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Wildly Impressive. But What Do I Know?
on June 21, 2014
Poetry-wise, I am lost. Sometimes I still try to read it, but usually give up after the first few lines. I'm not the only one, I'm sure.
Once upon a time in Ohio -- this is true -- I sat on the floor in a student-jammed room just a few arms' lengths from Allen Ginsberg. And nothing he said connected with me. Nothing. My major take-away was that Mr. Ginsburg, before he sat down, unbuckled his belt, unbuttoned his jeans, and unzipped his fly. Was he symbolically getting naked in front of the crowd or were his jeans too tight? I don't know! But I'm sitting in the midst of all this High Literary Seriousness not getting it, feeling irrelevant, looking at Ginsberg's belt buckle flopped over and hanging in space. That pretty well summarizes my experience with poetry.
Patricia Lockwood, however, is the exception. I never read the NY Times anymore, but I did on that Sunday when Lichtenstein's piece on her appeared. She seemed to be a very intriguing person. Her whole family, her dad the priest, the sight-impaired husband who champions her, her brother the Marine, the mom who sticks up for her -- intriguing people, and a real family from what I could discern.
So I bought her book, Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals. And guess what: there is still a lot I don't understand. But I am here to tell you that the woman truly has it. Don't know exactly what 'it' is, don't know what to call it, but she's got it big time.
Her writing shape-shifts. The inanimate comes alive and speaks. Land becomes personified and sexual. I often had to wonder, who or what is saying this? A lot of images and phrases re-appear from poem to poem. "Between two legs." Hawks. Fire and burning. An igniting match becomes the eye seeing the flame or vice versa. Geography (!) is a recurring theme. Gender crosses back and forth. Roundness and round objects -- her mouth, the earth, a round lens, the moon, ball dunking -- keep showing up. Innocence ruined, trust betrayed. Vitality. It's all connected.
Rape Joke, probably her best known poem, has hard narrative power. Nothing funny about it, but plenty of irony. Rape Joke is lava that has skinned over and turned cool on the outside but is still molten inside.
In the one before it, Why Haven't You Written, the last lines hit me with a silent thud, because I know I've been there. Assuming I got it right. Not sure if I got any of this right.
Anyway, this is getting too long, but I just want to say her work is worth it. The reviewer here who said that her work is "butterflies flying" compared to butterflies pinned? That's a good way of putting it.
What I would really like to read are the one or more novels she wrote that never got published, the ones she left in the woods, bear-like. Wish she would dig those up, go indie, just as is, like now. Go the New York route, it'll take forever (and they way they've handled inventory of her books … don't get me started). Right now, she's got 30k Twitter followers, according to the Times piece. Wow. For a poet to do that -- a poet living in Kansas! -- is wildly impressive.