Cal State Long Beach Professor Retires After 43 Years

This time of year, many people say goodbye to their college campuses. English professor Gerald Locklin's bidding his farewell after 43 years at Cal State Long Beach. His colleagues and current and former students gathered recently at a hotel ballroom to pay tribute to his teaching career. KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez was there and brings us this story.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: It wasn't a retirement party, Gerald Locklin explains, it was a festschrift. A ritual dating from the Middle Ages.

Gerald Locklin: A festschrift comes from a German tradition, when a scholar was retiring, his students and protégés and the rest in the universities would write scholarly articles in their field.

[Clapping]

Guzman-Lopez: This was a poetry festschrift. Locklin's friend Marilyn Johnson sketches the poet as a young professor.

Marilyn Johnson: First sighting. CSULB, 1965. That day in the coffee shop I couldn't quite wrap my mind around what everyone was saying about the new guy in the English department: not only how young you were, but how you rejected both coat and tie, de rigueur for professors back then, avoided the faculty dining room, and were seen hanging out with students.

Locklin: I started at the greatest time to be a teacher in the history of the world, just about, the mid 1960s in Southern California. This was the hippie era. You know, this was the Beatles came over, this was the rock era, this was the civil rights era, you know, this was the sit-ins.

Guzman-Lopez: Locklin befriended cultural rebels and blue collar types, like Fred Voss. He dropped out of his English Ph.D. and began working at a steel mill. Voss met Locklin at a bar a couple of blocks from campus.

Fred Voss: Long Beach in 1980 was a pretty wild place. And here in the
49er Tavern
among the bikers cruising up and down Pacific Coast
Highway
and the cowboys from Arizona
and the painters with paint all over their pants and shirts
and the plumbers and pipefitters
and punk rockers with orange and purple hair
was Locklin

Guzman-Lopez: Eighty years ago, writer Dorothy Parker presided over a literary round table at New York's Algonquin Hotel. Gerald Locklin convened something... similar, at the 49er Tavern.

Voss: slamming down the beers in this tavern over a floor strewn
with peanut shells
he even knew Charles Bukowski
had gotten drunk with him
exchanged letters with him

Guzman-Lopez: Locklin says the booze didn't affect his teaching. Until 15 years ago.

Locklin: I quit drinking in 1993 when I had pulmonary embolisms and just about died of that. I was in the hospital for about two and a half, three weeks.

Donna Hilbert: O Gerald our Toad
Our Bacchus our bard

Guzman-Lopez: Donna Hilbert's a Long Beach poet.

Hilbert: You have raised the shillelagh
Of Laughter and wit
To rout from Long Beach
Every trace of cant and bullshit
(Offending serpents of poem and art)
And driven them straight
From campus to sea.
For this great service
Dear Gerald, I praise thee. (applause)

Guzman-Lopez: Locklin concluded the night of literary tributes by reading from his own work.

Locklin: OK. Toulouse-Lautrec, which is in quatrains

His Paris was the garden of the satyr;
Whores and dancers, debutantes and clowns
Left the bull of beauty-hater
As he made his lowly, orange rounds.

There was no doubt, of course, he would not live long.
Paris was too rich in rhythm, too poor
In joy. To drug his mauve despair he played
The boor, his face a lithograph of bottled song.

Guzman-Lopez: Any topic's fair game in poetry. That's been Gerald Locklin's teaching mantra for 43 years.

Locklin: I've Always Enjoyed Her Sense of Humor

She's an old friend
And I don't see her very often,
But she has a way of turning up
When I'm talking to a girl I've just met,

And she will invariably storm up to us
And confront me with, "where is the child support check?!"

Then turn on her heel and storm from the room,
Leaving me to make inadequate explanations.

Guzman-Lopez: Decades ago, before poetry slams and Def Poetry Jam, Locklin blurred the lines between poetry reading and performance.

Locklin (singing): Isn't it rich. Aren't we a pair. Me here at last on the ground, you in mid-air.

Guzman-Lopez: For Locklin, poetry, song, and dance spring from the same creative well. The 67 year-old professor ended the night and 43 years at Cal State Long Beach with the bell step, a move he learned in tap classes when he was a kid.

Locklin: You never know when you're doing your last one, though. I'm a little worried about doing it tonight.

Guzman-Lopez: In Birkenstocks and socks, three times he trotted, jumped, and clicked his heels.

[Clapping, cheering]

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