Writing That Disturbs The Bodies Of The Mind: An Interview with Juliet Cook

Juliet Cook’s newest collection, Malformed Confetti, is being published by Crisis Chronicles Press—in honor of that, we’ve asked her three questions about the collection and her work. In addition to her own writing, Cook is the editor/publisher of Blood Pudding Press (print) and Thirteen Myna Birds (online) and creates other art too, such as semi-abstract painting/collage art creatures. You can find out more at JulietCook.weebly.com.

 

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-Interview by Olivia Olson

 

1.You mention the word “grotesque” a few times when describing your work. What is it about the grotesque that makes you want to write about it?

I’m not purposely aiming for grotesque for the sake of grotesque, but I seem to be attuned to a visceral interpretation of what’s inside the mind and how bodies are perceived and devoured, often disrespectfully like pieces of meat. Some people separate the mind from the body; I prefer to combine the two, even if the fusion mix generates some discomfort. I think some people are too easily bothered and disturbed by some of the more visceral parts of life and I find it more interesting to explore what disturbs us and why, as opposed to just backing away or ignoring or acting as if certain disturbances do not exist when they do.

2.You’ve recently released a couple of collections of collaborative work. How did that work? Did you have anything you disagreed about?  

I don’t think I’d spend much of my time collaborating with a writer that I had much disagreement with. My recent collaborations have flowed fairly smoothly, especially my work with my longest lasting collaborator, j/j hastain.  The two of us have now been collaborating for several years, had our first collaborative poetry chapbook, Dive Back Down, accepted by Dancing Girl Press last year and coming soon and very recently assembled our first full-length manuscript, tentatively titled A Red Witch, Every Which Way and sent it to a new press to consider.

We haven’t had any significant disagreements and are usually really open to each other’s ideas/suggestions. For me personally, the trickiest part of the collaborative process involves revision. When it comes to my individual poems, when I suddenly feel compelled to revise a few lines, rearrange a few lines, or cut a few lines out of a poem, I just go ahead and do it and don’t feel the need to explain WHY since it’s often an emotional reaction sort of reason. But with a collaborative poem, I can’t just suddenly delete and change and rearrange lines, unbeknown to my collaborator, so I have to email the collaborator about it and try to explain why, rather than just going with my gut flow.

3.How would you describe your new collection, Malformed Confetti? How are the poems threaded together?

My Malformed Confetti is my second full-length poetry book and includes poems that range from 2008 to 2015. I first started working on assembling the manuscript in late 2010, so it’s not something I’ve only been focused on for a year or two. During my most recent revision of the manuscript, I dealt with a challenging emotional streak derived from the memories the collection elicited for me. I feel strongly about the poems and I know I’ve spent a lot of emotional energy and time with the collection’s content. I’ve had quite a few chapbooks published within those seven years, but chapbooks are a lot shorter and more small scale and more quickly formatted than a full-length I’ve been working on for over five years.

My first full-length, Horrific Confection, was published in late 2008 and after that, I was tentatively planning on focusing on chapbooks for a while before thinking about compiling another full-length. Shortly after 2010 began, I ended up having an unexpected carotid artery dissection, which resulted in an aneurism, which resulted in a stroke, which resulted in some brain damage and aphasia, and then exactly one year after my stroke, I ended up getting divorced from my marriage.

It was in the midst of my divorce, while I was temporarily living with my parents and undergoing depression, that I first started to assemble Malformed Confetti. It’s undergone a lot of revisions (older poems removed, newer poems added, and order rearrangement) throughout that time.  I started submitting it to various presses, on & off, in early 2011 – and it was a semi-finalist in a contest in 2012 and then a finalist in another contest in 2013 – but towards the end of 2014, when it still had not found its home yet, I was considering giving up on it, not because I didn’t think it was good, but because it was starting to feel old, especially in terms of the memories it evoked. I try to be a fairly present-focused individual and I was starting to feel as if the manuscripts content was getting too close for my own comfort to past-focused, including a part of my past that was certainly meaningful but was overly emotionally challenging for me to reconnect with again and again, as I continued to read/re-read/work on revising the manuscript. The time frame during which these poems were written (my mid-thirties through early forties) was a part of my life that involved a lot of mental/emotional glitches and conflict and tumult and uncertainty and changes.

