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Eyeballs Turn to an Interview With Patricia Lockwood

By Harriet Staff


A new interview with Patricia Lockwood is up at The Rumpus! Lockwood, who hit the poetry big-time after her poem “Rape Joke” took Internet flight upon publication at The Awl, talks with Lauren O’Neal about this newfound fame, her book Balloon Pop Outlaw Black, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s influence on her writing, and more. A grounded excerpt:

Rumpus: Your recent poem “Rape Joke” blew up in a way that poetry supposedly can’t do anymore, and that cemented your status as one of the foremost poets of your (our) generation. How do you even deal with that? Is it a different experience seeing the Internet version of success for a poem as opposed to the print version of success, like publishing a poem in The New Yorker, which you’ve done more than once?

Lockwood: “Foremost poet of a generation,” ahahaha!

How do you deal with it? It is good, if you find yourself in this situation, to have a sense of humor. There’s something inherently funny about being suddenly pretty well-known for writing a poem called “Rape Joke.” If I had known that that was going to happen, I would have put it in the poem as the punchline.

It’s absolutely different. When I had my first poem in The New Yorker, I got a letter, on nice stationery, from an older gentleman in Texas, thanking me very kindly for my contribution. The stationery had a picture of an urn printed at the top. A Grecian urn? Probably. It ruled.

On the Internet, no one has stationery, but they can all write letters to you anyway. When “Rape Joke” appeared, I got dozens and dozens of e-mails from women and girls telling me their own versions of it. I got bizarre hate mail insulting my haircut, because the poem appeared alongside a picture. Also, because of the venue, a lot of people who weren’t poets read it, which meant that I heard from comedians and journalists and sportswriters and college kids. It felt exposed in a really interesting way, not just because of the subject matter, but because poets just aren’t used to attention.

Also, because it was the Internet, I had a better sense of its reach, and who was reading it. People could respond to it instantly on Twitter, and they did. There was a brief period where the words “devastating” and “powerful” were being tweeted at me like a hundred times a day, which was a surreal experience if you’re at all familiar with the typical offerings of my Twitter account.

With The New Yorker, the actual success lies in getting the poem accepted by the magazine. Crossing that hurdle doesn’t mean that anyone will pay especial attention to it once it’s printed, however. When it comes to the Internet, the initial hurdle is lower, but the success a piece enjoys can be exponential.

But the thing is, no person anywhere is sitting in their room and thinking, Ahhhh. Yes. I am well-known for my poetry, unless it’s a crazy person. Early on, poets resign themselves to the fact that no one will ever read anything they’ve written, and that acts as a circle of protection when people actually do. You don’t really believe it, so it’s easy to keep working.

Rumpus: When you say that “poets resign themselves to the fact that no one will ever read anything they’ve written,” do you mean specifically because they are poets, or do you think that’s true for most writers in general? Because clearly you are well-known for your poetry, or at least for that one poem. Having the words “devastating” and “powerful” tweeted at you a hundred times a day is more attention than most writers ever get, poet or not.

Lockwood: I may be more oblivious than most, but I think I’m just taking it for what it is: the sort of surge of sudden interest that the Internet makes possible. If you exist for a long enough time on the Internet, you’ll lead lots of different lives there. You’ll become known first for one thing, and then, if you’re lucky, another. Creative life on the Internet is long, and made up of a bunch of bright intense bursts. Eyeballs all turn your way at once, and then they turn away. This all may add up to a certain kind of fame, but I think a better way of looking at it is that you just become part of the Internet’s furniture. People sit on you, people lie down on you and cry, people let their dogs put muddy paws all over you, people forget you in favor of another couch, people discover you again.

Don’t ask me to push this furniture metaphor too far or things…will get…insane.

Read it all at The Rumpus.

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Posted in Poetry News on Monday, January 6th, 2014 by Harriet Staff.