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A Cal State Long Beach classroom, 1985 or so. Gerald Locklin looks every bit his nickname “Bear,” with bushy salt-and-pepper hair and beard, thick glasses, rumpled polo shirt, jeans and Birkenstocks with socks. He leans heavily on the lectern, and opens class the way he always did, asking in his Rochester accent, “What’s haaappening?”

A conversation would commence. See any good movies? Concerts? How about that Lakers game? It would segue into talk about the stories students were writing. Maybe a Locklin lecture, covering a sweep of literary history from Beowulf to Barthelme, to give context to a new work being studied, in a discussion that was scholarly and fascinating and fun. All in 50 minutes.

As English professor, writer, editor and literary ambassador, Locklin helped transform the campus where he taught for 42 years into a place for writers and Long Beach into one of the country’s poetry hubs.

He was one of the more important and prolific American poets of the last half-century, whose companionable approach to the mundane and the consequential mirrored his classroom style.

Alongside the fiction and poetry of Charles Bukowski, his old drinking pal, Locklin’s deceptively simple, witty writing helped shape and propagate a democratizing literature associated with the West Coast style. His brand of verse was foundational to the Long Beach school of poetry and an offshoot known as Stand Up Poetry.

As one of Locklin’s students back in the 1980s, I remember him as a singularly gifted teacher, an enduring friend and one of the brightest and funniest people I’ve ever met.

Since his death this year of COVID-19 complications at 79, his old colleagues, former students and friends — many of them professors, writers or both — have recalled Locklin as one who opened doors, or gave an early nudge that made all the difference.


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