The acclaimed second collection of poetry by Patricia Lockwood, author of Priestdaddy, named a best book of the year by The New York Times Book Review
SELECTED AS A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR: The New York Times * The Boston Globe * Powell’s * The Strand * Barnes & Noble * BuzzFeed * Flavorwire
Colloquial and incantatory, the poems in Patricia Lockwood’s second collection address the most urgent questions of our time, like: Is America going down on Canada? What happens when Niagara Falls gets drunk at a wedding? Is it legal to marry a stuffed owl exhibit? Why isn’t anyone named Gary anymore? Did the Hatfield and McCoy babies ever fall in love?
The steep tilt of Lockwood’s lines sends the reader snowballing downhill, accumulating pieces of the scenery with every turn. The poems’ subject is the natural world, but their images would never occur in nature. This book is serious and funny at the same time, like a big grave with a clown lying in it.
About the Author
Patricia Lockwood was born in a trailer in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and raised in all of the worst cities of the Midwest. Her debut collection, Balloon Pop Outlaw Black, was released in 2012. Her poems have appeared in the New Yorker, Tin House, the London Review of Books, Poetry, Slate, and The Awl. She lives in Kansas City, Missouri.
Barnes & Noble Review Interview with Patricia Lockwood
Poet Patricia Lockwood hangs out on a corner at the intersection of poetry, technology, sex, and rock 'n' roll, where she is surely in the company of one.
She has published her poems in the giants of old-school literary journals (The New Yorker, Poetry magazine, the London Review of Books), and recapped Mad Men's Season 6 finale for Adult Swim (in verse, of course). Her poems made the hairs on the back of New York Times critic Dwight Garner stand on end (an effect he called "biological praise, the most fundamental kind, impossible to fake"), made the Huffington Post "LOL," and caught the love of Vice and Pitchfork. She is the poet who inspired our nation's oldest poetry magazine to crusade, "Let's Help Patricia Lockwood Get a Tramp Stamp Shall We?" and got the Paris Review to finally after six decades go ahead and review Paris (their verdict: "It's pretty good.")
Before last summer, she was best known for her series of hilarious sexts on Twitter. Then the Awl published "Rape Joke," likely the first poem ever to go viral. Media coverage of her second collection Motherland, Fatherland, Homelandsexuals demonstrates the contested cultural space she occupies: While she was astonishingly well-covered for a poet (profiled in the New York Times, with reviews in The New Yorker, Slate, and the Stranger) many of those same reviewers spent their time fretting that, maybe she was a little too popular, and why did she insist on talking of sex so much? (Artists from Britney Spears to Liz Phair may find some common ground here.)
I spoke via email with Lockwood, who wrote from her home in Kansas City, which, for the record, is nowhere near New York City. ~ Amy Benfer
The Barnes & Noble Review: Several of your poems ("Bedbugs Conspire to Keep Me from Greatness," "Factories Are Everywhere in Poetry Right Now") seem to address poetry as, let us say, an industry. In the first example, you talk a lot about all the poets hanging out in cities. In the second, poetry seems to be another factory to "make what makes it up." What is your relationship to the poetry community at large? And given your comments on the feeling that all poets are in cities, did you find it as funny as I did when the Guardian ran a correction to say that you were not, after all, a poet living in New York?
Patricia Lockwood: That was VERY funny to me. It happens pretty frequently though after my poem "What Is the Zoo for What" was published, a man wrote saying that he really loved it, but that he was sad to see I was yet another poet living in Brooklyn. I had to say, "Dude, I am in Kansas. As far as states go, that is as real as it gets. My poems are made of corn." At that point I had never even visited New York!
The Internet has abolished certain distances for people like me, who would otherwise exist as satellites. I think people now speak of Brooklyn as a sort of theoretical state, rather than a real place, where youth and freewheelingness and get-off-my-lawn all live.
BNR: Your poem about the mail ("Why Haven't You Written") seems like it could say a thing or two about whether writing on the Internet can be "serious." You have published in some of the oldest, most established print magazines in the country, online publications like the Rumpus, the Awl, and Slate, and, of course, everyone loves you on Twitter. Do you find a different quality of interaction with different audiences? Do you find yourself changing your language or tone depending on context? (Also, I love the part in your New York Times profile where you essentially tell your mother: MOM DON'T READ THE COMMENTS!)
PL: That poem really began as a horror poem about the ubiquity and relentlessness of modern communication mail chasing us up the stairs, mail sneaking into our rooms at night, mail avalanching on us as we sleep. It turned into something else, but I still think that would be a good poem. Email is so frightening. What if it decided to take over? It HAS taken over. This is an email.
Anyway, back to your question. It's not like I don't hold to these standards as well. It DOES seem more legitimate to me to have a poem in The New Yorker than to post something on Twitter at two in the morning when I'm drunk. But the very illegitimacy of it is what gives you the freedom, to write something there that you might not write in a poem you're going to send out on submission.
BNR: The importance of naming things is all over your book women and deer named Bambi; men named Gary, so many more. It seems like once something is named, it acts like the thing named, and that the meaning of a name changes over time (like the name Gary). How do you see the importance of naming in your work?
PL: I like to name things the way a kid likes to name things. I snuck a character named Whitey BaLavender into my first book and I've never been so happy. The name, I think, is where you can introduce lightness and silliness but also foreshadowing and destiny. It's a Charles Dickens impulse from hell. In novels, people don't do this as much anymore because you're stuck with the character for 300 pages, and you don't want to undermine the seriousness of the narrative by calling him Fartin' Puzzletit or whatever. Then every time your character entered the room you would have to be like "Fartin' staggered through the doorway with a groan. The police were after him," and it would automatically disqualify itself as a candidate for the Great American Novel. But a poem only lasts a few pages, and it exists entirely in an invented universe. You can do what you want.
