PATRICIA LOCKWOOD is a US poet who enjoys a reputation for bluntness. (The New York Times dubbed her “The Smutty-Metaphor Queen of Lawrence, Kansas”.) She shot to recognition in 2013 after publishing “Rape Joke”, an autobiographical poem that found her a vast online audience. She is often called the Poet Laureate of Twitter.
Priestdaddy is her first book of prose. To say that it is an autobiography feels too simplistic for this rollicking tour de force. Yet it is an account of the extraordinary upbringing that shaped her. Her father was an atheist when he married her Roman Catholic mother. He underwent a dramatic religious conversion while working as a naval seaman on a nuclear submarine, inspired by multiple underwater screenings of The Exorcist. He became first a Lutheran pastor, and then later an RC priest, despite being married and a father of five.
But this isn’t really what makes him unusual. He is a passionate, gun-toting, guitar-riffing Republican who likes to spend his days upstairs in the family home sipping cream liqueurs. He has a habit of shouting “Hooo-eee” for no reason, barbecues a great deal of meat, and dresses either in full priestly regalia or nothing but his underwear (“He was wearing his most formal boxer shorts, the ones you could almost not see through”).
Her mother, meanwhile, is a woman prone to demented outbursts and warnings of impending doom. Lockwood’s childhood was a mix of attending church, taking part in anti-abortion rallies, and going to God’s Gang, where they sang choruses such as “He’s a peach of a saviour, he’s the apple of my eye. And that’s why I’m bananas for the Lord!”
Lockwood met her husband, Jason, in an internet poetry forum when she was 19. Her father’s first words to his future son-in-law were, “Gimme your license! I got cop friends!” The starting-point for the book is a crisis that sent Lockwood and her husband back to live in her parents’ Rectory. During their nine-month stay, she wrote down everything that anyone said. Her mother rises “to heights of quotability exceeded only by Confucius, Muhammed Ali . . .”. Her father shouts at the TV: “I like Chunky Soup . . . oh yeah!”
The first two-thirds of the book is glittering, although the author seems to lose her way a little after that. None the less, the writing reaches out and grabs you by the throat, it’s so good. Priestdaddy is a unique and brilliant coming-of-age story and a roller-coaster of a read.
Sarah Meyrick is a freelance writer and novelist.
Priestdaddy: A memoir
Allen Lane £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9*
*Paperback edition, due out on 3 May.