By Elizabeth Cooperman and Matthew Kelsey
On July 10, 2014, Patricia Lockwood read at Seattle’s Elliot Bay Book Company from her most recent book of poems, Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals. The room–a book-lined basement annex with a small raised stage and podium–was full. Over the next few months, editors Elizabeth Cooperman and Matthew Kelsey exchanged a series of emails, sharing their thoughts about the event. This conversation results from that exchange.
MK: First impressions first: that reading was absolutely feral. The energy that Lockwood exuded seemed barely containable by the typical reading format. This was apparent from the get-go, when the woman introducing Tricia struggled to stay composed or even objective. She was effusive, probably to a fault. But between that anterior energy and the tone of Lockwood’s poems (and that voice!—those are hard poems to read aloud, I think, and she did herself a service), it’s hard to believe we were all seated, quiet and well-mannered, in the basement of Elliott Bay Bookstore, no?
I know we’ll have to discuss how Lockwood became a social media phenomenon, and there’ll be time for that. But for now, I’d like to stick to tone and atmosphere. See, the poem I keep returning to is “Revealing Nature Photographs.” That poem seems so symptomatic of her work at large—it’s dressed in a familiar vernacular turned on its head. Replete with vulgarities, idioms, puns, and a collage of explicit images, the poem does, in fact, reveal our nature.
Having known the poem previously, I spent less time listening to her read it, and more time tracking the responses of the audience. Man, was there a wide range! Some chuckled, some smiled through the whole poem, some winced, some just stared dumbly ahead, hardly sure of how to respond to the volatile and pornographic theater she was constructing.
I’m interested in knowing your response to the overall atmosphere of the reading, but I also want to know: do you think she laughs when she writes her poems? More importantly, how much do you think she wants us to laugh? How much of her poetry is aimed at infuriating, which is what Stevens suggests good poetry ought to be capable of…and how much is supposed to be taken as absurd humor? I don’t know…
EC: Let me just say right now that I love the word “feral” so much. I took this opportunity to look up the etymology of “feral” and the word snarled at me, as did Patricia Lockwood in the basement of Elliott Bay. At least that’s how it felt. She had such an air of fond- and faux-disdain for us—her audience. Even as, between poems, she drank mock-elegantly from a glass of water and, alternately, a glass of “bookstore wine,” Lockwood seemed grateful for the refreshments and the occasion but also fake-aggravated by the formality of it all. Or the absurdity of it all? Perhaps. “Wiiiiiiiiine,” she whined, during one of these strange displays of irony and thirst. Overall, I got the sense that Lockwood was being playful with the audience, though the tone of her play-bristliness was sometimes confusing to me, difficult to read: “You can snap,” she said, to someone poetry-snapping in the front row after her first poem, “but don’t clap, that is hysterical.” Read the full story »