New Books by Gerald Locklin
- Go West, Young Toad (Selected Writings), edited by Mark Weber. Water Row Press, P.O. Box 438, Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776. 1998. 241 pages. $14.95(paper).
- The Firebird Poems (New Edition), edited by Donna Hilbert. Event Horizon Press, P.O. Box 2006, Palm Springs, California 92263. 1999. 166 pages. $12.95.
“One of the greatest undiscovered talents our time… I like Gerald Locklin.” - Charles Bukowski
Charles Bukowski wrote, “One of the greatest undiscovered talents of our time…I like Gerald Locklin.” Once this might have been a true statement, but these days Locklin is discovered. You can discover him too. Go West, Young Toad and The Firebird Poems are both retrospective collections that draw from the immense amount of poetry and prose published by Gerald Locklin over the last 35 years. Both offer representative views of Locklin and his poetry and prose. Both are essentially different. One is not better than the other is. They are just different.
Mark Weber, who is Locklin’s bibliographer, edited Go West, Young Toad. Weber arranges the poems and prose in this collection to form a chronological, autobiographical narrative. The tale of Toad (a Locklin persona) begins in Rochester, New York, where Locklin grew up a third generation Irish Catholic and working class. He had an extended family (his mother had 13 brothers and sisters), and he attended parochial school, was an athlete, brilliant and an alter boy! The poems and prose trace Locklin’s move west, thought marriages, drinking, university jobs, parent hood, professor hood and literary life.
As a primer to Gerald Locklin and his writing Go West, Young Toad is a fitting introduction because it splendidly fleshes out the life of the poet. The collection introduces the novice to the themes the support that vast amount of writing that Locklin has done. The Locklin of these poems is an opinionated, honest, sometimes inept, anti-hero, outsider, insider, professor, drinker/drunk and on the wagon, intellectual, husband and loving father. He comes to light fully in Go West, Young Toad as a dedicated and mature artist.
Above Locklin’s many qualities stands his strength as an individual. His self stands against the ugly side of the American culture, which is arrogant, trendy and fashionable. This stress is the impetus that fuels the highly focused, designed, meticulously unadorned poetry that Locklin generates with such discipline and proficiency. Locklin’s muscular identity has endeared him to many a fan.
Among the many great selections that Mark Weber makes for Go West, Young Toad is Locklin’s triumphant poem Beer.
BEER It takes a lot to get you there, but it won't kill you either. Kids like it. The foam makes a fine mustache. When they go to sleep they dream of goofy pink dragons and slippery little smiling fish. To the adolescent it is the first taste of the earth's bitterness. He has to pretend it gets him high. He is afraid it will give him zits, and maybe it will. He gives it to his girl and thinks it is because of it she gives herself to him. She doesn't like the taste of it and never will. She doesn't have the thirst for it. She is afraid it will give her a gut, and maybe it will. Eventually she'll be a little insulated when it's offered her. And probably should be. But the best of friendships are formed over it. It helps men to speak to each other, a difficult thing these days. It lets men sing without embarrassment of auld lang syne and of the sheep that went astray somewhere along the line. It goes excellent with pool and pickled eggs, beef jerky and baseball games. Contrary to popular opinion, it is good for the kidneys, affords them exercise. It is good for the appetites. We all go beyond it; we always come back to it. It is a friend who eases us through our philosophies. It is the friend we talk to about our women, the one who agrees with us that they are not all that important. It restores our courage in the face of cowardly sobrieties. It laughs with us at our most serious sonnets, weeps at our pratfalls. It remembers us: it takes us back. Finally, this blessed beer, it eases us towards sleep.
Donna Hilbert wonderfully edits The Firebird Poems. Her selected Locklin is a selected poems organized under various subsections like, “the horse of talent,” or “stalking oneself.” The book draws its title from the poem my daughter and the firebird, in which the firebird is an allegorical symbol for both Locklin’s artist and intellectual fire and the fire of his endless love, in this instance, for his daughter. So then, this collection is comprised of poems more gentle, reflective and poetically introspective than the gruff and cranky poems of the hard drinking, gregarious barfly side of Gerald Locklin. The collection opens with the poem my six-month old daughter.
my six month old daughter must sleep in a strange crib tonight. who can blame her for crying? every bed I've ever slept in has seemed strange.
One immediately recognizes that the strange bed in which Locklin sleeps is the world. Essentially, much of the tension in Locklin’s poems, therefore, his insights, come form the fact that he sees life differently, more ironic, than most. This results in a wonderful, straightforward type of American individualistic poem. Donna Hilbert’s selection reveals a frank but essentially deeply philosophical poet, unafraid of his intellect, opinion or his own poetics. The poet is alone in the world and has to form and defend his own real and, of course, imaginary existence. As a humble monk along the road of life, he sometimes takes the wrong road. However, this too is the spiritual path of the perceptive poet. Writing, for Locklin, is thinking, and thinking results form living, really living in the world of men and women. He writes in his poem franz kline meets time magazine, “the world requires the mind// the mind requires the world.”
There is some overlap of material in these two books. However, much less than one would expect. Combined, they offer two unique visions of Gerald Locklin. Both of them are correct images, because Locklin is, upon investigation, a very complicated poet and man. He has a multitude of points of view, and they change. He is, above all, human. He is so human, in fact, so unique an individual that he has chosen the true path of the poet, and that path follows the truth of poetry. Locklin is no academic masturbater. He, therefore, is something very special, a real poet, and a poet that has by fate and choice chosen to write outside the mainstream, away from the sticking sewer of dung that is so much of American poetry.
A FIST FULL OF LOCKLIN AND A FEW LOCKLIN’S MORE