Wednesday, August 15, 2012

My Top Ten (Almost) Pittsburgh Poets: Gerald Locklin

Again, I'm pushing the envelope. Gerald Locklin is not from Pittsburgh. But he did spend time as poet in residence at The University of Pittsburgh, and he does have a chapbook entitled The Pittsburgh Poems to prove it, so I do not feel too guilty about including him in this series. He is a favorite of mine, so he (almost) qualifies. (Bear with me--I got myself into this series, and I'm trying to get myself out of it.)

I met Gerald Locklin in Albuquerque in 2002. He was Mark Weber's guest at a small monthly venue in a ramshackled building that looked like a gutted bar with cold metal folding chairs in the middle of winter. I was the first to arrive, after Mark Weber, and as the audience trickled in (it never really was a gusher) wearing down-filled coats and wool scarves, an anorexic man in a short-sleeved T-shirt and wrinkled chinos, hair disheveled, sat down near me and proceeded to read his mystery novel, while waiting for the reading to begin.

Fifteen minutes past the hour, Weber got up on the 6-inch raised, squeaky stage and addressed the mostly-empty chairs, and the few bundled bodies huddling together in the center of the room. During the introduction, the skinny man continued reading his book and, only when Weber had stepped down from the stage, and all was silent, did the man snap shut his mystery and walk to the front of the room.

What an entrance! And what a reading! Locklin wowed us with his stories, his jokes, his singing and his dancing, which at 5500 feet elevation gave him such a wheezing, coughing attack (I later learned that previously he had nearly died from blood clots in his lungs), that I thought it would send him to the emergency room. In between, he did read some poems, which sounded like Bukowski with a Ph. D., by which I mean a poetry of garrulous gab--full of humor and wit and obscenities but, instead of idolizing the underbelly of society, Locklin's poems deprecate the American dream and his tentative place in it.

Here is a stanza from Bukowski's "a poet in New York," from The Last Night Of The Earth Poems: "eating out tonight/I find a table alone/and while waiting for my order/take out my wife's copy of/A Poet In New York./I often carry things to read/so that I will not have to look at/the people." Bukowski separates himself from "the crowd," and disparages "the people" with that dry voice, that aftertaste of rage.

For Locklin, it's not what he thinks of "the people," it's what they think of him. Compare the above to "you begin to wonder if you've ever heard of yourself," a poem from The Cabo Conference: "if not exactly humbling,/it is at least a little discouraging/to be in a room with/the fifty leading professors of poetry in america/and someone jokes,/'you notice that none of/the poets showed up'."

There is no way that I can do justice to Locklin's body of work (over 3,000 poems in print, more than 125 books) in this short post. I can hopefully, however, turn you on to Locklin if you don't know him. And if you do, perhaps I can motivate you to re-read him with a different view, a different ear, in order to season your own work with a little more levity, and give yourself permission to write more about the extraordinary ordinary in your own life.

Here is a short series of four poems that end section II ("Intoxication") of The Life Force Poems.

An Occasional Coyote

in the high ranch desert valley,
people are painting their houses
cape cod blue,
planting irrigated lawns,
fencing their yards,
and paving their driveways.

the wild burrows that used
to rut in the night
and dump their odorless vegetarian shit
to be cleansed by the endless wind,
have been rounded up,
thus effectively leaving the area
without remaining signs of wildlife.

the above have been accomplished
to make it more convenient
for city-dwellers to get
back to nature.

A Penny For Your Thoughts

we all seem to want
to sum up our lives
in loosely bound works:
the meditations of marcus aurelius,
les pensees of pascal,
the notebooks and essays
of emerson and thoreau,
the gettysburg address,
the tower and crazy jane
(not a vision;
not a fable):

even bukowski let himself
be talked into
the captain is out to lunch
and the sailors have taken over the ship,

and it didn't turn out
all that bad.

others tackle the task straight on,
like a linebacker who knows
he can't be steamrolled.
here i have in mind
beethoven's final string quartets,
the four quartets of t.s. eliot,
the book of ecclesiastes,
the lives of christ.

Jackson Pollock: One: Number 31, 1950

suddenly we realize that this is everything:
the universe, the self, the molecules,
their nuclei, motion, rest, the stars,
desire, shakespeare, color, absence, heat
and light, anxiety, the umbilical telephone,
the beast and beauty, chaos, order,
stimulus, perception the creative,
virginia woolf, the waves, emotion,
monasteries, christ and shiva,
music, wagner, bach, mile, coltrane,
philip glass and seymour, kna,
the life of the senses,
the life of themind,
life, literature, lifelessness,
death, time, eternity,
the teapot in the tempest,
control and spontaneity,
space, boundlessness, boundaries,
you name it.

it's all here.
all language.
all there is to see.
all there is to hear.
all there is to think.

sleep never stops.

The Motive

as a writer you get to seek
popularity or immortality,
riches or fame,
rewards for your labor
in this life or the next.

it's highly unlikely
you'll achieve both.
the nature of originality
tends to render the two
mutually exclusive.

of course the strongest odds
are that you'll end up
with neither.

i've got to go, though,
with the idea that
the life force is always
the driving force within
the greatest artists
because the life force is,
after all,
what the greatest art
is always all about.

After the reading, getting Locklin's signature, I found out what he meant by this last stanza. Instead of scurrying off with Weber or playing the room (what room?), he talked with me and the few others standing around for about twenty minutes. He thanked me for listening to him carefully while he was reading (he had directed much of his eye contact towards me), he asked me about my writing, he invited me (all of us) out with him for drinks. He was old school; his poems were as well--confessional, highly narrative, slices of life in only slightly elevated language.

His life story was his literary persona. It still is. And that's perhaps what I admire most about him--he's still writing (at age 71), and the life force is still the driving force within.

And he hasn't combed his hair in forty years.

Gerald Locklin--one of my top ten favorite Pittsburgh Poets.

No comments: