Essay from Norman J. Olson

Blue pencil Picasso-esque drawing of shapes that resemble abstract human faces and torsos. One figure has their hand up over their eyes.

Back in the early 2000s, I was publishing lots of poetry…  for several years, I tried to write and submit 3 poems a day, five days a week…  I would send these compositions to different literary journals all over the world…  the print journals were just being supplanted by the on line journals in those days, so I was still collecting boxes of contributors’ copies… one journal that liked my work was published in Louisiana and edited by a professor of English there… 

a literary conference scheduled by an organization that I knew nothing about was held very year…  this conference was scheduled for various institutions in the USA and Canada and was a place where professors of English could meet and present their papers on subjects like, “symbolism in Wordsworth from a post feminist prospective,” or “new French cinema as an heir of DADA…”  I had a MA degree, but had never been a real academic, so did not know anything about these conferences…  this conference decided to add some poetry from non academic sources and the editor from Louisiana had some say in that, and invited me to be one of the non academic poets participating…  instead of presenting a paper, the poets would read some of their published poetry…  I had always said that I would gladly read my poetry in public if anybody ever asked me to, so I agreed to do this and was pretty pumped about it in fact…  my wife was working at the airline, so, I could travel on employee passes and so cheaply get to whatever city the conference was being held in…  I learned that most of the participants, including most of the poets, were academics, i.e. professors of English and/or creative writing, and had money from their department to pay for the travel to these conventions…  but, having no such resource, I was on my own…

I attended four or five of these conferences…  I would fly to the city, check in with all the professors and then show up at the room to read my poems to a few of the professors who had chosen to attend the session that I was part of…  seldom was the audience more than ten and on one occasion, I remember, I think it was in St. Louis, nobody showed up except the poets who were reading so we read for each other, kind of a pointless activity I guess, but that is how the poetry world swings… 

anyway, one year, sorry I do not remember which year exactly, the conference was in Toronto…  I got my name tag and made it to my session…  I was surprised to find that some of the people in attendance were people who’s names I recognized from journals we had been published together in…  among them was Gerald Locklin…  I introduced myself to Locklin and he introduced me to several other well known small press poets and publishers…  as usual, I was very nervous about reading my poetry in public, but, they all seemed to like my very dramatic reading style and so the whole thing was, I thought, pretty successful…  I had brought some drawings and paintings to set up on stage as a backdrop to my reading…  after the reading, Locklin, his wife, and the others were planning on going to the Natural History Museum…  they invited me to join them…  I don’t remember how much the admission to the museum was, but I remember that it seemed to me to be more than I wanted to spend, so I told them that and declined…  but Locklin offered to pay for me, so I joined them and went to the museum… 

then, after listening to some of the others read at a later session, I left to head back to Minnesota…  in thanks for Locklin paying my way to the museum and for the kindness he showed including me, a relatively unknown poet/artist with the group of well known poets, I gave him a drawing…  I never really had any other contact with Locklin after that, and I came to regret giving him the drawing because, I came to believe that it was one of my very best works… oh well, done is done…

Locklin’s poetry was not like mine at all and his reading was very different from mine as well…  where my reading was dramatic and serious, his was conversational and light hearted…  he said he like to do a song and dance at those readings so he could say it was the same old song and dance…  and in fact, he did sing something and did a strange kind of shuffling dance…  I never had been a huge fan of his poetry, but after meeting him, I realized that his poetry was like his personality, surprisingly sophisticated filled with wit and willingness to not take the world too seriously… 

I just read today on Facebook, that Gerald Locklin died January 17, 2021, from Covid 19 complications…  I was very sorry to hear about that…  I’m sure he was a wonderful professor because he seemed such a basically decent human being and the interest he took in me and my work certainly felt genuine…  he was successful in a way that few from the poetry world are and even if we never became close, I always liked the idea that he was out there at California State University Long Beach and USC keeping it real…  RIP Mr. Locklin you were a fine poet and a kind, unpretentious and helpful person…

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