Also, I didn’t want the content of the manuscript to feel unconnected, since it was including seven years worth of poems, some written before and some written after my brain underwent a malformation. The content of the manuscript felt oddly in between, but I wanted the in-betweens to be interconnected. Then again, I’ve always been an in between contradictory mess in one way or another, so I was eventually able to format the twisted up innards of this collection into successful interconnectivity.

I arranged the content into five different sections that coalesce well together, allowing the different subject matters to be uniquely separated yet thematically linked.

The Malformed Confetti begins with a twisted teaser piece called “Deadly Doll Head Dissection”  then divvies itself into these five different sectionals –

  1. Beginnings – Hideously Edible Girlie Dolls
  2. Rank Middles – (Pseudo)Surgically Enhanced Female Creatures
  3. Gradually Ebbing Down – (Para)Normal Uncertain Wives
  4. Suddenly Ebbing Further Down – (Ab)Normal Waves on the Brink
  5. Off & On Flow – Almost Drowning, But Then Resurging

Two of my poems that were published by Hermeneutic Chaos this past summer appear inside my Malformed Confetti. “dream about being” is at the beginning of section 4 and “Un-sided Self Portrait” is the very final poem in the collection.

The publication date for Malformed Confetti has not yet been officially announced, but it was accepted for publication near the beginning of 2015 and will likely be published near the beginning of 2016.  I’m highly delighted that it is going to be published by Crisis Chronicles Press, a unique independent press based in Cleveland Ohio, which is less than an hour away from where I’ve been living the last five years. Crisis Chronicles Press editor John Burroughs is a very vibrant and active member of the Cleveland poetry scene as both a poet and a publisher  and I’m truly excited that my book has found its home with his press.

I’m also utterly delighted that poet, editor/publisher of Arsenic Lobster and Misty Publications and fabulous friend Susan Yount has created a unique and creepy little video trailer for my forthcoming book, which can be viewed/listened to here.

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Juliet Cook is a grotesque glitter witch medusa hybrid brimming with black, grey, silver, purple, and dark red explosions. Her poetry has appeared in a peculiar multitude of literary publications, recently including Arsenic Lobster, Diode, FLAPPERHOUSE, Hermeneutic Chaos,  ILK, and Menacing Hedge. She is the author of more than thirteen poetry chapbooks, most recently including POISONOUS BEAUTYSKULL LOLLIPOP (Grey Book Press, 2013), RED DEMOLITION (Shirt Pocket Press, 2014), a collaboration with Robert Cole called MUTANT NEURON CODEX SWARM (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2015), and another new collaboration with j/j hastain called Dive Back Down (forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press). Juliet’s first full-length poetry book, Horrific Confection, was published by BlazeVOX in 2008 and her second full-length poetry book Malformed Confetti is forthcoming from Crisis Chronicles Press. 

Harnessing Thoughts About Events That Never Happened: An Interview with Daniel M. Shapiro

You’d be hard-pressed to find a poet more fun and affable than Daniel M Shapiro. He is the author of How the Potato Chip Was Invented, What If You Were Happy for Just One Second: Instructional Diagrams (with Jessy Randall), and The 44th-Worst Album Ever, among many other things, and his Pushcart Prize-nominated “And the World and the World,” debuted in the July 2015 issue of Hermeneutic Chaos.

Here we ask him about prose poems, 80s pop songs, and eschewing “what’s real” in favor of the allegory and the daydream—revel in his brilliant answers, then find even more information on his blog.

Dan 6.26.15 [3705]

– Interview by Olivia Olson

1.How is writing prose poems different than writing poems with line breaks, in your experience? Do you prefer one style to the other?

