Lake Merritt has ghosts. Set in the center of Oakland, California, the lake defines our town. This sanctuary harbors wild birds and Oaklanders who, unique species themselves, roam freely, running, walking, meeting, talking, shopping for veggies, rowing long boats. Their kids tour Children's Fairyland, and the dancers tango at the milonga in the gazebo. But yes; the lake has recently become haunted.
On my way to the gym this morning, I saw Reggie Lockettwalking by Coffee with a Beat; later up the side of the Grand Lake Theater, and on my way home round the curve across from the courthouse. And although Reggie is gone, his sightings grow in frequency. Not just his strong gait making its frequent trip around its 3.5 mile perimeter, but the wind carrying his deep voice and the trees rattling his poetry.
Wanda Sabir says,
"If there was ever a poet deserving of the title poet laureate for a city, Reggie was Oakland's unnamed honoree. His work breathed Oakland-each syllable an experience that we, who call this fair city home, could relate to. He lived in a haunted house, haunted by the memories of black people from southern towns where they were just as unwelcome..."
Reginald Lockett was as Oakland as the lake itself. He had his natural beauty, which he showed bewilderingly in the four books of poetry, Random History Lessons, Good Times & No Bread, The Party Crasher of Paradise and Where the Birds Sing Bass, the last of which won a PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award in 1996. He is featured in many anthologies and most recently in the book Black Artists in Oaklandby Duane Deterville and Jerry Thompson He was a Cave Canempoet, and his works, articles, and reviews have been published in over fifty anthologies, periodicals, and textbooks.
His poems are jazz licks and Papa-by-the-fire stories of growing up in a racially charged time, and in a place that was the center of change for African-Americans, for all of us. He told Oakland stories: Black Panther Days, integrating swimming pool tales, black businesses lining the west side of town, making transitions, going higher every time.
Reggie was directed, vital, breathless, and breathtaking. He followed the inspiration of Ishmael Reed and founded (with Floyd Salas and Clare Ortalda) PEN Oakland,an offshoot of PEN American Center that recognized the work done outside the mainstream, and which was multicultural, ear to the ground, listening to the unheard voices, opening a space for them. Recognizing achievements by writers in all genres as well as identifying victims of censorship, Oakland PEN is instrumental in opening a canon of writers of color that has international significance.
Big doings, our Reggie, working on the world, through words and activism, but also one student at a time as a teacher at San Jose City College, where the young brothers parade behind him, follow his wizardry and wisdom. Their papers piled onto his desk, and his attention was their reward.
Reggie gifts us: poet, mentor, teacher, performer, essayist, critic, activist, shepherd, natural phenom. Wait, yo! Is that him? Going into Marcus Books? No there, by the Lake Shore Café, or slipping down the stairs at MacArthur BART. Is that you? Brother? Friend? I'm thinkin' Reggie, Reggie, you're not gone; you are this city. I'll be seeing you all the time.
Tributes to Reginald Lockett:
Al Young, Poet Laureate of California: http://alyoung.org/index.php/whats-at-stake/
Review by Jack Foley: http://www.alsopreview.com/columns/foley/jflockett.html
Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums proclaimed May 22, 2008, Reginald Lockett Day.
Causes Elmaz Abinader Supports