Poet Gerald Locklin Talks About How Lady Gaga is in his Reading Routine, the Bukowski Connection and OC as 'Sand Beach'

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Henry Denander
Poetry readings are boring. And I'm not just saying that as a guy whose sole exposure to the genre was a force-feeding of Maya Angelou in community college. Nope, I actually read -- and try to write -- the stuff and even I think most of these gatherings are really great if you are
suffering from insomnia and not much else.

Gerald Locklin agrees. The 70-year-old Long Beach writer (who also spent approximately two decades in Seal Beach) doesn't just get behind a podium, stick his face into a book and mumble through some poems. This guy goes for it, and by that I mean he makes this shit come alive. During a Locklin reading, audiences are bound to get a handful of really solid narrative poems about life in academia (of which he knows something about seeing how he begin teaching at Cal State Long Beach in 1965), jazz, art and day-to-day slices of life, but the highlight of these shows is when Locklin puts down the poems and moves away from the podium for a song-and-dance routine that never fails.

Locklin's repertoire is limitless, but lately he's been almost guaranteed to tap dance, sing a Lady Gaga routine and tell the story about the time he auditioned for a talent show when he was in elementary school. 

For the uneducated, it's easy to dismiss Locklin's showmanship as his way of hiding the fact that he can't write. Nothing could be further from the truth. With more than 125 published books and 3,000 published poems, short stories, articles, reviews and interview, Locklin is a master of the written word. Don't believe me? Well, you should because Charles Bukowski agreed. The two were friends and anyone who knows anything about Bukowksi knows his persona leads us to believe that he A. didn't care much for people and B. cared even less for other poets. To give a detailed account of his career would take up too much space, so visit his website at www.geraldlocklin.org. Trust me, I ain't getting paid to plug his site, so that must mean there's something worth checking out there.

In the meantime, Locklin is reading tomorrow night at Golden West College Community Room 102 (15744 Goldenwest St., Huntington Beach) with John Brantingham and Pam Arterburn. The reading begins at 8.  

OC Weekly (Ryan Ritchie): How has living in Long Beach and Orange County influenced your writing?
Gerald Locklin: Sometimes I'll call the area "Sand Beach" and sometimes I'll leave things by different names in the same book or novella just to confuse people because I try to get them try to read things not for any autobiographical searching but to take them as literature. The most obvious is because I live in that area and it is much easier to write about a place you are familiar with on a daily basis. It gives a realistic feel to it. I think Seal Beach itself has a character all its own. I love Seal Beach and I still love to get down there. I used to go to the Shore House a lot and the old days of Juan's Taco House or something of that nature. When I lived there, I loved it for the affordable but very good restaurants on Main Street and the Irish bars.

Are you still teaching?
I'm Professor Emeritus at Cal State Long Beach, which means I'm retired after having teaching many years there. I have been teaching as a part-time lecturer one class a semester on an availability basis.

I like poetry and I still think readings are boring.
I try to keep people awake and make it fun for myself. I teach the way that I give readings. I may have to jump up and tap dance in class if a queue presents itself. It's fun to entertain. I'm kind of a ham, I guess. I have a different personality in the spotlight. Ordinarily, I tend to be a little bit quieter. I go to readings only if I'm participating or if someone I know I want to support, like my son Zachary, is reading. Some are livelier than others. Most of the Long Beach and Orange County poets keep their work accessible and try to make it interesting and humorous. They're not up there reading language poetry, reading words arbitrarily on the far edges of experimentation.

Where did your reading routine come from?

It came after a while in different ways. It kind of sneaked in when I was asked to do something eccentric. I had written a poem about when I tried out for an amateur talent show in Rochester, New York, when I was in grammar school. The poem is called "I Cry" or something like that. I don't think it's ever been published. It's more of a performance piece. I always try to read the poems dramatically and musically. I believe poetry is the music of the human language. The other things were attached to poems, like a poem about opera where I might segue into singing. Or for St. Patrick's Day I'll sing "Danny Boy." Sometimes I just ditch any pretense and sing what I want to. I have a little Lady Gaga medley that I do now. It's branched out to where I can take excessive liberties now. For a while there, I thought the poetry was going to disappear from the readings all together and I'd pursue my ad hoc singing and dancing career.

Are there times when you don't sing and/or dance?

Yes, but rarely.  I can't do my stuff in 15 minutes; I really to prefer about half an hour at least.

Do you have plans for tonight's reading?
I'll have more time because there are only two featured readers and an open reading. I haven't thought too much about it. I've got to take some time and throw together things in some kind of order in my book bag so I can get at them quickly. I had a few books out in 2010, so maybe a few things from those.

What are audience's responses usually like at your readings?
They're caught off guard. They are in class, too. There are two ways of being effective in humor. One is with surprise. The other way, however, is when they've seen the routine many times and they know it's coming, like my tap-dancing poem, but they're not sure when I'm going to break my hip or my ankle, which I will one of these days. It's getting harder to get off the ground. There's a certain humor to the familiarity.

Does the Bukowski connection ever get old?

I'm not insulted by the question in the least. My work differs considerably from his, but I hope that it has the same virtues that his has. He was an unquestionable influence on my work, as was Edward Field. There were many influences, but I would never minimize the extent to which I loved Bukowksi's work and still do. I learned a lot from him. He showed there was another way of being a poet that didn't have to come through the university presses, even if you were teaching at a university. It was another road, another path, toward building a career. People are justifiably thrilled when they discover his work and then they find my name mentioned in connection with him because I have a book about him and we corresponded a lot. Fifty-plus of his letters to me are in the CSULB Special Collections library, which I gave to them years ago. In a lot of places, people's first encounters with me are through Bukowski. In general, if they have a literary aptitude that goes beyond just a single poet, often they develop a taste for my work as well and discover that it is different in many respects. Bukowski certainly didn't write hundreds of poems based on paintings and museums or jazz, which was not exactly his type of music.    
 

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