"Anything that Happens From Here is Not My Fault”: Meet Patricia Lockwood


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"Anything that Happens From Here is Not My Fault”: Meet Patricia Lockwood

The author of 'Priestdaddy' meanders through a night of Trump-talk, Wagon Wheel and white-wine chugging.

Sitting at a bar on Wellington’s waterfront, a look of deep incredulity is edging across Patricia Lockwood’s face.
She stops mid-sentence and cocks her head slightly.
“Is this 'Wagon Wheel'?”
The chorus of Wagon Wheel blares from outdoor speakers.
“Are you hearing this? How has this made it here?” She stands, untoggles one dungaree strap for freedom of movement, and announces we will finish the drinks and be leaving.
“Do you want to document this?” she asks. “Patricia Lockwood chugs a glass of white wine.”
I immediately begin scrabbling for a camera.
“Ok let’s chug, we’re chugging them.”
She turns to profile, outlined by the first pink of the sun fading, and throws back the glass as a single slug.
“Put that into the interview. But say that it’s because of Wagon Wheel! And that anything that happens from here is not my fault.”


Lockwood, 35, wears a grey t-shirt, denim dungaree dress, earrings shaped like horseshoes. Her hair is dark and cropped close to her head. She has a roving, distractible, slightly manic intelligence, a gift for dirty jokes and excruciatingly precise observations—she once described Ted Cruz as looking like he was “grown from fetal pig tissue in a cowboy boot”. Over the past year she’s been variously described as the “poet laureate of twitter”, “prismatically witty, sexually slippery, polymorphous, and Millennially mischievous,” the “smutty-metaphor queen”.

She’s in New Zealand to speak about Priestdaddy: her memoir of life with a father who, through an obscure doctrinal loophole, became a Roman Catholic priest despite having a wife and children. Greg Lockwood is a singular character. A gun-toting, Bailey’s Irish Cream-drinking patriarch who enjoys listening to Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh in unison, he devours pork rinds and washes his legs with Palmolive washing-up liquid. Throughout the memoir, he is alternately dressed in either full priestly robes or boxer shorts. Previously a swaggering atheist, he converted while serving in the navy on a submarine, and watching The Exorcist 72 times in a row. “That eerie, pea-soup light was pouring down, and all around him men in sailor suits were getting the bejesus scared out of them, and the bejesus flew into my father like a dart into a bull’s eye,” she writes.


Lockwood’s descriptions of him drift between amusement and horror. When her now-husband Jason attempted to talk to her father about the pair leaving home, she writes, “He found him sitting in silence, practically nude, and surrounded with gun parts like a deranged warlord.”


“You can tell she never went to poetry school because she has the insane, other-worldly energy of a home-schooled prodigy. Or maybe a Joan of Arc.”

When I pick her up, Lockwood has only been in New Zealand one day, much of which she seems to have spent signing a stack of books with fellow poet Hera Lindsay Bird.

She has just had two bouts of flu, and is suspicious of another, she says, cleaning her hands with a wet-wipe.

“Do I look ill?” She turns to Bird.
“No. I think you have a very healthy antipodean glow.”
“A glow!”
“Maybe the kind of glow that women in the 19th Century with consumption got, just before they died. It could be a consumptive glow.”
“Hmm.” Lockwood pauses. “A consumptive glow. I am about to consummate.”

Bird has some things in common with Lockwood—both maintain Twitter accounts populated with surrealist, smutty, or lizard-oriented jokes. Both poets are occasionally credited—or tasked—with being their medium’s 21st-century saviour. And both have had the highly unusual experience of having a poem go viral—Lockwood with 2013’s Rape Joke, and Bird with Keats is Dead So Fuck Me From Behind .

“I found her in her natural habitat,” Bird says: “the internet.”


Lockwood, Bird continues via email, is capable of placing more decent jokes on a page than most people can get into a book. “[Priestdaddy] is so good it made me a little angry to read it! I know a book is good if it brings me out in a healthy and ecstatic rage.”

“You can tell she never went to poetry school because she has the insane, other-worldly energy of a home-schooled prodigy. Or maybe a Joan of Arc.”

"Do you see how much energy is taken up with like, watching where my feet go, and making sure I don’t trip? That’s where I turn into a child. But as long as I am perfectly still I am a genius.”

At present, most of that energy is directed at not being hit by a car as she walks away from Wagon Wheel.

She runs into a Writer’s Festival acquaintance who attempts to give her directions to a new bar: “No, listen to me, Patricia. Pay attention. It’s near the back entrance. It’s right next to the hotel.”

“Did you see that?” she says, walking away, “He was like, ‘listen to what I am saying right now’. Because he could see I wasn’t! It was just completely going through. I get distracted very easily,” she says, wandering blithely across two lanes of traffic.

“When I am walking, maybe it is helpful to think of me as a neuro-atypical person,” she goes on. “I’m mostly extremely trusting, never know where I’m going, and believe everything everyone tells me.”

This description seems at odds with the sharply-observed dissections that go into her writing. It does not seem like the work of a naive or especially trusting person, I suggest.


“As long as I’m sitting down I’m not naive! But do you see how much energy is taken up with like, watching where my feet go, and making sure I don’t trip? That’s where I turn into a child. But as long as I am perfectly still I am a genius.”

This is how she writes: mostly in bed, next to or underneath her cats, lying very still. And she probably is a genius. Priestdaddy is very, very funny. The first third of it is a relentless, breathless stack of comic bits, strung together so tightly that when the gravity arrives, it’s a shock: between jokes are the graphic horrors of childhood anti-abortion rallies, the uneasy spectre of abusive priests, descriptions of Lockwood’s own rape and her suicide attempt.

