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. 

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.

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-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.

The Hits and the B-Sides and Everything in Between: An Interview with E. Kristin Anderson

EmilyHammock

-interview by Olivia Olson

E. Kristin Anderson’s newest chapbook is full of epistolary poems written to Prince. How could we not want to know more?

Pray, Pray, Pray: Poems I Wrote to Prince In The Middle Of  The Night, published by Porkbelly Press earlier this month, features “Hiding is the only thing that matters this summer,” a concise and insightful poem published in Hermeneutic Chaos and subsequently nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Anderson, in addition to being a prolific and widely-published poet, is also an avid blogger, an editor at both NonBinary Review and The Found Poetry Review, and the co-founder of the Dear Teen Me anthology.

Here at The Booth, we asked Emily about all the things PRINCE, poetry and the propensity of music artists to inspire the best writing in us.

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What is it about Prince?
You know, I wish I knew. Or maybe it’s kind of nice not knowing. I’ve always liked him, but I didn’t become full-on crazy obsessed until the summer of 2014. It hit like a fever. And somehow the fever still hasn’t broken. I think though that there’s something beautiful about a man who doesn’t give a fuck. He makes art, puts it out there or doesn’t. He’s made so many different types of music, challenged race and sexuality barriers from very early on. The man is 5’2”, wears heels and lace, and not only has made himself very powerful but continues to pass that power on to young artists—particularly female artists, which is a big deal in the music industry, which is notorious for screwing over women.

And, I don’t know, listen to “Purple Rain.” The single. Then realize that it was recorded live, in front of an audience, with a brand new guitarist. A few bells and whistles (mostly strings, from what I understand) were added and they ended up cutting a verse in the studio, but when you listen to that, the rawness of the voice and the guitar solos, the band’s cohesion, and you know that this was recorded live, it will make your hair stand on end. That’s a certain kind of creative power that I want to communicate with and adore and be but never be but maybe know, just a little.

What are the challenges/benefits inherent in writing poems addressed to a famous person?

Well, I have had at least one person mention that Prince is particularly litigious (as if I don’t know—I know more things about Prince than most people know about their own mothers) and that could be a problem—if I were quoting lyrics or misrepresenting him, you know, being slandery. Which I haven’t. I also wanted to be very careful both for political and moral reasons not to objectify him. I mean, obviously I have a huuuuuge crush on Prince, but that’s not what my work is about.  Really, my poems aren’t so much about Prince as they are little weird notes to Prince. Or phone calls. Or whatever. Of course, there are lots of allusions to the music and the man. Easter eggs. Some are easy to spot, like doves or purple or lace. Others, maybe tougher. A ladder (a less-than-celebrated track from Around the World in a Day). A black butterfly (you’ve gotta know 3rdEyeGirl to pick up that one). There’s also the discussion of prayer, and God was something I really wanted to explore, and maybe not everyone knows that Prince is a deeply religious man (even before his affiliation with the Jehovah’s Witnesses) and somehow he manages to explore Christian themes in songs like “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” which I won’t quote because I know my grandmother is going to read this…but you can look it up. Or listen to it. It’s a great song.

So I guess I didn’t find too many issues in writing about a famous person other than making sure that my allusions worked whether you knew the hits or the B-sides. Or the hits and the B-sides and everything in between. Other writers, of course, might have a completely different experience and that would actually be fun to talk about, like, at a roundtable or something.

As someone who has a number of chapbooks under her belt, how do you go about compiling your poems into a collection?

Funny, I was talking about this with some other writers earlier today. Sometimes I don’t realize I’m building a collection. PRAY, PRAY, PRAY is one of those cases. I just sort of starting writing these poems to Prince while listening to his music at night to calm my nerves and ease a really tough depression. And it built on itself, like a sparkly, violet snowball. But most of my chapbooks have been more intentional—I write twice as many poems as I need and cut between a third and a half of the draft in revision. I think this is especially useful for me in my found poetry manuscripts where the approach is sometimes so experimental that I’m  definitely not always going to get a result I like. But still writing the shitty drafts makes me feel like I got something accomplished, and so I put them in the initial manuscript anyway, even though they’re going to get dumped. Or sometimes not. Sometimes a poem looks a lot better in the light of day than you imagined it might.

