Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals by Patricia Lockwood

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Are you going to read Patricia Lockwood’s new book Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals? Yes. You can’t help it. Like you can’t help wanting sex, in your brain sex, on your body sex, repetitive sex, again, AGAIN! sex. Are you listening sex. Are you listening to this? Because this is Patricia Lockwood doing the twitter and the pornography and “The Rape Joke Poem” in all the intensities you’re looking for. Want me to ruin it for you? Her mother and father are having sex in the opening poem. In front of her. It’s sex! And not just describing a fatherland indistinguishable from a motherland when the speaker walks into their bedroom. And not just the positions, and the mountains and valleys and DOWN THERE’s that are existing here in the poem. The real sex in this poem and all the poems is voice, insistent voice, keeping saying voice that once it gets started, gets started. Like if every sentence of the poem were actually a metaphor for YES! And some of these poems have long sentences. Some of them have short sentences.

Like imagine if Russell Edson had decided that he was going to make poems that were about the spaces between his sentences. That weird feeling you get in your head when a Russell Edson has ended one sentence, and you’re kind of crazy for what will be in the next sentence. Patricia Lockwood has taken that energy, and spelled it out YES! and then made that YES! a sentence. And for my reading, and for all the poems in this book that make reference to sex, I would say these are sexual poems. Sexual, like the rhythms of sex, the sometimes repeating and sometimes varying rhythms of sex, inside your head there is blood rushing around during sex making other rhythms of sex. When you read Patricia Lockwood’s poems this is what you’ll be feeling.

SEXY! But not sexy, too. “I like sexy,” you say. No problem. Just think of the world as a sex partner. The world populated by taxidermied owls and monuments that have a woman’s curves. There’s curiosity, especially that curiosity. Canada is in the world. And family. “I’m having sex with my family?” Avid sex! Gross! So maybe it’s not about real sex, but figurative sex. The human body has a capacity for paying special attention during sex. Maybe you’ve noticed. Like a stuffed owl in a museum case takes this role on in your brain where it is actually STUFFED OWL! (YES!) with stuffing and weird googly eyes and owl-stiff postures. This is the best owl in the world. You better believe it. It’s important, and it’s only an owl! One time I walked through the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum in Washington, DC lusting after my 70-year old tour guide. I thought about her and me in every room. In different positions, too. That museum trip felt very important. I was paying attention! That’s what I feel in Lockwood’s poetry. Attention and YES! and discovering and the pleasure of discovering and the keen interest that all I want is discovering as the essential part of my life. Like this part of “An Animorph Enters the Doggie-Dog World”:

Discover the power at age eleven. Discover all powers
at age eleven. A kittenhead struggles out of your face
and the kittenhead mews MILK, you gasp with its
mouth and it slurps itself back. Yet the mew for MILK
remains, you drink it. You think, “I am an Animorph.
Your sight and your hearing increase, like wheat
and the wind in the wheat. Well you’ve never seen
any wheat but it sounds good, to you and your new
trembling ears.

Notice here (1) the declarative mixed with the imperative creates a feeling of language nonstop-ness, and (2) the feeling of discovery is compared to a kittenhead growing out of your face, and the kittenhead asking for MILK, and you drinking down that request like wanting and getting to want something are exactly what you need. Then notice (3) how this string of logic actually increases your senses. It’s like sex. But it doesn’t have to be literally sex. Granted, everyone seems keen on a Patricia Lockwood tied to sexuality. But be fun with it, people. Be imaginative sexual. Be courageous sexual. Be thoughtful sexual. Be metaphorical sexual, too.

Patricia LockwoodBecause the book is breathing with metaphor. Or panting with metaphor. Or exasperated with metaphor. The book is tired with a metaphor-driven critique of persistent information overload. Everywhere we look it’s the 21st Century. And that means we want to and need to tell everyone that we looked at the world. Take a picture. It will last even longer! We are so acquisitive of this world, and that acquisitiveness creates more information about the too much information already out there. In “When the World Was Ten Years Old,” Lockwood describes a boy who “entered encyclopedias and looted every fact of them and when he had finished looting these he broke into the Bible.” Everything’s mine. I take it it’s all mine.

But a concept like “mine” is complicated for Lockwood. There is a porousness to words, as in a poem like “Love Poem Like We Used to Write It,” where “love poem” and what we think “love poem” could possibly do is exacerbated by all the associations that stick to “love poem,” to the point that our talking about any “love poem” with any kind of certainty just starts to look ridiculous. The now familiar poem “Rape Joke” uses a similar tactic, but with an honesty spliced in with Lockwood’s more typical satire so that the poem doesn’t only comment on the troubling fact “rape joke” is even a term, but also that what happened to this speaker is tragic, what happened is a fucking joke, and “joking” about it allows even more of the tragedy to come to light.

Did you like Balloon Pop Outlaw Black? That part about Popeye? Popeye as method of analysis, as subject, as subjectivity, as analysand, as he’s just a cartoon character, why are you getting so intense on him? The material world is intense, people. It’s reality, and what we look at reality with, and what reality would be if we weren’t looking, and don’t forget the reality when we’re looking right at it. Lockwood is like Jorie Graham as a hummingbird, where if Graham’s reality has a veil separating the abstract from the concrete, and Graham would approach the veil so she could indulge that thin separation between the two, Lockwood will plunge and whip around every part of what makes reality a reality. There’s an abstract to reality, too. Don’t forget. So goes the figure of Popeye in Balloon Pop Outlaw Black. So goes the speaker in Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexual, who wants and then wants to want more if only to make wanting to want more like a trajectory that keeps drawing itself out even while we think that just wanting something will supposedly make it ours. It turns out wanting is another of those porous words. All of this sounds so uncomfortable. It is!

Kent Shaw's first book Calenture was published in 2008. His work has appeared in The Believer, Ploughshares, Boston Review and elsewhere. He begins teaching at Wheaton College in Massachusetts in Fall 2016. More from this author →