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1. First tell us about your time in St. Louis. Where did you live, during what years, and how is the experience situated in memory? Were those the gay old days or what?
I loved St. Louis. I went to high school at Rosati-Kain, down in the Central West End right across from the cathedral. It was a fantastic place—liberal, creative, far more free-thinking than the schools I had attended before. Plus you could always count on flashers at the corner windows to disrupt the calm quiet of your biology tests, giving you a chance to ask the girl sitting next to you what in the holy hell Biology was. After class you could walk past T.S. Eliot's childhood house on your way to get the coffee that would stunt your teenage growth.
I lived in the Hazelwood area. My old neighborhoods no longer exist, they were bought up for the airport. But most of my best memories of St. Louis are memories of that school. I loved it, I was heartbroken to move away.
2. In the past two years you have moved from one-book poet to social media starlet. As a result, much of the response to Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals has focused wholly or in part on your Twitter presence. Are you happy with this transition?
It's an oddity, so I can certainly understand why they mention it, but a lot of times it doesn't make that much sense in the context of the poems, or it gives people expectations about the poetry that it can't fulfill—like that it'll be really short and full of whimsical insights about Count Chocula.
Still, to be totally fair, there are a couple poems in the collection that arose directly out of Twitter musings, like the poem about Bambi and the poem about the hypnodomme. Hypnodommes are out in full force on Twitter for some reason—there's one who tweets equally about hypnotizing men and going on pagan moose hunts out in the woods. Inspiration, it seems, is everywhere.
3. Let’s move out of the spotlight and back into the shadows of literary formation. What made you want to be a poet in the first place?
Man, who knows. The call is as distinctive as a kazoo, nothing else sounds like it. You know it's going to make you a nerd to follow it—the worst of all nerds, a kazoo nerd!—but you just have to go. I knew poetry existed and that seemed to be the quarter the call was coming from, so I went.
4. Which poets or works do you consider primary influences?
It was the metaphysical poets and the Modernists for me, along with the time-traveling lyric assassins like Dickinson and Rilke. There was the Bible too, of course. The rhythms were so fine and firm and went from argument to seduction and back again, sometimes within the same verse. The Bible is one long woo, really.
Then there were the outside influences, which for me came in the form of comedy and comic strips. Gary Larson and Jack Handey were just as important to me as any poet. Hell, you could learn how to write poetry from CATHY if you wanted—there was no more mortal figure than Cathy, locked in the prison of her bikini body, in eternal rebellion against it, sweating.
5. It seems no topic is off-limits for you. Your wit skewers cherished figures like Emily Dickinson and Benjamin Franklin, challenges traditional notions of sexual and national identity, and playfully deconstructs social media. Is there any topic that you’re reluctant to approach?
The closest I get to tackling a topic is to fall on it by accident, so I don't spend much time considering which topics are approachable and which are not. They'll either trip me or they won't. Within the poem, I don't feel much of a sense of taboo, just because it's a very open space. If it occurs to me, I write it down. It's never out of any desire to shock, it's just out of a desire to see what happens next, what happens after that, and how far it can go. Historically I've been shy about writing directly about myself, but when I did, I found that I had the same what-then, what-next, keep-going impulse. It's a narrative impulse, at heart, to see a story through to the end.
6. T.S. Eliot wrote that “Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality.” Do you agree that Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals seems to fulfill the promise of this statement?
I think that's about right. Forming experience, emotion, personality into an object can give you a moment of feeling totally freed of those things. I think some people are attracted to poetry because it allows you to use the voice of God rather than the voice of a person; a mountaintop voice as opposed to the voice of a small flesh statistic. Go deep into the voice—it isn't yours, it's the poems', and you do feel for a short interval freer of the bounded, local self.
Patricia Lockwood’s newest collection, Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, was published by Penguin Books in May. She will be at Left Bank Books Monday, June 30 at 7 p.m. to sign and talk about her new book. Left Bank is located at 399 Euclid; for more information, call 314-367-6731 or go to left-bank.com.