gerry.

Reprinted from Koan Kinship– Bill Mohr’s Blog


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