a dear dear old lady, vera hickman, took me while i was still in high school to the soroptimist house on campus at long beach state for the monthly literary club meeting. (as an aside, it is the old ladies of the world who keep societies balanced. they are the militant supporters of the arts, of social projects, of fairness and peace. it takes their efforts to balance the general inertia and apathy of communities at large, at least in the united states. sadly, vera died many years ago after i had been out of touch for quite some time. the world is certainly missing her.) the literary club at that time consisted of the more conventional poets and writers on campus and they would meet and read and discuss their work. after several months i was going alone to the meetings and making friends. at one point, someone suggested we put together a literary magazine. the general question was raised: does anyone know how to do this? i said i did. and so separate meetings for what would become "riprap" followed and i found myself at the csulb campus even more often. one night after a production meeting, a guy told me that some poets were meeting at a bar across the street from campus and asked if i wanted to go. the forty-niner. im sure he had no idea i wasnt a student in college but high school, that i was underage to go to a bar, that i lived with my parents in downey... i followed him into another world!
these poets were not sophisticated. two tables of mostly scruffy men sitting haphazardly askew and talking about anything but literature... this was a dark, smoky, delightful shock after leaving the riprap meeting where what was published had to be suitable for church. this was a beer club! and the beer was definitely an interesting aspect of it all. i knew what tap beer was ~ no high school is that isolated ~ but i guess i had never appreciated the fact of large pitchers of beer that seemed to appear on the table, spill on the table, disappear into the men... and someone put a mug in front of me and filled it. (a couple years later, when the bar began using smaller pitchers, the poets left for a different bar in protest!) i noticed that one guy, fred voss, didnt drink the beer from the pitchers like everyone else but instead went to the bar to get bottles of beer, one at a time, for himself. i asked him why and he leaned forward and said softly that that beer didnt taste good. i leaned forward and said, "none of it tastes good." young as i was, i knew you didnt drink for the taste. i guessed if you were, you would be drinking girlie drinks.
i was mostly a fly on the wall that night. since i wasnt a student, i didnt know anyone except the guy who invited me, i especially didnt know the teachers... but i quickly saw how this hive of bohemians swarmed around a particular queen... and that was gerry locklin.
gerald locklin was the center and the reason for the long beach movement in creative writing and the father of the long beach style of poetry. he remains its finest example.
i became friendly with and published gerry in several projects, both academic and private, and when i was kicked off the campus literary magazine a couple years later, he said, "now you can do what you want." (i began editing and publishing with vera and isabelle ziegler, a grand dame of letters, while i was still in high school ~ a proposition which both got me started with and removed from the literary group at the soroptimist house and riprap magazine). gerry only showed up at my apartment door at 2 or 3 in the morning a couple times, a bottle of cream sherry and a tale ~ both of which are now forgotten ~ and i never had a bad time with him.
but most stories from that time are forgotten...
i moved to europe for a couple years and lost touch with everyone. that was 25 years ago. now i just saw gerry and the circle of writers at gerrys retirement party in long beach and it was like being underwater, in a dream... i searched the memory banks for references to these people, grasping for a buoy in a sea of amnesia... i drank with these people, i published these people, i left these people behind.
but gerry himself and his work remain strong. he is still unpretentious, generous of spirit, and talented. he no longer drinks (for health reasons) but his personality was never predicated on alcohol. everyone else from that period was a shock ~ some lines had changed... waistlines, hairlines, laughlines... and some hadnt... the writing which was read as a tribute to gerry had the familiar voice of the past... (as a gift, i gave gerry a copy of child harold at the zoo ~ the closest my work comes to the long beach style.)
millie, my dear friend from that period who has evolved along similar paths to mine and remains close, invited me to go to that west coast writers tribute and retirement party for gerry. she looked fabulous and i cleaned up well. maybe we looked better (inside and out) than we did 25 years ago. there was a new group of young writers there, some the sons of our original group... ahh the deliciousness of youth, the vitality, the eager soul disguised as aloof , pretty in bum jeans ~ millie and i had a delightful time visiting with dave alvin and others of the old garde and enjoying the scent of the next... and left the evening reveling in the quirky justice of time and the undeniable cycle of karma.
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