I tend to write prose poems when I want to tell a story, or at least imply a narrative, by using poetic language or devices. If you’re looking at a paragraph, you could be looking at anything: nonfiction, op-ed piece, whatever. It can lull the reader into expecting straight talk, and I like that because it allows the writer to be a bit sneaky.

I’ve always written mostly narrative poems, but I used to feel like I had to incorporate line breaks to establish the right rhythm. Then it started to feel like my pursuit of rhythm was tampering with my pursuit of theme, and I didn’t want to do that. I have preferred the prose poem lately because it removes the restrictions breaks seem to impose, and I still strive to keep the writing as tight as I can.

2.Many of your poems are titled after lyrics from 80s pop songs. What’s up with that?

For about six months, I’ve been working on a series of poems based on 1980s pop songs and their videos. I have about 75 of them so far. I believe that decade is often misunderstood; I had misunderstood it, and I lived through it. So the poems are helping me to understand aspects of my childhood. A lot of the music of the time sounds artificial, and I used to hate it, especially synth pop. But I appreciate it more because I realize some of it was really performance art (Pet Shop Boys especially), and a number of the videos were revealing the artists’ fear of nuclear war. Artists had a strong awareness of AIDS, famine, and other problems before a lot of politicians did much about those problems. I wonder if people were so afraid of being eviscerated that they felt compelled to hide behind gaudy makeup, leg warmers, shoulder pads, etc. Anyway, the poems are commenting on what the 1980s were like but also about how we haven’t gotten past certain problems that were glossed over during that era. A lot of the poems are paranoid, and people are as angry and conspiracy-obsessed now as they’ve ever been.

3.There are often elements of magical realism, or just plain magic, in your poetry. What is it about the fantastic that is important to you?

I have a lot of respect for poets who are able to take their real lives and the associated emotions and translate them into art. If I know a bit about a poet and can see clear connections between the poet’s life and art, I become more interested in the life and art. I don’t think I’m like that, though. I don’t believe I can turn my life experience into art; it’s more about harnessing thoughts about events that never happened. It’s about daydreaming. I often use allegory because I want to establish parallels between what’s made up and what’s real. Also, I can incorporate my own feelings about love or other somewhat typical themes by turning them into bit parts in poems. Whenever I am looking for places to send poems, if the guidelines say, “We want what’s real,” I skip them.

4.Your book, Interruptions, is a collaborative work with poet Jessy Randall. What are the challenges inherent in writing poems with someone else? Did you ever disagree? How did you choose which poems made the cut and which didn’t?

The main challenge is to sort out what ideas should stay yours and what you should work on with a partner. Jessy and I have been friends for more than 30 years (!), so when one of us would pitch an idea, the other could say, “This sounds like something you should do on your own,” and it wouldn’t hurt our friendship or relationship as collaborators. Also, one of us could say, “Let’s lop off the last stanza,” and typically the other person would say, “OK.”

I remember arguing with Jessy about a diagram poem we had done that she didn’t want to include in a chapbook manuscript. She had thought the poem was too jokey, and she might’ve been right. We had placed poetic labels on diagrams from a weird manual she had found, and one of the diagrams showed a silhouette of a girl. For whatever reason, I wrote, “She never listens” and was sure it was the funniest thing I had written in my life, though maybe it wasn’t funny at all. Anyway, we ended up including that in the manuscript, and it’s in the chapbook published by BOAAT. For Interruptions, we didn’t have much trouble choosing what to include because we didn’t have hundreds of poems then. Also, I feel like we wanted to show a variety of ideas, techniques, etc., so it made sense to leave a range of poems in.

5.In On Writing, Stephen King says that his “ideal reader,” or the person who he imagines while working on a piece, is his wife, Tabitha. Is there a particular person in your life that you have in mind while you write?

I don’t have a specific person in mind. Sometimes I think of people I have known a bit who have given me useful feedback. I say people I’ve known a bit because they can’t be close friends or family members, who are more likely to be nice. Also, I think of how I would feel about the piece if I hadn’t written it. This seems like it would be difficult, but I often forget I’ve written things and can look at them later as if they were someone else’s.

6.Why poetry? Why not another kind of writing?

