…you know, I thought I’d ask. Just between us. No need to blush, I won’t tell. If you’re not sure what you are, you might find Patricia Lockwood’s Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals enlightening. If you’re just looking for a lively book of poems to take to the beach / read at your desk during break, this is still a great choice, and the eye-catching cover certainly doesn’t promise too much.
The opening poem sets the tone: It asks, “Is Your Country a He or a She in Your Mouth?” The speaker explains, “Mine is a man I think, I love men, they call me / a fatherlandsexual, all the motherlandsexuals / have been sailed away.” She is fourteen, and while the bewilderment with sexuality (both her own and that of others, including that awkward moment you walk in on your parents) is certainly nothing we haven’t read about, heard about, or watched movies about before, her voice is captivating and the world Lockwood creates in this poem as in the other poems of this collection is fresh and interesting.
“I have never seen a mountain, myself I have / never seen a valley, especially not my own” explains the girl, “I am afraid of the people who live there, / who eat hawk and wild rice from my pelvic / bone.” This poem looks at growing up as growing into two — realizing that one is two rather than a lonely number: “there will one day be two / of you too they say, but I am boarding myself / already, I recede from their coasts like a Superferry […] and all night my people go below / and gorge themselves with hunks of hawk, / the traditional dish of the new floating heartland.”
The hawk is one of a handful of recurring motifs in this book, along with the geographical allusions and, of course, sexuality, although let it be said that this book is not shocking or very graphic. It is, over all, an intelligent and seriously funny book. Lockwood’s poems comment on gender and issues with gender constructs, such as the infantilization of women which is the subject of “The Whole World Gets Together and Gangbangs a Deer,” where Bambi and women become interchangeable, where cuteness overflows into porn.
I love the titles Lockwood chooses for her poems: “He Marries the Stuffed-Owl Exhibit at the Indiana Welcome Center” is a great title, as are “Last of the Late Great Gorilla-Suit Actors,” “There Were No New Colors for Years” (a poem about the rise of neon colors, remember those?) and “The Father and Mother of American Tit-Pics” — Lockwood knows how to catch our eye.
One of my favorites is “A Recent Transformation Tries to Climb the Stairs,” where the speaker has just transformed from being a swan to being human, and tried-and-trusted responses to situations and sensations no longer work: “whenever I felt that way on the lake / I simply ate a fish-head, but fish-heads won’t fill / me now. Your attention is a fish-head, / so throw it back into my new body.” I think that’s what I love about this book, the sense that transformations are happening constantly, unpredictably, naturally all around us and within us.
“The Hatfields and McCoys” is a great example of how funny poetry can be. It fantasizes about the conflict on an every-day level, with disappearing socks, underpants fighting on lines, “how new mailmen were killed / every day touching poisoned postcards they sent / to each other, which said things like Wish you / WERENT here, and GOODBYE from sunny Spain.”
I can’t write about the collection without also mentioning “Rape Joke,” although, as the poem itself prophecies, “The rape joke is if you write a poem called Rape Joke, you’re asking for it to become the only thing people remember about you.” I don’t think Lockwood needs to worry about this, at least regarding anyone who’s read the rest of the collection, because there is much here that is memorable.
Still, the poem stands out. It is the most serious of the lot, as it drags to light many facets of the rape culture that surrounds us and that many of us are weary of talking about. You can read the whole poem here at The Awl. (For more info about rape culture, there are many of examples and discussions at Sociological Images.)
Finally, the longest poem, “The Father and Mother of American Tit-Pics.” Where do I start?! It echoes Whitman just enough, and he is one of the central figures here, along with Emily Dickinson. Quoth Lockwood’s speaker, “Emily Dickinson was the father of American poetry and Walt Whitman was the mother, suckling grizzled wild dogs at his teats. / / Walt Whitman nude in the forest, staring deep into a still pool, the only means of taking tit-pics available at that time.”
The poem elevates the “tit-pic” to the level of essential information: “When you want to say a poet is mysterious, say, ‘Very few tit-pics of him exist,’ or ‘Reading his letters and journals, we are able to piece together a pic of his tits — they loved butter and radishes and were devoted to his sister.'” I read this as mocking the obsession that exists (in some readers / scholars) to know every little detail about an artist, a writer, a composer, in the belief that somehow this will add to their understanding of the work. That’s about as likely as being able to reconstruct the person’s cup size / body shape from their correspondence.
The swapped gender roles, Dickinson as father and Whitman as mother, are funny and at the same time seem adequate, appropriate to both the exuberance of the latter and the (assumedly) quiet, restrained life of the former. Still, the speaker makes very clear that Dickinson was nonetheless feminine, and powerfully so: “The general assumption has been that HER tit-pics would not be worth looking at if they existed at all, which is false, since I have secret information that they were actually four-dimensional and measured in minutes rather than cups, and wouldn’t you like to get a load of those deep and boundless pools of time.”
You can read more about Patricia Lockwood here:
- biography and several poems at The Poetry Foundation
- “The Smutty-Metaphor Queen of Lawrence, Kansas,” NYTimes.com