What has gotten into Santa Barbara poets? Last Saturday’s marathon poetry reading at the Book & Author Festival was a carnival of ribaldry, hilarity, and downright outrageousness. Of course, things were a little low key in the morning. There were only hints of what was to come. But Paul Willis brought in his usual wry wit, his description of a scene in “Rattlesnake Canyon” ending “Good yes/for a postcard,/but a dry season for the soul.” And when Chella Courington read “Paper Covers Rock” the audience squirmed, little suspecting that featured poet Gerald Locklin would also read a work featuring shears and sensitive body parts. Pamela Davis got outright chuckles for her piece, “Stuck in Paris,” in which two people survive being stuck in an elevator—or is it in a marriage?
But the reading really broke loose when Locklin, who was in Santa Barbara to receive the Glenna Luschei Poetry Fellowship Award, took the stand. Locklin, who idolizes Garrison Keillor and who is so down to earth that he makes Ted Kooser look like an elitist, read his poems, and also sang excerpts from “I Pagliacci” and “Cry,” and tap danced, demonstrating such classic steps as shuffling off to Buffalo, in Birkenstocks. The reading included a moment of silence “in honor of the celebration of the Autumnal Equiballs,” a distinctly male ritual. Locklin’s poems included “The Iceberg Theory” (think lettuce), “I Doubt It” (think adultery), and “Poop.” He also read from a short story, “The Hippie Shirt,” about which the crowd was still talking hours later. Those gathered did squirm at times—Locklin seems to be tone deaf—but there was also much outright and appreciative laughter.
Locklin’s influence seemed to infuse the rest of the afternoon. Barry Spacks read a poem “On Reading Gerald Locklin,” and took license from Locklin to sing his own rendition of “Don’t Mean Maybe.” But how did Steve Beisner know that the audience would be primed for his musings on that bra-covered tree in “Flag for Everett Maddox” or that “How Marilyn Monroe Was Almost My Mother” was just the right note to end on? The ever-dignified John Ridland offered fragments from a comic opera of the Tarzan story, which he had written in Ape. Ridland opined that it was “a beautiful sounding language” but admitted, “I don’t understand a word of it.” Santa Barbara Poet Laureate Perie Longo, in her turn, brought the house down with “Faux Pas”: “Don’t you people wear rubbers around here?” and “Poetry Rx”: “Do not take more than 10-15 a day or flatulence may result.” Although we’d clearly gone over our quota, a good time was had by all.