Poetry forces you to use only what you need and to avoid exposition. It lets you leave openings for readers, and they can apply their own experiences or feelings to the poems. I used to write a lot of music reviews and film reviews when I worked for newspapers a long time ago, but ultimately, I didn’t feel like I could say anything other critics couldn’t say just as well. I have tried to write novels and short stories, but I don’t do a good job with them because I feel like I need to explain too much. Poetry gives you room to sneak in secrets, and the poems can work on more than one level, so readers might respond to them even if they don’t uncover the secrets.

7.What is your loftiest poetic ambition?

I want pop culture to be recognized as actual culture and not as lesser art or non-art, and I want to be recognized in some way–even via shout-out from a poet I admire–as a good poet who exposes something insightful about that culture. I like poetry as social commentary rather than personal commentary. Also, I would like to be perceived as a supporter of poets, someone who encourages people who might doubt their strengths. There has been a lot of negative behavior in the poetry world lately—open misogyny online, a poet using a Chinese pseudonym, a prominent organization mishandling criticism about diversity in its panel selections, etc.—and I want people to focus on meaningful work instead of backward politics.

8.Do you have any books/writers/journals/etc you would like to recommend? 

I like books that create worlds or introduce unusual premises and don’t get cute with them, books that say, “This is how things are; take it or leave it.” T.A. Noonan’s The Bone Folders is that way. It’s a world of mathematical formulas and witches’ brews. Ruth Foley’s chapbook Creature Feature is that way, too. She’s writing epistolary poems, letters to classic movie monsters or the actors who played them, and I’ll be damned if they aren’t as heartfelt or meaningful as what’s supposed to be heartfelt or meaningful. She’s taking a concept and not bailing on it because she’s sure it works. It kind of makes me mad that I know about Noonan and Foley only because I met them at readings or conferences. They’re two of many, many poets everyone should know about. Todd Kaneko is another poet like that. His book Dead Wrestler Elegies combines pop culture, mythology, and personal depth. No one else has his exact interests or voice, and he’s smart enough to celebrate that. It troubles me that there are a template voice and template vocabulary in poetry, that too many people write the way they think people should write. Poetry should be required to pass through a poet’s unique voice and/or unique perspective before it’s released into the world. If there isn’t a unique voice or perspective, the writer needs to find one.

I’ve been lucky to have a number of poems published in Menacing Hedge, which is one of my favorite journals because its editors celebrate the risks writers take when they create mythologies or the illusion of mythologies. I might convince you that I made up something terrifying, but it might be real (or vice versa). I also love a couple of journals that have been around for a while, Gargoyle and Chiron Review, because their editors are open to a variety of voices, themes, forms, etc. Their notion of “a good fit” welcomes a wide range of perspectives.

Also, I’ve been reading a lot of books by poets with Pittsburgh ties because I’ve lived here for almost 10 years, and I feel like the community has been strengthening. We’re lucky to have people such as Toi Derricotte and Terrance Hayes here, and a number of great, great poets (Ross Gay, among others) are being published through University of Pittsburgh Press. The best feeling for me, though, is to go to a reading here and find yet another wonderful local poet. This has been happening a lot lately.

Writing in an Embodied Fashion: An Interview with Jill Khoury

We at The Booth couldn’t be more excited that Jill Khoury’s first full-length book, Suites for the Modern Dancer, will be published by Sundress Publications in 2016. Khoury, poet and editor of Rogue Agent, made her Pushcart Prize nominated appearance in Hermeneutic Chaos with “::Grief:Hunger”, a staccato, gnomic piece with a sharp eye on the poetically visual. More information about her and her impressive body of work can be found at jillkhoury.com.

Gritty

-Interview by Olivia Olson

1.One of the aspects of your poetry that I admire most is the way you set beautiful images within a sorrowful tone. What is it about that aesthetic that is important to you?  

I very much enjoy unexpected juxtapositions and linguistic risks, while still keeping an emotional core in the work. Although I’ve been writing poetry seriously for over half my life, it’s only in the last three years I feel I’ve really come into my own in regard to finding my authentic voice. A draft of a poem starts to feel “real” to me when it accomplishes this contrast you mention.

