Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals by Patricia Lockwood
Penguin Books, May 2014; 66 pp
Reviewed by Brandon Amico
Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals is a lot of things. It is daring, musical, memorable, vivid, human, and often riotous. It is the breathless energy of a twenty-first century that is already beginning to wear itself out.
And “things” does feel an appropriate word here—the collection is bursting with objects, cultural fixtures, and ephemera. Lockwood is a master of homing in on a subject and drawing the eye and imagination all ways around it, and in the process eking out significance. In “The Arch,” the speaker conflates the history of St. Louis’s Gateway Arch with that of another famous construction, and in doing so pulls on the connections we sometimes have with objects and places:
“Was a gift from one city to another. A city
cannot travel to another city, a city cannot visit
any city but itself, and in its sadness it gives
away a great door in the air”
“What an underhand
gift for an elsewhere to give, a door
that reminds you you can leave it.”
One thing the book is not: timid.
It takes a level of fearlessness on behalf of the writer to close out a poem, this one titled “Revealing Nature Photographs,” with:
See men for miles around give nature what she needs,
rivers and rivers and rivers of it. You exhale with perfect
happiness. Nature turned you down in high school.
Now you can come in her eye.
Anthropomorphism is a staple of the collection, the most common vehicle toward the human, and really hammers home the theme of loneliness. In “Nessie Wants to Watch Herself Doing It” we see the Loch Ness Monster question her own realness; so we’re shown a nonexistent creature ponder the world through what exists outside of her lake. Her only clues as to her existence are her surroundings and the smudge of language on the “NO SWIMMING” signs beside the water—she has no memory before the lake. In “See a Furious Waterfall Without Water,” Niagara is surrounded by former lovers and drunk at a wedding that was supposed to be held in front of his roaring falls, which he now is holding back. Finally, Niagara breaks, and after a final bitter statement he is “trembling at the very lip, unable to contain / himself, and there he goes roaring / back into her arms.”
Another unequal love is showcased in “He Marries the Stuffed-Owl Exhibit at the Indiana Welcome Center,” wherein the subject of the poem professes his love to not only the physical details of the exhibit and owl, but also its symbolic and unseen aspects:
he marries her near-total head turn, he marries
the curve of each of her claws, he marries
the information plaque, he marries the extinction
of this kind of owl, he marries the owl
that she loved in life and the last thought of him
in the thick of her mind…
And the owl’s reaction to this love is to believe that his kisses are moths that have been taking bites out of her. There are a lot of conclusions you could draw from what the poet has laid out here, dots you could connect, but Lockwood’s style isn’t to lead you to “Aha!” moments; it seems to be more so to toss concepts and images and surprises at the reader so one is not able to linger long on a single moment—the poems here are fast-paced, exhilarating.
Since this review is, in fact, “micro,” I will digress from going on at length about the poem “Rape Joke,” since it has already been covered and dissected from numerous angles after it went viral (it’s worth the outside reading and reflection), except to say it’s exceptional even among this collection of exceptional work, and important to a dialogue that needs to be dialogued.
And speaking of jokes, another key thing to note about Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals is that it’s often flat-out funny. It’s not hard to get a glimpse of the poet’s humor just reading down the list of titles, which includes “Search ‘Lizard Vagina’ and You Shall Find,” “Last of the Late Great Gorilla-Suit Actors,” “Bedbugs Conspire to Keep Me from Greatness,” “The Hornet Mascot Falls in Love,” and “The Whole Word Gets Together and Gangbangs a Deer,” the last of which, yes, will make you slightly uncomfortable at first (and shouldn’t most art, including comedy, do so?) but will win most readers over with its brashness, cleverness, and interesting perspective (even as that perspective is used as a set-up to a punchline—or is it the other way around?): “Every deer gets called Bambi / at least once in its life, every deer must answer to Bambi”—and soon after— “Small name / for a small deer. Bambi. Sometimes he feels all the deer / could fit inside him.”
In short: Patricia Lockwood is one of the most exciting, unusual, and interesting poets writing today. There is an energy in these lines that makes for poetry that is both insightful and damn enjoyable. A refreshing collection.