P Patricia Lockwood

Rape Joke by Patricia Lockwood

‘Rape Joke’ by Patricia Lockwood was published on the website The Awl in July 2013. In this prose-poem, Lockwood shares her memory of an incident of rape that happened with herself.

This poem is a subjective poem written from the perspective of the poet, Patricia Lockwood. ‘Rape Joke’, as the title says, is about a bitterly humorous episode that happened with Lockwood. It seems like a “joke” as the intruder of her private zones, denied the fact of doing so. So, what is the purpose of writing this poem? As a reader scans the lines introspectively, he or she can understand it is about a relationship, destined to be ended on the day of the sexual finale. The man, having a taste for the body, not the feelings, having intercourse admits that the impulse came from the phallus. To throw light on such sexuality, Lockwood shares her memory through the text.

Rape Joke by Patricia Lockwood

 

Summary

‘Rape Joke’ describes how Lockwood, when she was 19 years old, was raped by a person whom she liked and had faith in.

Lockwood deals with an event of her life in this poem. The poetic persona or the speaker represents the voice of Lockwood. This personal event happened in a relationship between the poet and her lover. Through an ironic retelling of the event, she throws light on the contemporary culture revolving around sexuality.

As the speaker, reiterates the phrase, “The rape joke is that…”, it rings in the ears as an ironic yet emotional event of her life. According to the text, the person whom she liked was a bouncer. The relationship started gradually from the day when first saw him in her father’s class. Later, she realized his real face when he denied having any feelings for her. She cannot change the reality. Therefore, she admits her innocence at the same time her youthful ignorance.

You can read the full poem here.

 

Structure

In this prose-poem, there are a total of 81 lines. The lines containing the details of the event are grouped in a single stanza. While the single lines, either mark a shift of ideas or focus on a specific idea. This division of lines helps a reader to understand the subject matter more easily. There is not any specific rhyme scheme or metrical scheme as the poem is in prose form. Due to the presence of internal rhyming, the flow never breaks in the middle. Alongside that, this poem is in a conversational style. It also follows the scheme of a dramatic monologue.

 

Literary Devices in Rape Joke

While reading this piece, one can find the use of irony. The lines such as, “The rape joke is that he was your boyfriend” and “Then suddenly you were older, but not very old at all” contain this literary device. In the first three lines, Lockwood makes use of anaphora. These lines begin with the same phrase. Besides, she uses alliteration and repetition throughout this poem. As an example, there is a repetition of the phrase, “The rape joke.” Alongside that, readers can find the use of alliteration in the repetition of similar sounds in the neighboring words. To create internal rhythm, this device is used. Readers can also find sarcasm, innuendo, and metaphor in Lockwood’s poem.

 

Analysis of Rape Joke

Lines 1–10

The rape joke is that you were 19 years old.

The rape joke is that he was your boyfriend.

The rape joke it wore a goatee. A goatee.

(…)

You liked that use of the word interesting, as if you were a piece of knowledge that someone could be desperate to acquire, to assimilate, and to spit back out in different forms through his goateed mouth.

The first ten lines of this piece introduce readers to two characters. One is the poetic persona or the poet herself. Another is the speaker’s partner. According to her, the incident happened when she was 19 years old. The offender was her boyfriend and he kept a goatee. This description paints a picture of her boyfriend for the readers.

When she looks at herself in the mirror, the reflection reminds her of the follies. It seems the person in the mirror is laughing at her. She can understand that it was the same person with a goatee who played with her fidelity and innocence. Therefore, she admits her fault and doesn’t feel offended.

In the following stanza, the poet gives a further description of the person. He was seven years older than him and she knew him for years. Firstly, she was too young to be infatuated with him. Gradually, she grew an inclination towards him. She can remember how he used the word “interesting.” It seems as if she was a piece of information, someone was desperate to acquire. Readers should take note of the fact that here, “piece of knowledge” is a metaphor for the speaker’s feelings.

Moreover, her boyfriend wanted to acquire that information and assimilate it. Then, he would spit it out in a different form through his goateed mouth. Here, the poet depicts the nature of that person. The use of the device anticipation is worth mentioning. The last line of this section helps the reader to anticipate what was going to happen in the poem.

 

Lines 11–20

Then suddenly you were older, but not very old at all.

The rape joke is that you had been drinking wine coolers.

(…)

He wasn’t threatening you, you understood. He just really liked his knife.

Their relationship progressed further. She became older. Yet, she was not wise enough to understand her boyfriend. On that day when the incident happened, she was drinking excessively. It occurs to her that the fault was with her. Hence, she says, “Who drinks wine coolers? People who get raped, according to the rape joke.”

His boyfriend was a bouncer and kept people out from the bars for a living. So, keeping someone out of his mind was in his nature. But, the speaker failed to recognize that he could do anything with her.

