Skip to content

What We’re Reading: Motherland, Fatherland, Homelandsexuals

2014 July 17
Comments Off on What We’re Reading: Motherland, Fatherland, Homelandsexuals

What We're ReadingLockwood cover

Motherland, Fatherland, Homelandsexuals by Patricia Lockwood (Penguin, 2014)

Patricia Lockwood is not the kind of poet whose book you give to an older family member, unless that family member has a bit of a wild streak. Motherland, Fatherland, Homelandsexuals explores the important questions of today, as enumerated on the back of the book: “What if a deer did porn? Is America going down on Canada? What happens when Niagara Falls gets drunk at a wedding?” and many more. Despite the absurdity, however, these poems are well made and often find room to explore more serious subjects—which makes these poems all the more dangerous, as you never know what sort of turn a poem will take next.

The collection’s title comes from first poem, “Is Your Country a He or a She in Your Mouth:”

Mine is a man I think, I love men, they call me

a fatherlandsexual, all the motherlandsexuals

have been sailed away, and there were never

any here in the first place, they tell us.

The poem threatens to come apart from these opening lines, the speaker’s “I think” signaling that this narrator is unreliable. Even the grammar tries to destroy the poem; Lockwood crams several independent clauses into one sentence, the way a hyperactive child might. Toward the end of “Is Your Country A He or a She in Your Mouth” the speaker proclaims, “at last I am using the accent of the homeland, / at last I am a homelandsexual,” finally finding some sense of belonging.

There is no narrative in Motherland, Fatherland, Homelandsexuals, and no sections to separate poems into thematic blocks. Lockwood asks us to take each poem on the same plane, and even the order of poems feels more like a suggestion than a directive. Lockwood pulls no punches, as a look at the table of contents reveals. Sexuality is strange and rarely erotic in these poems, and cultural taboos abound. Titles such as “Search ‘Lizard Vagina’ and You Shall Find,” “Nessie Wants to Watch Herself Doing It,” “The Father and Mother of American Tit-Pics” are just the tip of the iceberg. Just the third poem in the collection finds a beloved childhood character, Bambi, acting in a porn. The poem, titled “The Whole World Gets Together and Gangbangs a Deer,” is Lockwood’s bastardization of a pastoral:

                       A great wide clearing in the face of the deer

Says THE MEADOW, THE MEADOW! and all of us watching.

The deer’s mouths moving as if they are reading.

But no, they are eating the grass.

Lockwood’s poems are what might happen if you got writing prompts from the writers of The Onion.

It would be a mistake to assume that Lockwood isn’t serious, however. She simply uses humor and surreal images as a contrast to the darker moments in her work. “List of Cross-Dressing Soldiers”, one of the most tender poems in the collection, opens with descriptions of women who dressed as men to fight in wars. “Together / with men they were blown from their pronouns”, Lockwood writes, a beautifully concise line that puts men and women on the same level of tragedy. Later in the poem, the speaker describes the interactions of her brother with his fellow soldiers:

                                   “Kisses,” he writes to a friend.

His friend writes back, “Cuddles.” Bunch of girls,

bunch of girls. They write each other, “Miss you,

brother.” Bunch of girls, bunch of girls. They passed

the hours with ticklefights. They grew their mustaches

together. They lost their hearts to local dogs,

what a bunch of girls.

“What a bunch of girls” feels like a punch line, and it might have been had it not come hard on the heels of lines about people burning to death and the suicide of another soldier. Lockwood’s democratic treatment of these soldiers blurs the line between male and female, forcing the reader to confront the tenderness and horror seen by every soldier, regardless of sex, since humans first went to war.

Elsewhere in the book, Lockwood dares us to laugh, as in what is arguably the book’s most poignant and emotionally devastating poem, “Rape Joke.” I hesitated even writing about this particular piece because, as the poem itself predicts, by writing a poem called “Rape Joke, you’re asking for it to become the only thing people remember about you.” The poem, five pages long and made up of unlineated paragraphs, details a rape and its aftermath, frequently referring to both the rapist and the situation as “the rape joke.” The dare comes in the final lines:

The rape joke is that the next day he gave you Pet Sounds. No really. Pet Sounds. He said he was sorry and then he gave you Pet Sounds. Come on, that’s a little bit funny.


Admit it.

The whole poem, originally published by The Awl, is worth a read.

