Patricia Lockwood is the author of wonderfully weird poetry collections Balloon Pop Outlaw Black and Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals. In her memoir, Priestdaddy, she turns to prose. Her father became a Catholic priest when she was young, and Priestdaddy chronicles a period when she and her husband moved back home to live in a rectory with her parents. She mixes this with childhood memories and reflections on the Catholic church and her family. The result is hilarious, unique, and irreverent. Gracious and witty as always, Lockwood spoke with me about writing her first memoir.
What is your favorite thing about writing?
How I can do it absolutely nude with a bag of popcorn in my lap and my legs slightly opened toward the window in case the UPS guy comes.
How was writing Priestdaddy different from writing poetry?
Certain chapters felt very related to poetry. “Voice,” for instance, is really more of a lyric essay. Other chapters, though, were as far away from the feeling of writing poetry as you could get. With a memoir, you have a strong sense of the accumulation of time and its steady march. With poetry, no matter how long you might have been working on a piece, the feeling is one of suddenness, quicksilver, lightning.
Have you ever tried writing fiction?
I once had a whack at a novel but the results were so so sad. So much incest, so many descriptions of bathwater, a goat for some reason, and a Saunders-esque museum I forced the main character to work at—probably because I couldn’t think of a regular job for her to have. Funny story—I described this novel in an article someone wrote about me once upon a time, and Pat Conroy read it and wrote to me, saying, “I want to publish this lost novel of yours!” And I was like, “I love you very much, Pat Conroy, but absolutely not!”
You’re occasionally critical of your upbringing in Priestdaddy, but there’s a lot of affection in there, too. Did you ever have a hard time keeping that balance?
The only possible way for me to do it was to write the kindness first, and put in the critical lines later. Certain sentences, certain revelations, I was only able to add a few weeks before deadline—I always knew those bits would go in, but it took me that long to be able to put them in their rightful places. My editor Paul Slovak was very helpful in this regard. He allowed me space and time.
When writing about your family, did you ever show them pages or let them know what the finished book would look like?
I would give my mom glasses of prosecco and then read scenes out loud to her, which often resulted in her becoming totally hysterical. “I DID say that!” she would scream at the top of her lungs. And when chapters centered on my siblings, I would call them up and check basic facts. But for the most part, I worked out of my own head, my own memory, and my own instinct about the book’s final shape.
What have you been working on lately?
POETRY!!! *she shrieked, in the voice of a literary tiger escaping from a mental zoo.* Finally poetry, at last and again.
What metaphor would you use to describe the writing of Priestdaddy?
A beautiful swallow is trapped in the cathedral, and he must fly through the sexiest stained glass window in order to escape!
How would you recommend that a reader read Priestdaddy?
Absolutely nude with a bag of popcorn on your lap and your legs slightly opened toward the window in case the UPS guy comes.
Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood
Published May 2, 2017
Patricia Lockwood was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and raised in all the worst cities of the Midwest. She is the author of two poetry collections, Balloon Pop Outlaw Black and Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas.
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