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K PatrickPhotography by Alice Zoo

K Patrick’s New Poetry Collection Explores the Feeling of Having a Crush

As Three Births is published by Granta, K Patrick talks about obsessive desire, queerness, and why having a crush “traps you in the present”

Lead ImageK PatrickPhotography by Alice Zoo

K Patrick isn’t sure about the word erotic (“It’s a bit Victorian,” they tell me, “like there’s a censorship within it”) – they prefer horny, although even that, they explain, has its limitations. Their debut novel Mrs S, about a boarding school matron who falls in love with the headmaster’s wife, and an upcoming poetry collection Three Births, about the lustful ebb and flow of a relationship set against the seasons, are so definitive in their desires that they elide easy classification. There is certainly nothing censorious about them, yet even horny doesn’t quite encompass the feverish thrum that runs throughout. Desire – its drive, its burn, its chokehold – structures everything.

In Three Births, this desire burrows and blooms through forays into agriculture (“The history of inches makes me horny,” Patrick writes); in the lust for another body (“In a dream I wave goodbye to my breasts”); in queer entanglements with pop culture figures (“Keep telling me all about men,” begins their tribute to George Michael). Rooted in the body – bodies of nature, bodies of pleasure – Three Births straddles traditional genres of nature writing and erotic poetry, reimagining grammars of longing through an unbounded, queer lens.

Below, we sat down with K Patrick to talk about the possibilities of poetry, articulating desire and why, sometimes, it’s nice to just have a little crush.

Anahit Behrooz: Can you tell me about the title of the collection?

K Patrick: It was actually [my Granta editor] Rachel [Allen]’s idea – it’s the title of one of the poems from the collection. I’m not very good with titles, of poems or otherwise, but Rachel was just like, ‘I think this would be really strong’. I think I was trying to move towards something … this idea of the renewed self, this idea that, especially if you’re queer or trans, you’re always coming back to a different articulation of who you are. I think that’s what that poem is reaching towards: moments of becoming. Three is just an arbitrary number because that’s as many as I could be bothered to write about. But in theory they’re infinite, the things that you are made by.

AB: There’s a focus on masculinity throughout Three Births, and especially the relationship between masculinity and nature, which feels very different to the typical gendering of nature. Was this tradition something you were deliberately trying to subvert?

KP: No, but it sounds good when you say it so I’ll take it. [Laughs]. I don’t think I ever thought about nature as being necessarily feminine. But I understand where you’re coming from – obviously there’s a historic logic of nature as a woman. And I suppose I’m always interested in destabilising those assumptions, but it wouldn’t be conscious. It’s more to do with how I relate to nature. In the book as a whole, I’m interested in how nature is used as a bit of a pinup.

AB: How so?

KP: The idea of a very simplified logic around how nature functions is so infuriating: people are looking for a simplicity and an anthropomorphism that doesn’t really interest me. I always talk about how my work moves away from factual evidence which usually is historic and often hasn’t really been argued with, and I take the piss out of that a bit in my poetry.

AB: I once read something that the novel is an inherently anthropocentric and therefore anthropocenic form. Did poetry allow you to go beyond that when writing about nature?

KP: Do you think that’s still true?

AB: I think so. It’s quite hard to write a novel that completely resists the Anthropocene.

KP: What would that look like?

AB: I don’t know! But I wonder if that’s why poetry often lends itself to ecocritical thought, because the novel still feels stuck in, if not necessarily the idea of a hero’s journey, then the idea of the individual.

KP: Yeah. I think I’d need to really think about that, to see if I agree or disagree. I don’t think this collection is free from the human – there’s a huge ‘I’ in a lot of the poems, and that’s important because I’m interested in the ego. The easiest way for me to look at [the difference between novel and poetry] is my use of detail. In Mrs S, I don’t use any detail that would tether it to time or place. People don’t really have names, and [readers] always want to define the era, which I guess would fall in with what you’re saying – the traditional novel being tethered to a certain moment. Whereas in poetry, I’m always reaching for detail, I’m always reaching to tether it to some kind of present tense.

“[Having a crush] gives everything an edge, but it also traps you in the present. You’re in a state of hyper-awareness of the self, almost like a present tense bliss” – K Patrick

It’s such a simple way of saying it, but that’s how my thinking diverges on the two forms. The poem offers me a chance to really lean into language: language becomes more fun and you’re not let down by [it] in the same way. And I feel the novel sometimes is ruined by that, and I couldn’t tell you exactly why. But it’s probably, like you say, because of the way the novel exists in history versus how poetry exists in history.

AB: This collection is about desire: desire for other people, desire for sex, but also desire for a body and a way that one’s own body behaves and manifests. Can you tell me about the erotics of one’s own transness or queerness?

KP: I think I’m trying to elicit from myself a permission to feel a certain way about my body. With transness it’s so complicated … the thing that you want is really unclear, but also very clear. So you’re in this very strange tension. The thing you are not, the states that you’re working towards in the self, are so cloudy, and I think an erotic language really helps to clarify that. It gives me permission to feel a certain way about myself, especially when I’m feeling ways about myself that can be complicated.

AB: It’s something I’ve always found very beautiful in your writing, the idea that desiring other people also comes with a desiring of the self.

KP: Maybe it’s about fantasy, in that case? When you have a crush that’s the ideal state, and actually trying to enact the fancying is much more complicated and open to failure. They become idealised in a way that’s thrilling and that gives you – again – permission to also be an ideal version of yourself. You’re living inside a state that’s free from shame.

Fantasy as a place to write from really interests me; Mrs S is all about that. The whole plot came from my crushes when I was like 13 and in love with teachers. And it’s the same in Three Births – I can take possession of Daniel Craig and turn him into a trans man. I love writing from that place, because that place is doing whatever the fuck it wants, because it doesn’t have to answer to anything. And then, of course, there’s the aftermath where it doesn’t work out. [Laughs.]

AB: It reminds me of that one meme that’s like, I think I could live through the worst apocalyptic conditions if I had a crush on someone there.

KP: It’s true! Because it gives everything an edge, but it also traps you in the present. You’re in a state of hyper-awareness of the self, almost like a present-tense bliss. But it’s also so at risk of being ruined.

Three Births by K Patrick is published by Granta, and is out now.