Priestdaddy is a Masterwork – A Review of the Newest Book by Tricia Lockwood

Posted: July 1, 2017 in Uncategorized

As an amateur poet and a big collector of poetry books I must say that I am not typically a fan of books by poets that are not poetry. Poetics is about concision. Novels and essays are generally not. I don’t really view them as requiring comparable skills. 

In at least one case I have been proven very wrong. Patricia Lockwood’s essay “Priestdaddy” is very close to perfect. The book is a masterful integration of the poignancy shown in her “gone viral” poem “Rape Joke”, the irreverent abandon of her Twitter feed, a sense of humor rivaling Jenny Lawson, an honest exploration of family, a childhood of Catholicism, the sexual honesty she is known for, and an utter love of language. This book is a very rare case of perfect balance between prosody and poetics. I applaud her.

The story of Priestdaddy is both very common and insanely unique. It is common because it tells a story that is becoming increasingly common: A married 30-something moving back home with mom and dad. No big deal there. The insane uniqueness comes from the fact that dad is one of the very rarest of Catholic priests: A married one. 

I did not know that it was even possible to be a married Catholic priest. Apparently, one can get the calling anytime and you don’t have to reset you virginity to do it. Also, apparently, you do have to meet certain criteria that can be defined by testing. Step one is that you and the family must be tested to insure you are not insane. Considering the sorry state of child sex abuse in the “one true church” (a topic poignantly covered in the book) it seems they’d be better off giving that test to the celebate virgin applicants, But that is a much bigger topic. In any case, Lockwood’s description of the “test” is absolutely hilarious. 

Daddy was not content as a Lutheran and was – family and all – dirty underwear and all – rags in the sink and all – electric guitar, guns, mysogeny, football, living half-naked in front of the TV, hamburgers and pork rinds, and all – into the holy Catholic priesthood.

Feisty, readheaded, subversively subservient mom is her own piece of work. She cooks huge meals for the seminarians without even flinching when Fr. Lockwood asks why it took so long. She washes piles of her beloved “Priesthubby’s” (I just made that up but I officially herein offer it to you, Trish, if you want the title for a sequel; because it’s a fuckin’ awesome word) dirty underwear. She care’s deeply, perhaps too deeply, about the safety of her children. And… she is as hilariously odd in her own way as daddy is in his. 

I won’t keep going with the character descriptions because I don’t want to spoil too much. Let’s just say that Lockwood’s own post-religion, atheist husband and her “baybay” grunting sister are characterized as wonderfully as dad and mom.

As for Lockwood herself, she portrays her childhood, her sexuality, her ability to drink martinis while seductively showing her belly to vulnerable drunk seminarians, her mastery in turning on her priest-daughter mode at ordaination parties, and her uncanny early love of language with an amazing candor. I hate to again compare her to Jenny Lawson but I really see tha; I genuinely intend that comparison to be a complement. 

Twice, I compared Priestdaddy with the writing of Jenny Lawson. Now I need to state a difference. Patricia Lockwood is unique among poets because she can write an essay this well. But she differs from other essay writers and especially humorists in the clarity, beauty, use of analogy, grammar, vocabulary, and sentence construction, of her writing. I fear that if I give examples, of which there are a multitude, I’ll ruin something for you. But, here are just a couple:

<All my life I have overheard, all my life I have listened to what people will let slip when they think you are part of their we. A we is so powerful. It is the most corrupt and formidable institution on earth. Its hands are full of the crispest and most persuasive currency. Its mouth is full of received, repeating language. The we closes its ranks to protect the space inside it, where the air is different. It does not protect people. It protects its own shape.>

And…

<There has never been a trilogy he didn’t like, and if you don’t understand why, I have three words for you: father, son, and Holy Spirit. Foremost among his favorites is the original Star Wars trilogy, which he fervently believes is about priests in space, and the first three Alien films, which he believes are about how all women are destined to be mothers.>

Those are not even among what I consider the highlights. I won’t give you my favorites because, as I’ve implied, you deserve to laugh and cry and roll your eyes, and vent, and laugh and cry some more all by yourself. I won’t ruin that.

I never would have expected a poet I love to also write one of my favorite bits of prose. But, Patricia Lockwood has done it. Not only should you read this book but you should listen to it too. The Audible Studios production is read by the author and no one can say “BAYBAY”, talk about dirty rags, and tell of showing her erotic stomach to Italian seminarians like the writer herself. 

For the record, I adore this book. 

Also for the record, Ms. Lockwood, your long arms are NOT your only beauty.

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