This photograph of Patricia Lockwood was not taken last night, but it's way better than my blurry cell phone pictures, so for the sake of this Slog post you should just swap the tree in the background out with Elliott Bay's reading room.
You know one quality I appreciate about readings, especially in the summertime? When the author keeps the reading short. Patricia Lockwood read for dozens of people in the basement of Elliott Bay Book Company last night, and the reading was mercifully brisk. This is not to say that it felt too short—Lockwood read quite a few poems, mostly from her newest collection Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals—but that she read just enough to provide a cross-section of her work, to keep the audience interested, and to make the evening feel worth our time. I assume most of the audience would have preferred another poem or two, but that's how it should be; too few authors understand the old showbiz saw about leaving 'em wanting more. And rather than do a stultifying Q&A session in which aspiring poets peppered her with a bunch of questions about process, Lockwood took her time with all the people in the autograph line, doodling in people's books, asking them about their favorite animals, and engaging them in conversation. Not every reading should be like that, but it's refreshing when an author underestimates how much an audience can stand.
But now that I've gone on way too long about the running time of the reading, what was the reading like? Lockwood was funny and practiced and prone to taking the air out of her comments even as she said them, making big deals out of her "huge gulps of bookstore wine" in between each poem. She introduced her poem "The Whole World Gets Together and Gangbangs a Deer" by promising the audience that the poem "is fictional. It didn't happen. Don't worry about it." But when she read her poems, she was all business; your appreciation of Lockwood's work improves when you hear her read the poems in her own voice. The teacherly way she informed the audience that "a vagina is a zoo for babies [and] a girl baby is a zoo for a vagina" changed the tone of the poem from a recursive image to something akin to a threat, or a promise.
Lockwood read a short essay about poetics, focusing on Robert Frost's fence-building neighbor. "I'm the one who put up that wall, and I did it because I hated him," the neighbor confides to us. Lockwood gently mocked those pretentious essays about the importance of poets by gravely telling us that "only death can fire a poet," that "a poet never finishes, she just abandons," and that "the greatest living poet, Nicolas Cage, continues to amaze us by never having written a poem at all." Lockwood ended the night by reading a poem titled "The Body is a Gold Rush Town" that she had never before read in public. "There's nothing like that quick stampede toward a dot on a map that isn't there yet," she said at the beginning of the poem, and she read for another few minutes on hope and expectations doing battle with reality, before signing books and dismissing the audience out into the gorgeous, sunny Seattle evening.