Somehow I have arrived in a strange land.
It turns out I speak the language
and there are people I seem to know.
Here I find the Larry Colker Museum,
disturbingly close to completion—
locked in glass cases
the blue wooden top my father taught me to spin,
the bare arm and shoulder of a young girl,
the first kiss,
the varsity letters,
the razor blade,
the recurrent dream of flying and falling,
the letters full of half-truths and cowardice….
—from “Crossing Over (Exhibit #204)” by Larry Colker
Not Los Angeles, not Southern California, not the United States, but the entire damned world lost a poet of inimitable gifts last week. Coming on the same day as Aretha Franklin’s passing, Larry Colker’s death from lung cancer left large numbers of peers and friends within and well without the West Coast in a stupor of grief and regret. His announcement of his illness and that he was entering hospice care a week before he died scarcely gave the enormous community to which he had belonged for over 20 years enough time to absorb the news. We who are left behind keep thinking there should be more poetry, more evenings of coffee and camaraderie, more Larry, ready to arrive and receive many hugs and pleased smiles. He was someone we all wanted to see more of and for many years to come.
Larry came to poetry later in life than many, writing his first poem to mark the occasion of his parents’ 20th wedding anniversary. He was drawn to minimalism, but never cryptic; he eschewed pyrotechnics, pat sentiment, and headache-inducing portent to reveal his understanding of life in sardonic, wise, and sometimes melancholy confessions. His expressions of the sublime were so quietly exquisite, adeptly rendered, and intimately imparted that a listener could feel that he had just received a master’s class in the limitless possibilities of language over a couple of cups of espresso, the lessons delivered in a friendly and conversational tone. Larry loved language. He also loved community. He led a life that wed them both.
Having studied developmental psycho-linguistics, romance languages, and also having mastered technical writing, Larry brought a keen, well-informed ear to the important process of nourishing the community. Co-hosting with Jim Doane every Tuesday night at the Coffee Cartel in Redondo Beach, California, he made all feel welcome, gave a space and a mic to the shy and the willing, and accomplished an important function in expanding the literary culture. He continually brought new writers into the process, providing fellowship, acknowledgment, and the all-important appreciation and encouragement that would prompt fledgling writers to keep creating, keep filling their notebooks with new work, and keep coming back. He paid attention to the generational changes in the poetry scene, observing how the younger poets had grown keener on performance than publication and suggesting that they might seek publication once they were older and yearning for more permanent iterations of their work. He gave them both the moment and the permanence in many thoughtful and nourishing ways, and yet he was, when presented with many well-deserved accolades for his own efforts, humble and always delighted to know that his community held him in such high esteem. He was modest. He was effective. And he was so damned talented. — Amélie Frank, Co-Poetry Editor, TheScreamOnline