Patricia Lockwood has done something brilliant in Motherland, Fatherland, Homelandsexuals: she’s managed to write poems that are at once well crafted and on the verge of dissolving. She’s managed to write poems that are funny, yet serious, and occasionally very sad. There’s something democratic about the way these poems shift from feeling to feeling, line to line. Like Hannah Gamble, Anthony Madrid, and Michael Robbins (who is also published by Penguin), Lockwood is making poetry unsafe again.

What other poets working today are exploding notions of what’s “acceptable” subject matter in poetry?


What We’re Reading: I Am Your Slave Now Do What I Say

2012 August 16
by Timothy

What We're Reading

I listen to a lot of punk and hip hop in addition to being a voracious reader. As such, I’ve encountered a lot of slam and spoken word. I struggle with these genres because they quickly fall into tropes of form and rarely have any life on the page, yet every time I see punk and hip hop groups perform I think, “What if poetry were more like this? More energetic, more urgent?” Inevitably, though, that urgency is lost on the page, or seems trite when performed. Anthony Madrid’s new collection I Am Your Slave Now Do What I Say (Canarium Books, 2012) is carefully composed, while maintaining an element of the improvisational. Madrid has managed to cram the intensity and rhythm of the music I love onto the page, without losing any power. In fact, these poems are so energetic they seem to leap off the page, demand to be read, and then wrestled back before you can move onto the next.

Early on in the collection, Madrid—who uses himself as a character in the poems—says, “Whoever reads more than a dozen ghazals at a time will be overstimulated.” Indeed, these poems, which Madrid calls ghazals, can be overstimulating. Though the energy of these poems is such that you want to keep reading, taking the collection slowly is best in order to fully appreciate their strength. Handily, Madrid has broken the book up into 6 sections, each with between 10 and 12 poems. There are no section breaks between poems, so you have to pay attention to the poem numbers at the top of the page: 1:4, 3:9, 6:1, and so on. Though not easily identifiable, sections have themes that hold them together, a mark of Madrid’s ability to craft a whole book, not just compelling individual poems.

Madrid’s diction in these poems is an odd mix of highly colloquial and oddly archaic, often within the same line. Phrases like, “MADRID, you effervescing piece of fuckass magma!” are highly surreal, yet by virtue of being so specific, very real. The effect is that Madrid becomes a sort of street preacher in a busy city, mixing his already jumbled metaphors with the language of the everyday, a performance you’d see at the bus stop or subway platform.

Performances can bring nuance and double meaning to a piece that is lost when the text is written down, though, by the same token, line break can alter meaning in much the same way. Madrid has employed a number of tricks to suggest ways of reading the piece to the reader, bringing some of the performative nuance back. Traditional moves like line break and rhyme are used to great effect throughout the text, but Madrid also uses vertical bars to force a caesura into his lines, creating a softer break than the hard enjambment of a line break. This typographic trick is used throughout the book, but is especially well done in “Rhymes” whose last three stanzas read:

You’re on your own and off your meds. Greens and yellows, blues and reds.

It’s only with certain groups of friends | you dare undermine the uplift.


So, purple-orange, yellow-blue. Polly, gimme your answer true.

I order demand and require that you | tear it, little parrot.


So, let’s hear it all for the CASH MACHINE. Purple-orange, yellow, green.

Dirty Bomb and Laser Beam | are here to collect the rent.

The vertical bar acts as a crux around which the lines turn, causing the reader to pause before moving to the end of the phrase. Also used throughout the book, and demonstrated here, are words set in small caps that call focus to names or objects differently than full caps or bold letters. Finally, Madrid also uses accent marks to lightly emphasize words, but not so much as words in italics. Using these varying levels of emphasis, Madrid brings more layers of nuance to his poems than is usually possible.

In I Am Your Slave Now Do What I Say, I found the energy and exuberance from rap and punk, with the carefully crafted line break and typographic elements that can only be found on the page. Without a doubt, Madrid’s book is one of the most exciting collections I’ve read in a long time, and he has already become a poet whose tricks I’ve tried in my own poems. As a writer, finding a poet whose work teaches you new things is exciting, and I couldn’t be happier to have found this book. I have to respectfully disagree with the lines in one of the last poems in this book, “anyone can see / How much better this poetry would be if it were written by a twenty-five-year-old punk.” More punks should write poetry, but you’re doing fine on your own, Mr. Madrid. Keep ’em comin’.