The next lines reveal the character of the lover. He carried a knife playfully and showed it over to her. She felt as if this unmerciful instrument was a part of his nature. By using a simile, here the poet compares the knife to a book. Thereafter, the poetic persona sarcastically remarks that he carried it not to threaten her. The matter was he liked the knife. In this way, the “knife” becomes a symbol. The knife and the lover both have some common features. If a user fails to handle a knife with care, it can cause harm. Likewise, the speaker’s inability to understand that man, caused her to lose her heart and virginity.

 

Lines 21–30

The rape joke is he once almost murdered a dude by throwing him through a plate-glass window. The next day he told you and he was trembling, which you took as evidence of his sensitivity.

(…)

The rape joke is he called wrestling “a soap opera for men.” Men love drama too, he assured you.

Another joke Lockwood plays in this section. She says that her lover almost murdered a dude by throwing him through a plate-glass window. The following day he told her that he was afraid of what he had done. She took the fact as evidence of his sensitivity. In reality, she failed to understand his character. If a person can kill another without any remorse, he is too dangerous to be around. Being innocent is not the fact here. Rather, it is about how infatuated the speaker was with him. Later, she admits her stupidity.

Whatsoever, her lover often took her as a date to his best friend’s house. Pewee was his name. There they watched wrestling matches while they all got high. In the following line, the speaker humorously remarks about his friend’s name, “Peewee.” It means a tiny thing.

Her lover was a fan of “The Rock”, a WWE wrestler. Dwayne Johnson was famous by this ring name. He liked how his favorite star could raise his eyebrow. Besides, for him, wrestling is “a soap opera for men.” It is not that men don’t like drama shows. But seeing someone showing off his male-ego on the ring and faking animalistic instincts lying deep inside, make modern men elated. In this way, Lockwood further depicts not only the nature of her lover but also paints a picture of men sharing commonalities.

 

Lines 31–40

The rape joke is that his bookshelf was just a row of paperbacks about serial killers. You mistook this for an interest in history, and laboring under this misapprehension you once gave him a copy of Günter Grass’s My Century, which he never even tried to read.

(…)

The rape joke is that he was your father’s high-school student — your father taught World Religion. You helped him clean out his classroom at the end of the year, and he let you take home the most beat-up textbooks.

In line 31, the speaker refers that the person had several books on serial killers. She felt he was quite fascinated with history. So, laboring under this misapprehension, she gave a copy of Günter Grass’s contemporary novel, My Century. It is quite natural that he never tried to read the book.

As she details the event, the depiction gets funnier. In the following lines, readers get to know that the lover kept a diary. The speaker wonders if he wrote about the rape in it. When she was with him, she tried to read it once. She found there she mentioned another girl. He wrote, he didn’t have those urges when looked at her anymore. That lady, Miss Geography was a “Close call” to him. Readers can anticipate what had happened between him and that lady.

In the last section, she adds to this entire rape joke by saying that her father was a teacher of World Religion. Given this fact, she failed to recognize the real face of her lustful lover. Whatsoever, she helped her father clean the classroom at the end of the year and she took the most beat-up textbooks home. One of those notebooks might belong to the speaker’s lover. However, it is mentioned in this section.

 

Lines 41–50

The rape joke is that he knew you when you were 12 years old. He once helped your family move two states over, and you drove from Cincinnati to St. Louis with him, all by yourselves, and he was kind to you, and you talked the whole way.

(…)

The mattress felt a specific way, and your mouth felt a specific way open against it, as if you were speaking, but you know you were not. As if your mouth were open ten years into the future, reciting a poem called Rape Joke.

This section gives further insight into their relationship. She knew when she was 12 years old. He once helped her family to move from Cincinnati to St. Louis. She was with her at that time all by herself. His kind behavior and the way he talked attracted her towards him. She can remember he had chaw in his mouth. When she pointed that out, he laughed and spat the juice through his goatee into a cold-drink bottle.

In the following lines, the speaker is thoughtful regarding the rape. If she might have understood him earlier, she would not have suffered this mental as well as physical pain. She can visualize clearly how she was lying face down. On that day, when her virginity was destroyed, she was wearing a pretty green necklace that her sister made.

Later she cut the necklace. When he was with her on that day, she could feel the mattress specifically. Her mouth was gaped against as if she was trying to speak, but she knew she could not. As if her mouth was open for ten years into the future, reciting this poem.

 

Lines 51–60

The rape joke is that time is different, becomes more horrible and more habitable, and accommodates your need to go deeper into it.

Just like the body, which more than a concrete form is a capacity.

(…)

Like you went to look at your backyard and suddenly it wasn’t there, and you were looking down into the center of the earth, which played the same red event perpetually.

The rape joke is that after a while you weren’t crazy anymore, but close call, Miss Geography.

From this section onwards, Lockwood meditates upon that incident. It is more than ten years that have passed. But, she can still remember that day. The time, which was different on the day, became more horrible day by day. However, the emotion cooled and her memory became habitable. As readers know, time heals the wounds. It becomes more accommodating when one tries to go deeper into it.

Time is like the body. It is more than a concrete form. With time, its capacity to store emotions increases. Therefore, Lockwood says the body of time is elastic. It can take almost any pain and heals quickly.

