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Thursday, July 10, 2014

"I Guess This Is What We Call Poetry Now": The Patricia Lockwood Interview

Posted by Thomas Ross on Thu, Jul 10, 2014 at 9:59 AM

[In the books section this week, Thomas Ross wrote about new poetry collections from Emily Kendal Frey and Patricia Lockwood, who will be reading together at Powell's on Friday July 11. Frey is a Portland poet; Lockwood lives in Kansas, and is probably the most well-known young poet in the country right now, thanks in part to her poem "Rape Joke," which she published on the Awl last year. She's also ridiculous on Twitter—a recent, random selection:


Thomas interviewed Lockwood via email.—eds]


Mercury: Where are you right now? Physically, I mean. Or, like emotionally, I guess.

Lockwood: Emotionally I am sitting on the bed-desk in my living room, surrounded by stacks of books that I brought close to me out of necessity, hunched up like a great gold intellectualizing fetus. Something of the feeling of swimming surrounds me. I am wearing cutoffs because they allow my legs to think. Physically, I don't have much of a body yet— I've only had two cups of coffee.

It sometimes seems like a lot of authors love their first book tours, then grow jaded by all the travel and reading. Where do you fall on that spectrum right now? How do you keep making it fun?

I'm at the point now where I've been reading from the new book for a long time—I debuted one of the pieces in the book at my first reading in Portland two years ago! "The Father and Mother of American Tit-Pics." So my feeling now is that I want to be reading new stuff, because new stuff keeps you on your toes, you haven't sunk into regular rhythms with it yet, it's still capable of surprising you as you read. But that sense of restlessness is good, it's an impetus, it keeps you working when you might otherwise fall into a fallow period of Airplane Poetry Automaton. What I'm planning to read this time around is about an equal mix of pieces from the book and new work

In Portland, you'll be reading with one of our great local poets, Emily Kendal Frey. Does that make reading easier? What are some of the rewards of sharing the stage with local writers?

I love to read with other people. You know, before I had ever done any poetry readings, I just assumed that I would naturally take to them, because I did theatre for a long time and I like to perform. But what I missed was being able to bounce my performance off other people, to feed off other energy up there on the stage, to rest and rise, to become part of a body. With a poetry reading, you're just standing up there alone, listening to the sound of your own voice. It can feel propagandistic, like you're a small ineffectual Mussolini of literature standing up there in a weird uniform, shaking your medals at the crowd and shouting. So when other people are involved, I always like that better.

Have you spent enough time in Portland to have any favorite haunts?

No, I've only been there around 24 hours total! I never got to haunt anything at all, practically! I was there for the first time in the fall and it felt a bit as if I were pleasantly trapped under a large, mulching autumn leaf, very damp and wet with nature. I thought if I stayed there too long I might be composted back into the earth from whence I came. I went to exactly one coffeeshop and one pornographic comics store, and then of course to Powell's, and then I was happy.

You're well known now for both your poetry and your tweets. I know you've talked before about how the process differs, but I'm curious—how do the forms influence each other?

The process of composing a line of poetry isn't that dissimilar from composing a tweet. The process of writing the whole poem, however, requires a different and more sustained kind of attention. A more total silence, a lighter touch, a blinder instinct and a better sense of direction. The patience to set up the long pattern of dominoes, and the recklessness to push them over at the right point. It's a longer game.

Twitter, along with the rest of the internet, is odd because the response to the work (be it a poem, tweet, essay, story, selfie, or cat pic) is potentially as visible as the work itself. Are you glad there isn't a comments thread beneath each poem in Homelandsexuals? What value do you think that kind of visible, immediate response offers?

Actually, I'd be EXTREMELY excited to have a comments thread underneath every poem in Homelandsexuals if the guy who always comments things like, "I guess this is what we call poetry now, in this degraded Age. I remember when Ogden Nash was alive, and I named my baby daughter after him, but now everything good is dead. Sigh ... " showed up there every time. That guy—let's call him Horbert—is a neverending source of comedy and pathos, both of which are highly valuable to me.

Horbert I love you.

I asked a friend of mine, "What should I ask Patricia Lockwood?" and she responded "TO MARRY ME." You have thousands of Twitter followers, and meanwhile, your poems are published in literary journals and The New Yorker. What's it like being a poet and having both quiet readers of literary magazines and scores of vocal fans?

I will marry your friend. I will marry all of your friends.* The vocal fans are a godsend because they show up at my readings and pump enthusiastic blood into the audience and then afterwards they hang out and chat with me. This means I have built-in people to talk to in situations where I might otherwise feel socially at sea, or shy, or strange. If they primarily know me from Twitter, they tend to be a bit closer to my age and share more interests, and have good bangs and tattoos, and can tell me where to get the most cutting-edge hamburger that the city in question currently offers.

Balloon Pop Outlaw Black did very well, especially for a small press book (from beloved Portland outfit Octopus Books). Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals is now out from one of the largest publishing houses in the world, Penguin Random House. Does it feel like your "major label debut?" How has it been rewarding? Challenging?

Oh my god. It doesn't feel like a "major label debut" is even capable of coming out of me. Who has major label debuts inside them, and what cloaca do they pass through? I don't pay much attention to that part—a sort of natural indifference to ideas of publishing status is healthy, and has probably helped me keep things in perspective. I love my editor at Penguin, that's all I care about, and I've loved working with Octopus too. The main thing that publishing with a bigger house means to me is that I can now draw a very large penguin giving birth to the Penguin logo on my title pages when I sign books, and I'm not going to lie, it looks so good.

*Blogtown posts are legally binding—eds

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