In conversation, Patricia Lockwood is just like her poems: Colorful, funny, thought–provoking and completely non–linear. She talks as if she can’t get the thoughts to her mouth fast enough.
The 30–year–old Midwesterner with the big, open eyes is both charming and quirky. If she were a movie, Zooey Deschanel would play her.
Today, however, she’s all business (for her, anyway) as she talks about the upcoming publication of her first anthology of poems, Balloon Pop Outlaw Black, by the indie press Octopus Books.
First things first: She’s been busy on Twitter this year.
• I go up to heaven and open God’s Bible. It contains only a single sext: “I’m hard”
• I guess the number of gumballs in a jar. I’m off by just one gumball. “I’m pink,” it whispers, & then leaps into my mouth & chews me
• I am a water glass at the Inquisition. You are a dry pope mouth. You pucker; I wet you
• The Angel Gabriel come to earth. He want to do the animal with the Trumpiest hole. This turn out to be the Elephant. “Toot me” she cry
Today, Lockwood has 13,600 followers on Twitter. People all over the world look forward to her surrealist “sexts.”
“What is going on,” Lockwood says, “is that art is happening in these areas where people aren’t paying attention. Some of the most interesting things are happening in a medium that no one is really taking seriously. If no one’s paying attention to what you’re doing, you can do whatever you want.”
She’s not a big fan of Facebook; indeed, it took time for her to warm to Twitter.
“Twitter can either be really good or really boring, depending on the people you follow,” Lockwood explains. “As soon as I joined I thought ‘This is really right for jokes.’ I was following people who were using Twitter to make surreal jokes.”
This was 2011. Being a creative person, she decided to take the tweeting jokesters’ art a step further.
“There had been a lot of ‘sexting’ in the news, ‘sexting teens’ and ‘Dad sexted his own daughter by accident,’ that kind of thing,” she recalls. “It was just a stupid word, I thought, and it could be funny. So I wrote ‘send me sexts,’ and I didn’t really delineate what it would be. And of course no one was sending them, because I didn’t have any followers at that point.
“So I just started posting ones that I was pretending I was getting from people. There was one about fucking a mermaid — ‘her tail is swishing around you like an egg–drop soup.’ So it was really surreal early on.
“Or I would talk about fucking a fog, and ejecting a smaller area of denser fog. They were poetic but also surreal, and they clearly couldn’t be confused with anything actually sexy. That was a plus, because otherwise you would get a lot of weird attention.”
She thinks she’s weeded out the pervs, and everyone who’s watching pretty much gets what she’s up to.
She’s been called “The High Priestess of Sexting,” which made even the Huffington Post look her up and write some cool stuff about her.
“If you’re a reclusive writer like I am, spending eight hours a day alone doing nothing but reading and writing, you get insane pretty fast,” she says. “So you do feel so or like a vaporous high priestess. You look at your cat and you expect her to speak to you at certain points! But that’s just because you’ve been alone too long.”
Last spring, when her husband, a Savannah journalist, was told he needed expensive corrective surgery on his eyes, Lockwood discovered just how beloved she had become.
“I just mentioned it on Twitter, because I talk about personal things,” she says. “And it came as a huge shock. No one expects a 31–year–old guy to suddenly start going blind. Insurance wouldn’t cover it.”
In less than one day, the Paypal fund she’d established had more than the $10,000 they needed for the surgery and its myriad followups. Lockwood shakes her head in amazement. “It took 16 hours or something insane,” she says. “People were super, super insanely generous.”
The daughter of a Catholic priest, Lockwood grew up as part of a strict religious family in Indiana and Missouri.
Both precocious and a self–professed nerd, she started writing poetry at the age of 8. “I was obsessed with Greek mythology. I had a fossil collection. I was extremely lame.”
As a teen, things got a bit more serious. “You have a sort of insane self–confidence that what you’re doing is genius work. And obviously it’s not. But if you persist in that belief for a period of like 15 years, that gives you the sort of swagger that’s necessary to sit down every day and write.”
Young Patricia entered one poetry contest after another, and as the years passed, and her work took on a more surreal tone, she got published in The New Yorker, The Awl, Denver Quarterly, American Letters & Commentary and other prestigious publications.
“I was always very ambitious, even psychotically so,” she explains. “In the sense that when you’re 16 and you have this manuscript of awful poetry, and you’re sending it to contests, clearly you want it to be your destiny that you eventually have a book published.”
Which leads us to Balloon Pop Outlaw Black, a whimsical, ambitious and supremely enjoyable work, from which Lockwood will read at the next installment of Seersucker Live, Oct. 19 at The Book Lady. The event is sponsored by the Poetry Society of Georgia.
“It took me a long time to incorporate humor into my poems,” Lockwood says, “because when you start writing at 8 years old you think poetry is very serious. Later on in life you’re like, wait, I tell a lot of jokes — why do I never tell jokes in poetry? Let’s try to weave those in together a little bit. It’s more difficult than you would think. It’s very difficult to be a funny poet.”
But a “funny poet” she has become. Lockwood believes her “style,” if such a word applies, is setting up her works like jokes.
“I’m using the exact same format, but I’m subbing in a bunch of serious words like ‘death’ and ‘trees’ and ‘the sky,’” she laughs. “So the punchline is designed to make you feel chills as opposed to giggle, if that makes any sense. It’s a bait–and–switch.”
Patricia Lockwood and Aaron Belz
Where: The Book Lady, 6 E. Liberty St.
When: At 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19
With: Live music, cocktails
On Twitter: @TriciaLockwood