Monday, June 2nd, 2014

Men Unsettled by Woman's Poems

homelandPatricia Lockwood's new book of poetry, Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, came out last week. There have been a handful of reviews in mainstream outlets, like in the New York Times, where Dwight Garner calls it "a satirical work that nonetheless brings your heart up under your ears." His criticism, such as it is, notes, "When her poems miss, which they frequently do, their ideas seem larval and merely cute." It concludes, "little hairs on my back rose often while reading 'Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals,' as if it were the year of the big wind. That’s biological praise, the most fundamental kind, impossible to fake."

But then are there some other reviews, and there is a mildly curious pattern to them. Here's the first paragraph of Jonathan Farmer's, in Slate:

Here’s the thing: For the most part, I don’t like reading Patricia Lockwood’s poems. They make me feel slow-witted and over-serious, clumsy, credulous, and uncool. They make me feel like the guy who ruins all the fun. Her poems aren’t wrong; I am that guy. But I don’t like being reminded.

And here's Adam Plunkett at The New Yorker online:

Even the zany comic sexuality, unsettling as it can be, is never more nuanced than the brutish, broish caricature she tweets about and that tweets back at her. In “The Hornet Mascot Falls in Love,” for instance, the hornet is sexual aggression incarnate: “Oh he want to sting her…. The air he breathes is filled/with flying cheerleader parts.” It’s easier to laugh at what he represents—“astonishing abs,” sports, machismo—than to feel his sexual frustration and anger. “Revealing Nature Photographs,” a poem transposing onto nature the ways we objectify women, ends with a repulsive invitation: “Nature turned you down in high school. / Now you can come in her eye.” This is addressed to a man but written for people to laugh at him, even if the poem doesn’t evoke Nature well enough to think of her as any sort of woman, let alone one whom you repressed your anger toward. But the subtleties of men’s desires were never the point.

Lockwood's poems are sexually explicit, ridiculous, and unconcerned with the desires of men, and thus two men seem to be made uncomfortable, one shamed by his own discomfort, the other, not so much. (Worth noting: it seems that almost every review of the book—whose most famous piece is a poem about rape—so far in a major outlet has been written by a man?) The conclusions to be drawn seem dourly straightforward. This is strange. Why do these particular poems, by this particular person, in this particular book, at this particular time, bother these particular men?

Surreal, sexually explicit poetry is not new, not even by women (lol), and it seems unlikely that these men would feel similarly discomfited by weird sex-tinged poems written by another man. Men talk about cocks in bizarre ways all the time, after all, in every medium imaginable. The first cave painting by a dude was probably of a funny-looking cock.

19 Comments / Post A Comment

scrooge (#2,697)

Why do these particular poems, by this particular person, in this particular book, at this particular time, bother these particular men?

Maybe because these particular men are just tired of being told all the particular damned time what dicks men are?

Matt Buchanan (#232,205)

@scrooge Man, it's hard to be man, let me buy you a beer

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

@scrooge If men are tired of being told they are dicks, they should stop being dicks. Problem solved. That's how my straight shooting, problem solving male brain thinks of this. But if you just wanna whine about it like a non-man, I've got a box of Seventh Generation for you.

scrooge (#2,697)

@Niko Bellic I'm afraid you are the victim of a kind of collective fallacy here. One man cannot make all men stop being dicks. Problem therefore not soluble by one man. One man — or in this case, particular men — therefore entitled to complain.

letMeSee (#277,521)

@scrooge Oh, you're entitled, are you?

Smitros (#5,315)

I disagree only with the take on the earliest cave paintings, which seem not to be about Johnsons. (Further supporting a recent theory that many were done by women.)

Matt Buchanan (#232,205)

@Smitros Oh that's why I was clear it was the first paintings by a dude

@Smitros I disagree here – *many* of the figures at Altamira are drawn with prominent erect members. Phallic imagery is a really, really common feature of prehistoric art. To be fair and balanced, some of the oldest art at Chauvet depicts vaginas. French people!

Smitros (#5,315)

@Subway Suicide@twitter Art history fail on my part. I was thinking more of the animals overall than parts thereof.

@Smitros There are animal members, but also human members, and animal-human-hybrids with erect members. So inclusive!

CandyMandible (#276,813)

Maybe they didn't like the poems because she isn't very good at writing poetry? Just because she's aggressive and they're slightly misogynistic does not exonerate her of the mediocrity of her writing.

Matt Buchanan (#232,205)

@CandyMandible That's not really at issue here?

JFarmer (#276,814)

The issues Matt raises here are important. We should always question the ways people in privilege respond to work that challenges that privilege. But my review is largely about that. As I write a few sentence later, "But I'm wrong. " And then, later still, "It’s also, if I’m paying enough attention, a reminder that my discomfort with Lockwood’s other poems (one of which appeared in Slate) might have something do with my advantaged standing as a straight white male in the culture she handles with such imaginative disregard." I open with that first paragraph in order to expose and then try to move past my own biases.

Matt Buchanan (#232,205)

@JFarmer Oh, I actually admired how honest your review was; I just found the phenomenon fairly interesting, since you clearly were not the only one feeling that way.

JFarmer (#276,814)

@Matt Buchanan Thanks, Matt. And I agree. As yet another straight, white, male reviewer, I'm obviously part of the problem, but I'm trying to find ways to mitigate (or at least investigate) that, and I'm glad to see more people in prominent places pushing this subject. For whatever it's worth, I have similar feelings about many male poets, but none are as talented or, I think, important, as Lockwood, and so I wanted to talk about her book while also thinking visibly about the reasons my take on her book was problematic–and to see if I could think and see beyond it.

KimO (#10,765)

@Matt Buchanan Part of me finds the critical solipsism of all three reviews really gross since (as you suggest) if Lockwood were a man, critics would be talking more about the work than their personal feelings about it, which (to this female reader, at least) seemed totally sad and predictable. Plunkett is the obvious Gollum of the three, and Mallory's piece about his missteps in that thing he would call a review is everything. Garner's "biological praise" of Lockwood's war poem and dismissal of the ideas he deemed "merely cute" was just hilariously tone deaf. @JFarmer, your review was by far the best of the bunch, but I found your observations to be far more astute when you focused on the poetry as opposed to your relationship with it.

Still, I think it’s sort of cool that Lockwood has elicited these deeply personal responses in a form that tends toward the clinical. I think a lot of people assume “Rape Joke” is affecting largely because of its subject, just as they attribute Lockwood’s popularity on Twitter to sex jokes. It’s fascinating to me that all three men consistently describe her work as vaguely chilly and mostly insincere–by turns "search-engine optimized," pornographic, mocking, and "cliquish"–when it’s so clear she has a gift for reaching people where they live.

"jate" (#276,815)

Matt on the masthead
From the list of fave poets y'all posted from my participation on the wallace-l in Alexis Coe's fine redemptive article in Hammer Time to the slander of less public sillies
it might be obvious that women's verse to me is essential and real and of course
to the hideous men of the world even those who only allow such misplaced rage at the machine
to the habit the darkness of their hidden hearts

pander's box becalms pandoras
take it from a temporary 0331
yet another damaged son of this sin
called the masculine

mights almost never right
if it could b y'wouldn't need it

semper fi

thanks for the fine editing
a fellow journalist at point
with the view toward the wise gnot the wicked

holdup!holdmyphone! (#274,038)

i like patricia! i also like bees

I appreciate pointless indignation as much as the next guy, but this looks a little like cherry picking, well entirely like cherry picking to tell the truth. You don't necessarily have to find a problem to talk about a problem, but you could've done a better job of pretending.

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