Contributor Philip Gordon dissects Patricia Lockwood’s second book of blunt poetry.
“sext: im poetry. im dead and im inside u at all times”
Anyone who suckles even semi-regularly from the content-delivery teat of the internet should be fully aware of who Patricia Lockwood is—even if you’re not one of her 45k Twitter followers, chances are you caught a glimpse of Lockwood’s poetry when her poem “Rape Joke” went viral in July of 2013. There’s a good reason Lockwood has been hailed as Poet Laureate of the Internet—the prose poem that shot her to fame is a powerful mix of personal and political (at least as far as gender’s role in society is concerned), and her tweets regularly blur a surrealist poetic bent together with conversational language and contemporary attention to trend-savvy topics.
Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals is Lockwood’s second full length collection (her first, Balloon Pop Outlaw Black, was released in 2012). Besides “Rape Joke”, and another poem in a similar style, “The Father and Mother of American Tit-Pics”, the rest of the poems in Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals are delivered primarily in the same style/voice. Lockwood seems uncomfortable with stanza breaks on a larger scale, so each poem is rendered as a stream-of-consciousness word block with occasional enjambment and indentation for emphasis. The line breaks seem more arbitrary than anything, which might make one wonder if the majority of pieces in this collection wouldn’t have benefited from paragraph, prose-poem style arrangement. For a poet who works primarily in 140 character bites these days, Lockwood’s poems are surprisingly indivisible, and there doesn’t seem to be much effort to focus on brevity or extractable snippets; the poems are complete only in-and-of themselves, functioning purely as devices to deliver the conceit of their metaphor in a single dose.
[…]a thinly-veiled critique on the pornography industry (and maybe the act of desire in the first place?)
Metaphor is an important topic in this collection. Aside from the titular gender-pronounification of the notion of country and belonging, almost every poem in Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals seems to aim head-on at becoming a pure exercise in metonymic pontification—it almost feels like Lockwood is completing a contemporary tribute to the metaphysical poets with the extent to which each poem carries the conceit of its metaphor. Poems like “The Whole World Gets Together and Gangbangs a Deer” are a thinly-veiled critique on the pornography industry (and maybe the act of desire in the first place?) “The Feeling of Needing a Pen” takes the urge to create, and drives it like a nail into a board covered in analogous descriptions: “…like a urine but even more gold / …that spot on a dog that causes its leg to kick.” “The Descent of the Dunk” details the tribulations of a young girl growing up to the resounding slam of a ball through a hoop, wrapping up the conquest of women’s rights and identity as a woman into a neat, sports-themed package, and delivering it with a mimicking impact right at the moment of triumph.
It’s important to note that Lockwood, as evidenced by her most famous poem, is a cut-from-the-cloth feminist. Gender identity drips from her poetry, and imbues much of it with an innate power. In “The Father and Mother of American Tit-Pics,” Lockwood swaps the genders of two of America’s most notable poets, Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, then barrages the reader with fantasies about their various gender-identifying features, tits, beards, etc. The pieces of anatomy at times serve as stand-ins for conceits like poetic ability, public acclaim, and other, more elusive subjects. As Lockwood reminds us in the middle of the poem, “What I am TRYING to say is that metaphors are dangerous!” By that logic, perhaps this book is a bomb of metonymy, and we’re meant to let it explode in our hands, one piece at a time.
Truth be told, the litany of metaphysical imaginings seemed a little bit grating by the mid-way point of the book. I was occasionally unable to connect the subject to the poem’s title and rambling description, and even when I could, I often felt the meditation about different ways of obliquely describing a single entity to be a little lacking. When Lockwood tweets, she regularly uses a raw, surreal, contemporary voice that only seemed to peek out in little bits throughout the poems in Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals. I wanted more of her brash, “gonna tweet whatever don’t give a fuck” attitude in these poems, where instead I got a page and a half of diatribes that feel as though they’d be more at home in an MFA workshop environment than being yelled by Lockwood, three inches away from my digital face. This might be purely a matter of preference, but there is the temptation to identify Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals as something of a bait-and-switch.
Just discovered this stunning short story in my drafts pic.twitter.com/T4RPbUjr3R
— Patricia Lockwood (@TriciaLockwood) July 9, 2014
There’s certainly nothing objectionable about the poems in this collection—the only thing to take offense to might be the contrast between the relatively serious content of the poems contrasted with Lockwood’s bizarre humour style, which emerges occasionally in titles like “Search ‘Lizard Vagina’ and You Shall Find.” It feels like a missed opportunity when this absurdism is lacking in a concrete way from the poems proper. Even when it surfaces, it seems more to be alienating for its own sake, rather than delivering any kind of message or impact. If every poem ruminated on naked selfies and perplexing sexual politics, the collection as a whole might have felt more cohesive, linked by a thread of theme and meaning, rather than approach. Having “Rape Joke” finally in print elevates the collection to a powerful place entirely on its own, but the jarring, confrontational delivery in that poem is rarely picked up elsewhere. Even when Lockwood isn’t afraid to use raw, un-poetic language (“Careful not to tip over with those huge jugs Walt!”), it feels either forced or poorly utilized. Lockwood’s more traditional poetry could most likely benefit from a fresh injection of her internet sensibilities, and probably still manage to please both the traditional crowd and the less literary. Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, in its current form, seems to pull its punches a bit too much for its own good.
This isn’t an indictment of the entire collection; there are certainly worthwhile moments woven throughout, and Lockwood’s language is riveting even when she isn’t swearing or discussing reptilian genitals. In “The Hatfields and McCoys”, Lockwood describes the hereditary line of conflict and ancestry: “…as if / they’d been written in Early Times Whiskey / and the match of my sight had been flicked / and was racing now along them, and racing / like a line to their houses.” The metaphysical parallels and similes jump out like this often enough to keep the collection interesting, but they don’t entirely account for the lack of power the poems themselves seem fitted with in comparison to what Lockwood is capable of in other places and mediums.
Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, in its current form, seems to pull its punches a bit too much for its own good.
We have, ultimately, a collection of serviceable poetry rattling around in, perhaps, a too conventional cage. We have hopes that when Lockwood delivers her next piece of work, it will be packed with the bombs of captive accusation and agony that makes her strongest shouting in the form of poetry worth reading, rather than just peppered here and there with tastes of sharpness, which ultimately leaves the reader wanting more.