Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, by Patricia Lockwood
This is by no means a good book of poetry . I have read worse books of poetry, I should note, but this poetry makes at least this reader look for someone to blame. And questions of blame in this case are complicated. It is hard to know how autobiographical these poems are, because depending on the status of them being attempts to transmute reality into verse or rather the products of the author’s fertile and rather decadent imagination, there are more people to blame. Some of the blame, of course, must fall on the author for her general lack of decorum in her writing, but she was likely taught by her literature instructors that this world needed more that was seedy and corrupt, and that bad instruction cannot fall on the author’s shoulders alone. Likewise, this book appears to recount at least a couple of somewhat traumatic incidents that demonstrate the author as the victim of some sort of sexual abuse and likely rape (more on that anon). It is, in other words, not a straightforward task to assess who deserves what share of blame exists for this book, but the combination between childlike innocence and obscenity makes this a deeply uncomfortable work.
Without getting into too much detail, it is worthwhile to note that this book is less than 100 pages and contains various musings about the sexuality of political geography (and Bambi), a strange case of marriage between a man and stuffed owl that is not acceptable to the good people of Indiana, cross-dressing soldiers, reflections on creation given odd titles, a strange love poem between Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, and at least a couple of poems that have genuinely deep emotional resonance. For me, the emotional core of this book consists in the poems “Why Haven’t You Written,” which looks at the way that the failure to respond to a letter can disrupt the course of lives and relationships, and “Rape Joke,” which is a very uncomfortable examination of the context of a rape and the way the poetess tries to make sense of it. The latter poem in particular feels like a very uncomfortably real attempt to make sense of all kinds of traumatic details relating to the rape of the author by an older “friend” of hers she had known since she was a kid when she was nineteen, and the poem puts the disturbing nature of many of the other poems in sharp relief.
Again, this is not the sort of book that I feel comfortable celebrating. If some parts of this poem appear to be rather useful therapy for the author, I hope that writing these works has helped her to find some sort of peace given the trauma of her experiences. That said, this is not the sort of book I found enjoyable to read, as it seemed to be a mix of contemporary immorality in rather unappealing verse form and the worldview of a twelve-year old boy. Again, this is a book that seems to invite questions of blame. Would the poetess have written less disgusting poems had she lived a less broken life? Is it inevitable that broken people who are encouraged to break free from all kinds of moral boundaries would produce work that is deeply repugnant like most of this is, repugnant in all kinds of different ways, from the sleazily teasing to the morally reprehensible? This is a book where blame must be placed, but it is lamentably not straightforward to decide how much blame deserves to fall on which people involved with this misbegotten project.
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