“You had to turn on a dime,” Lockwood says now. And she’s happy to do that. “Even to a degree that makes people uncomfortable. People don’t always know which way to travel.”

That turn-on-a-dime quality is also present in “Rape Joke”, the poem which made Lockwood famous, where she opaquely describes being raped by her boyfriend as a teenager. It is a disorienting poem, full of horror but also containing Lockwood’s homing-signal for absurdity:

The rape joke is that you were 19 years old. / The rape joke is that he was your boyfriend./ The rape joke it wore a goatee. A goatee./ Imagine the rape joke looking in the mirror, perfectly reflecting back itself, and grooming itself to look more like a rape joke. “Ahhhh,” it thinks. “Yes. A goatee.”


Or, later:

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.

At the time, “Rape Joke” presented what felt like a new way of telling a sexual assault story: a mode that does not diminish awfulness, but takes a sideways glance and laughs despite it.

“It just felt honest,” she says. “I guess you’re confronting not just the way people think about these things but the way you think about them. So as I confront the audience, I’m also confronting myself.” It’s interesting to look back on in light of #metoo, now that sharing assault stories in the public domain has become more common.

“In a way, I felt like we had a little more room back then,” Lockwood says. “There was not a prescribed way that you had to tell that story.”

Maybe that has shifted: as these stories become more commonly told, they settle into defined grooves. “Now maybe it’s like, Rose McGowan or Amber Tamblyn with a very serious Facebook post, or someone will talk to the New York Times - it follows a prescribed pattern, and there’s a certain way that those things can go.”

It’s not necessarily bad, she says.

“Any time a form is set, you lose a little something. But you make advances in other regards.”

She wonders, briefly, if Rape Joke may have helped lay the floorwork for the current mode of storytelling.


“It’s always interesting to think, did I do something useful in the world? Because I was not a person who set out to ever do anything useful. Or to help anyone.” She starts laughing.

“I may have accidentally helped!”


Along Wellington’s waterfront, some kind of parade is creating an astonishing level of noise - maybe Hare Krishnas? “The time is ripe for cult again!” she crows. “Aren’t you starting to feel it? Like crystals are back, tarot cards are back, people are heavily into astrology. It’s time for the cults, baby.”

The noise turns out to be for Pride. But you can feel the cults coming, is her theory. Rationality goes out of fashion, and other things flood to fill the power vacuum. “It’s like a pendulum swing: we go through a rational decade and then we go through a ‘woo-woo!’ decade. We had this brief period around the turn of the century when atheism was cool for about seven years. Now it’s like, atheists had their decade, we’re getting in the flowing robes again! And we’re just going to believe whatever in the hell we want.”

Is Trump part of the ‘woo-woo’ sea change, then?

“Ah! Trump. Does that get written into your contract: ask her about Trump? Did your editor say you have to ask?” She narrows her eyes. “Is he a man?”

She sighs. Trump.

“It’s very, very hard to describe, because, like, the ‘rationalists’ - we didn’t see it coming. We don’t know this was going to happen.”

"That anyone in the world would vote for Donald Trump, has like, set us on our bottoms. Has knocked us on our tea-kettles. And the feeling in America right now is very strange - the fact that he’s in office has given certain people license to come out of the woodwork.”


She experienced that same phenomenon on a recent trip to Australia too - a series of Uber drivers who, in the final moments of the trip, expressed their Trump support. “And I was completely gobsmacked! Like - what are you talking about? And that worries me a lot. That makes me concerned. Like that it hasn’t been contained - the contagion has spread.”


We’ve arrived by now at Havana, another, quieter bar. Lockwood has briefly become engrossed in the cocktail menu. “Look at these drinks! Maybe I’ll get an ‘I’m On a Horse’,” she muses, then glances up. “Then you can put that in your story: Lockwood ordered her second I’m On a Horse.”

They’ve run out of On a Horse. So she orders something vodka-based (“gin makes me mean”) and is presented with a glass of pink, which she proclaims as: “Good. Tastes like a Smartie.” Her husband, Jason, comes past the bar. “Ask Jason a question!” she commands. “Ask him how much he can bench-press.” (Jason does not answer).

Her father has never read the book and never will, she says, primarily because it contains no submarines or theology. But her mother has. She didn’t dwell on the question of whether it was ‘right’ to excavate the Lockwood family life and present to the world. Is it ever ethical to use people’s lives as material? Maybe not, but she’s not convinced that that’s the interesting question.

“I think we’re obsessed with it, we’re obsessed with the concept of being moral, and, ‘Am I doing the most ethical job of this possible?’ But maybe it’s not an ethical thing to do,” she says.

“The question of ethics is one which is more on the modern mind than it has been in the past. Which is fascinating, because—why do we writers] get to be ethical too? Why do we get to control the narrative, and also be considered ethical? Why is that something that should be accorded to us?”

“When I was writing it, I concerned myself with whether it was true, and whether it was good art. Hopefully in about equal measure.”

It was a difficult book, she says. Heavy, not just in its themes, but because she wanted it to be a lot of things.

“I wanted it to be funny, I wanted it to be art, and I wanted it to be true. I wanted the whole shebang, in one book. That’s a difficult thing to do. It did feel like walking into, in The Neverending Story, when the horse is walking into the quicksand. And he dies, the horse dies. I was the horse.”

She pauses and looks down.

“Now, if I was drinking an On a Horse right now! What a tie-in.”