BNR: I just read a recent essay in The Nation by Rebecca Solnit, whose essay "Men Explain Things to Me" inspired the term "mansplaining." She says that she was initially "squeamish" about the term, but then a young woman told her the word itself allowed her to identify a "problem that had no name." Might there be a political component to the act of naming too? (Related: In that same essay, Solnit cites "rape culture" as another fairly new term. The concept of "rape culture" seems itself to be a comment on the power of metaphor to affect behavior in the real world: i.e., while many men don't rape, and many women will never be raped, the implied threat of rape limits the behavior of all women.)
PL: Such a great essay. You can understand why she might be squeamish the term itself inspired something of an outcry, and continues to do so. So often anger at a particular term is anger at the problem being brought up at all, or an attempt to divert a conversation that's just one long flow of women saying "this happened to me, this happened to me, this happened to me and I didn't know there was a word for it." To give someone a name for a phenomenon is to give someone a way to talk about it.
The reason the term "feminism" is only the latest in a long line of words for the same core set of principles is because people object to the term as a way of objecting to the ideas. The problem is with the conviction, not the word. One of the most interesting things about reading novels written 50, 75, 100 years ago is seeing female characters assure male characters that they are not "suffragists," "strong-minded," "new women," for "women's rights." There's a new euphemism every year, practically. The anxiety is always present on the part of the men, and so are the skilled sidesteps on the part of the women. I always think of this passage from Laura Ingalls Wilder, in "These Happy Golden Years":
Laura was silent again. Then she summoned all her courage and said, "Almanzo, I must ask you something. Do you want me to promise to obey you?"The gymnastics are not new. We've always had to bend over backward in this way. "She summoned all her courage." "Are you for women's rights?" "I do not want to vote." If the conversation about the word "mansplaining" seems familiar, it's because we've had it before. If there weren't a political component to the act of naming, people wouldn't fight the language the way they do.
Soberly he answered, "Of course not. I know it is in the wedding ceremony, but it is only something that women say. I never knew one that did it, nor any decent man that wanted her to."
"Well, I am not going to say I will obey you," said Laura.
"Are you for women's rights, like Eliza?" Almanzo asked in surprise.
"No," Laura replied. "I do not want to vote. But I can not make a promise that I will not keep, and, Almanzo, even if I tried, I do not think I could obey anybody against my better judgment."
BNR: Salon said that your poem "Rape Joke" should end the rape joke debate. This conversation can rape ever be funny? - - began in comedy clubs, moved to TV, then feminist blogs and was then finally settled, according to Salon, anyway, by your poem. Is it odd to you for a piece of art to be considered a form of debate? Or is that just how these kind of cultural disputes should be settled? Given that you are also quite active on Twitter, did you see your poem as a response to that conversation? Or was it a conversation that others decided to include you in after the fact?
PL: Well, I never participate in debates, because they make me feel like I'm being chased by wild dogs through the woods, so I put in my two cents however I can. I was really happy to see comedians weighing in on the poem after it came out, though, and treating it like a part of the conversation. That was never something that I predicted would happen, but I was grateful that it did.
BNR: Given that your husband is a journalist, I'm curious if the two of you have had any particular conversations or insights about the kinds of things poems do that prose cannot and vice versa. (And were these perspectives at all upended by the phenomenon that was "Rape Joke?")
PL: My husband is MOSTLY in journalism in order to sneak puns into headlines. Oh my god. If you think this kind of conversation is even possible in our household then you need to meet him. Yesterday I asked him an important question and he murmured the words, "Let's go to the beautician" in response and I looked over and he was combing the fur of our cat.
BNR: In an earlier interview you said you did not aspire to any form other than poetry, and that your one novel, written at nineteen, was "terrible." Now you are writing a memoir for Riverhead Books. How is it going? How has it affected your writing style?
PL: Did I say that? God, I'm so full of lies. I'm a piñata of lies. I think I further elaborated that I wasn't using Twitter to transition into more mainstream comedy writing, but that I could see myself eventually writing something long in a more experimental form. That "eventually" turned out to be about six months, because I have less sense of the future than a balloon animal. The fact is that I've always written funny prose but I've never really had any place to put it, so the best descriptor of my mood as soon as I got going on the project was probably "hog- wild" or "pigging' at the trough."
BNR: Dwight Garner says that you made the hairs on his back stand on end. And in your excellent poem "List of Cross- Dressing Soldiers" you say that you and your family members share a capacity "for little hairs rising on the back of your neck." Might this mean that you and Dwight Garner are members of the same family?
PL: Dwight Garner and I are most likely EXTREMELY related. I am his uncle, or his baby, or his dog. Genetics are truly so amazing.
BNR: You bravely announced that if the first print run of your book Balloon Pop Hybrid Black, was sold by a set date, you would get a "tramp stamp" tattoo of "Puppeye," the puppy/Popeye the Sailor Man hybrid found on its cover. Surely the answer must be out there on the Internet, but I do have to ask: Did you ever get that tramp stamp? (Related: And what would Harriet Monroe say?)
PL: Oh thank goodness no. With my book challenges, I like to set impossible goals so I don't actually have to do them. Though we had a bit of a scare with the challenge I did for Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals - [my husband] Jason was going to change his name to Twitter Boy if we sold a certain number in a month, and he almost had to do it! We would have had to be Mr. and Mrs. Twitter Boy.
August 20, 2014