Patricia Lockwood has been described as “the poet laureate of Twitter” (HTMLGIANT), a godhead of “cartoon tween j/o bait” (Vice), and “completely non-linear,” like a Zooey Deschanel character that does not exist (Connect Savannah). In her own words, she’s a “discursive” nerd-child who “turned funny,” ended up in Georgia by way of the Midwest, and amassed 16,000+ followers for her Twitter oeuvre of cartoon lyricism and surreally unerotic sexts. But she was a poet before she was anybody’s poet laureate, published in places like the Awl, Rattle and The New Yorker, and an unusually autodidactic one; Lockwood, who is now 30, never went to college or enrolled in some creative writing program. Her aesthetic just happened to complement something already taking shape online.
Despite her intermingling of poetry and comedy, Balloon Pop Outlaw Black is most overtly funnyon its cover, a parade of nude Popeye-faced dogs drawn by cartoonist Lisa Hanawalt. The poems in this debut book are no less fantastical than Lockwood’s tweets, but they take a different tone, fixated on the mutability of words and symbols. One imagines wild reflections hunted to extinction: “The frames hang straight and still know nothing. / They believe they are still the body of their animal, / strung and stood up with wire, filled with fat / organs of baby looks.” She ensnares archetypal stories, like a boy swallowed by a whale, and makes them devour themselves.
I called Tricia in Savannah, where she lives with her journalist husband Jason, and we talked in a half-interview-half-DM-conversation for two hours, which was systematically mutilated into this Q&A. (After Jason’s eyesight was threatened by a rare eye condition that their health insurance didn’t cover earlier this year, Twitter followers donated over $10,000 to her hastily registered Paypal account.) Another deadline was hanging over her as we spoke; Balloon Pop Outlaw Black has already shifted half of its initial print run, and if it sells out, she’s publicly pledged to get one of those adorable sailor-dog monsters tattooed on her lower back. “Jason is blind now, so it would ruin doggy style forever for any other man in my life, but not that guy.”
How would you describe/explain Balloon Pop or your Twitter persona to an aging relative?
It is like if you had a bad daughter—a VERY bad daughter—and it is Thanksgiving, and she keeps yelling sexual things at the turkey as you set the platter down, and she won’t stop telling the mashed potatoes what they look like, and at one point she gets up and attempts to stuff herself into the refrigerator because she “needs to feel the constraints of form.” Then when everyone is trying to say grace she bangs both fists on the table and shrieks, “I’m thankful for William Wordsworth and big butts,” while staring directly at you, knowing that you prefer Coleridge and long legs.
What did you do on Twitter at first, and when did the sexts come about? What was their genesis?
Honestly, sexts came just a couple of weeks after I started my account. The first 200 tweets or so were weird. I was only following poets. I thought that you made hashtag jokes, which obviously we immediately understood later to be extremely lame, but I was like, “ha ha, hashtag joke, let’s make one of those.” Along with those, I livetweeted Bambi, essentially from memory [laughs], in the first couple of weeks. So I was tweeting about Bambi, and then I was on a long car trip to Key West, and I was bored, because I don’t ever drive. Let me tell you something: my husband went blind earlier this year, and he has little pieces of plastic in his eyes now to see, and he is still a far safer driver, by far, than I am. I never drive.
So I’m just sitting there with my phone, I’m like, “alright, sext me, guys.” And it was so early that I didn’t even understand that people who didn’t follow you couldn’t DM you. But, guess who actually did, was Greg [Erskine, @gregerskine]. A lot of those early sexts are me and Greg talking back and forth, and the panini sext IS Greg’s. I didn’t understand that when it got retweeted the one I posted immediately afterwards saying it was Greg’s would not go along with that. He is such a humble man, because he was raised Unitarian, and he was like, “oh no, I just want my ART to be in the WORLD, I don’t care if my name is on it.” It was probably because the Anthony Weiner thing was just starting to blow up, it was just starting to gather steam, and there were tons of shitty stories on Nancy Grace about how your kids were sexting and that sort of thing. It seemed like a really funny, stupid word. But the form, the form took shape almost instantly. I don’t think that it ever particularly changed or grew more complex.