Reginald Lockett, died May 15, 2008
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 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, as some were here. Lockett lived for a time during his early life in one of those places too, but when his grandmother died, he moved back to California and this is where the poet was born.
The last book he completed before his untimely demise was Random History Lessons, each poem one which vividly etched in one’s mind the characters and corners and attitudes Reggie the young man, Reggie the child, Reggie the young adult met coming up in the ‘hood.
I remember our interview quite some time ago, yet another which I’d not had time to published and now our brother is gone.
He was so helpful and encouraging. He was just about the most encouraging artist I have ever known. He’d send me leads for publications and then encourage me to send work in. He coached me on numerous job interviews for full-time teaching gigs at bay area community colleges and in 2006 he published our response to Hurricane Katrina, a collection of poety on his imprint, Jukebox Press. I remember the first time I saw Wordwind Chorus: Lewis Jordan, QR Hand and Reggie. It was at Gerald Lenoir and Karen's home in Berkeley. I remember his first book I owned, When the Bird Sings Bass, a Josephine Miles Pen Awardee. I remember when he was emcee at the Pen awards when Ntozake Shange was honored. I remember his reading during National Library Week at the College of Alameda and I got to introduce him. I remember the California Community College Composition Teachers Conference in Sacramento and our trip to the mall to buy me some tennis. I have been wearing New Balance ever sense, and I still have the shoes he helped me choose. We then had lunch before heading back to the conference.
I remember his poem about the "dumb class," a class he was in until someone checked his vision. I think about this often and how educators misdiagnose our students all the time.
Just this past Sunday, Reggie was to be a part of the program at Anna’s and I wondered why he wasn’t there. I remember he and Ted Pontiflet. If I saw one, I usually saw the other. I wonder how Ted is doing. I wonder how Al Young is doing, Ishmael Reed, Linda his partner, his daughter, Maya, his dad…all of us.
Reggie was the consummate human being. I was watching an old classic black and white film called Laura. In the film a woman was supposedly murdered but as the investigation proceeds she isn’t dead, she was out of town. I wondered if someone would be calling me back to tell me it was all a mistake; it was a case of mistaken identity—
I knew it was wishful thinking but in just two months I have lost two friends—Casper Banjo and now Reginald Lockett. When devorah called and told me she had something to tell me, I asked her if someone had died. I was hoping it was good news, but devorah doesn’t call me often—I got two more calls and I made two. I couldn’t think, and the details, the only details, that stuck were that Reggie was dead—I was foggy on the when and the who discovered this and why devorah knew it was so. I was hoping that someone was pretending to be devorah and really, it wasn’t her and then Phil Hutchings called, and Sharifah, and Kim verified what everyone else said and I was like—well I guess it’s true.
I had to get away, so I went to the theatre to see Figaro. It was great. I loved the language and the physicality of the piece. When I walked out and looked down there was a poem by Alice Walker, next to hers was one by Rilke (translated by someone else.)
I can see Reggie. I hear his voice…see him walking the Lake with Derethia. I remember giving him a ride to the dentist in Montclair when his crown broke one time. I always saw him and if I didn’t see him a Cave Canem announcement or some other writing lead in my on-line mailbox was his calling card.
He was really supportive of the Maafa Book Project and gave me lots of poems and made others I liked available.
Reggie Locket will be missed. Two writers gone in two years, not a year apart: Chauncey Bailey and now Reginald Lockett.
From my email archives
February 16, 2006
This is just a note to thank you for the wonderful introduction and being instrumental in having me as a guest at College of Alameda. I really appreciate it. Here's a poem by Derek Walcott that speaks to all human beings:
Love After Love
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other's welcome,
And say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was yourself.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.