She can remember there was blood. Paradoxically, it is normal for all humans. If a person gets hurt in the sensitive parts, he or she will bleed. It is the same with the poet too. Later, she went home as nothing happened and laughed about it the next day. The day after that when she told others about the incident, she laughed about the fact. It was a year before she told her parents as he was like a son to her family. When she told her father about that incident, he made cross uttered holy words that can purify her daughter’s sinful body. It was total wrongheadedness but somehow felt sweet.

For the next five years, she acted crazily. She had to shift across cities and states. The whole day long she went down into the sinkhole thinking about why it happened. She had no clue about it. It felt as if she went to her backyard and suddenly it was not there. The entire backyard has shifted to the center of the earth and there was a big hollow. It was the same case with her mind. The red event, in this way, played with her mind perpetually.

Later, she admits her wrongheadedness and says she has also become that “close call, Miss Geography,” written on the page of his diary.

 

Lines 61–70

The rape joke is that for the next five years all you did was write, and never about yourself, about anything else, about apples on the tree, about islands, dead poets and the worms that aerated them, and there was no warm body in what you wrote, it was elsewhere.

The rape joke is that this is finally artless.

(…)

It was some pussy flavor, like Passionate Mango or Destroyed Strawberry, which you drank down without question and trustingly in the heart of Cincinnati Ohio.

Can rape jokes be funny at all, is the question.

For the next five years, all she did was write. She never penned down anything about herself or anything related to her course of life. It was about anything else, about apples on the tree, islands, dead poets, and the worms that aerated them. There was no warmth in her writing. It was elsewhere, buried deep in her past. Now, she has become cold, and her warm emotions have evaporated.

In the following lines, she remarks that the rape was artless. But, the poem she is writing concerning that incident is not artless at all. If she is going to write such a poem on it, it is going to be a window to peep into her mind. The poem is going to stick with the reader’s mind and it would remind readers about the hardships Lockwood underwent.

She asked him why he did it. In reply, he said he didn’t know. What else could he say? Is it feels like a “rape joke” now? Whatsoever, he added, she was drunk. So, she remembered the day wrongly. It made her laugh out loud for “one long split-out second.” This phrase contains a metaphor and sexual innuendo as well.

Thereafter, she adds that the wine coolers weren’t Bartles & Jaymes. It would be funnier if it was so. She can remember the wine was some pussy flavored. Along with that, she uses some personal metaphors such as “Passionate Mango” and “Destroyed Strawberry” for referring to the taste. To be specific, it is not about the taste. It is about the mental state of the poet. Her treacherous lover drank her passion without question, and trustingly in the heart of the city, Cincinnati Ohio.

 

Lines 71–81

Can rape jokes be funny at all, is the question.

Can any part of the rape joke be funny.

(…)

Come on, that’s a little bit funny.

Admit it.

At this point of the poem, the subtle changes of the speaker’s mood are worth noting. The section begins with a terse question, how can rape jokes be funny at all? Can any part of the poem seem funny to the readers? To lessen the intensity of the mood, she adds humor again. She says, “The part where it (the rape joke) ends—haha, just kidding!”

For years, she thought of killing that memory, spilling all its blood out as her lover had done to her. She somehow wants to get rid of the rape joke.

However, the rape joke, in her heart, is searching for an outlet to be expressed. Through this poem, it is expressed. It contains how the rape joke took place in the poet’s life.  Whatsoever, after that event, her lover gave her the album of Pet Sounds. In this section, Lockwood uses “Pet Sounds” as a pun. The reference is made to the poet. Later, he said he was sorry and gave her a consolation gift.

After introspecting those events, she tries to console herself by saying, “Come on, that’s a little bit funny.” In one way or the other, she had to admit it and the readers too.

 

Historical Context

Patricia Lockwood’s ‘Rape Joke’ was published in the general interest website The Awl in July 2013. After its publication it quickly became viral. This poem speaks on the contemporary rape culture. According to The Guardian, the poem “casually awakened a generation’s interest in poetry.” Besides, the Poetry Foundation declared the poem as “world-famous.” The poem was selected for The Best American Poetry, 2014 edition. It won a Pushcart Prize and has been translated into more than 20 languages. In this piece, Lockwood shares a personal experience she had at age 19.

 

Similar Poetry

Here is a list of a few poems that are similar to the themes present in this poem.

  • Untitled by Ishmael Reed – This poem connects the “rape” of Alaska to the plundering of Jamaica by the British. Readers can compare the theme of this piece with Lockwood’s poem.
  • Deceptions by Philip Larkin – This poem talks about the aftermath of a young woman’s rape and the way the rapist and the victim were changed. In this one of the best poems of Larkin, readers can come across the piercing irony present in Larkin’s other poems.
  • Sex Without Love by Sharon Olds – Through this piece, Olds asks the reader to consider the implications of a relationship based on sex rather than emotional love.
  • Their Sex Life by A.R. Ammons – In this poem, Ammons explores the themes of modern sexuality and relationship.

You can also read about these heartfelt poems on losing a loved one and the best poems about women.

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A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.
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