2.Your work is often quite visual. What do you think poetry gains by being influenced by visual art?

[I think it’s worth it to note the simultaneous existence of the fact that I’m legally blind. I would say the ironic existence, but to me it’s not ironic.] It’s important to have a conversation across media. Poetry gains something by being influenced by every kind of art—music, film, dance, as well as visual art. I am a mixed media artist on a nonprofessional level. The perspective is nonverbal. It’s color and line, it’s tactile, it’s movement. When I need to be nonverbal and still create, this mode is there for me. To communicate a feeling that hits you before words come to mind to describe it—that’s what visual art does, and music too. I think everything is to be gained when you put different art forms in conversation. The inspiration can feel infinite.

3.What about disability poetics interests you particularly? What have you learned in writing about disability and the body?

Well, since I am a poet with multiple disabilities, disability poetics in some way feels like the history and ars poetica of my people. Besides that, I am interested in the calling-into-question of the normal and the normalized. The acknowledgment of our universality as vulnerable and changing bodies, and how this is an asset to the work rather than a hindrance. Disability poetics embraces risk and change. I’ve learned that writing in an embodied fashion often brings out strong emotion in people. It can make people uncomfortable. It can cause people to dismiss your work. It can elicit tears of joy in the audience. The poetry of the body inspires connection.

4.Your first full-length collection is coming out next year. What was the process of compiling that collection like?

Endless. I wanted to tell a story of myself and of women like me that I have met, but I had no idea how to do it when I began the process. Women who wind up often in a liminal state, a dangerous state, an extreme state, a marginal state, and become sensationalized often by the artistic gaze. I wanted to write us authentically. I did the best I could, and I hope it will be well-received.

5.Did you have a poem that surprised you particularly in the collection? Or, did you have one that was especially challenging for you? 

So an editor that I hired to consult on the manuscript asked me to write, essentially, the origin story of my blindness. She said that such a poem was necessary for the book, and I agreed. But I’m not a narrative poet, nor do I particularly like to make meaning straightforwardly. I needed the poem to be somewhat extradimensional to really represent the experience as I had internalized it. I was kind of dumbfounded to start, and then the pressure of having this assignment sort of evoked a poem from me. About a month ago it was published in Copper Nickel alongside some poems by Martha Collins, and I literally cried.

6.Did you start writing differently when you began teaching? Did you start seeing your own poems differently when you began editing Rogue Agent?

It depends which kind of teaching. When I taught comp as an adjunct, I wrote nothing. Student papers strained my physical and mental resources to the limit. I have no idea how I published a chapbook during those years. When I work with community writing groups doing more overtly creative kinds of work where the focus is on the generative process as well as product—that tends to fuel my drive to write. I will often do prompts and assignments along with students. Reading every submission that comes in to Rogue Agent has definitely changed how I perceive my own poems as I am in the process of submitting them.

7.How do you make sure that your poems never get stale or stuck in a rut? 

I have so many projects going on at once that I haven’t had time to think about the possibility of my writing becoming stagnant. I hope this continues.

8.Do you have any books/journals/poets that you’d like to recommend?

Oh my gosh, the list could be so long! How about ten books? These are not all super-recent titles, but I’ve read them all fairly recently and they’ve taught me something or inspired my own creative process in some way. I’m interested in storytelling and world-making that doesn’t employ the traditional narrative poem structure, and most of these books do that.

Girl Show by Kristy Bowen.

Blood Medals by Claudia Cortese.

Wunderkammer by Cynthia Cruz.

Last Psalm at Sea Level by Meg Day.

Exodus in X-Minor by Fox Frazier-Foley.

The Narrow Road to the Interior by Kimiko Hahn

Wolf Centos by Simone Muench.

The Dead Girls Speak in Unison by Danielle Pafunda.

Striven, the Bright Treatise by Jeff Pethybridge.

Citizen by Claudia Rankine.