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

I think the most surprising thing about PRAY, PRAY, PRAY is that I didn’t run out of material. I did run out of dove references, but that’s to be expected. I think the poem that surprised me the most is the last in the chap, “Every salted breath.” Because the poem knew it was the end of the book even though I didn’t. And I thought it was crap when I was writing it. I felt like it was more like journal writing, something to keep my mind busy, rather than creating a piece of art. But when I typed it up, it took shape, and it was so definitive feeling. It had a definite sense of closure. And I knew I was done with writing poems for the chap. I did hack and slash the manuscript—lines, stanzas, entire poems—but this is one poem that never moved an inch from its place at the back of the book. Note the ladder. I was listening to Around the World in a Day a lot that week, I’m guessing.

Not that I actually stopped writing Prince poems. I took it up again a few months later, after selling PRAY, PRAY, PRAY. So…there’s more. I have a problem

It seems you have a Lana Del Rey-inspired chapbook coming early next year. She’s a personal favorite of mine—what did you learn about her when going over her lyrics closely?

Mostly that she’s fucked up like everyone else. She has daddy issues. She’s sexy and sexual but desires strength and isn’t willing to compromise her femininity for it. I guess I relate. The LDR chapbook—forthcoming with Grey Book Press—is actually three long poems, each created by first scrambling the lyrics of one of her albums (I used an online text randomizer) and then applying erasure technique to the scrambled pages. It was really bizarre what I found there. I had no control over where the words were, where they repeated or how they were strung together. But I did have control of what words I chose. And I chose a lot of swear words. Whoops.

Have you ever written anything that made someone angry?

I’m thinking the LDR chapbook is going to piss off a large portion of my family, with the swearing and the sexy talk (we all know about Lana Del Rey and Pepsi Cola). Which isn’t to say things I’ve written haven’t already. I write openly about my struggle with mental health (I have bipolar disorder and panic disorder) because I think when we talk about these issues it reduces stigma. Some people in my family would rather I keep it under wraps. But I’m not ashamed of it. It’s part of who I am. And if one person sees my words and feels better today or tomorrow or whenever, then I’m okay with any scrutiny I get, from anyone.

I do have a (currently strangely secret) life as a young adult author, and I do occasionally worry that my poetry—which has become increasingly adult—could get me disinvited from school visits or festivals, or that it could possibly ward off potential agents (currently seeking an agent, hi there) or editors. But ultimately I feel like words have power, and if my words have that kind of power, well, maybe I’m doing something right. Then again, the villain always thinks she’s the hero of her own story, so I could be completely off base. In any case, I promise not to swear in your sixth grade classroom. (Even though I totally pre-launched PRAY, PRAY, PRAY in a sixth grade classroom last week, not even kidding. Kids are awesome.)

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

God yes. One of my favorite novels that I read this year is The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, which the publisher aptly describes as “orange is the new black swan.” Beautiful writing and an absolutely compelling mystery. I also love anything that Allie Marini and Sonja Johanson put to print. And I have to say my publisher Porkbelly Press has amazing taste. The Insomniac Circus by Amorak Huey floored me. I highly recommend My Heart in Aspic by Sonya Vatomsky and the latest from Ariana D. Den Bleyker, The Peace of the Wild ThingsKing Me by Roger Reeves. So good. For journals, I will never get over Barrelhouse. Please can I be in you, Barrelhouse? I think they’re innovative and fun and strong. Also, one of my new heroes is Patricia Smith. I think I took all of her books out of the library this year. And then hoarded them until, you know, like, fees. I could go on for a while. So I’ll just stop right here.

P.S : Lisa Cheby is awesome–she has Buffy poems.

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In addition to all your poetic endeavors, you co-founded the Dear Teen Me website, where authors write letters to their teenage selves. Which author would you have wanted to write to you when you were a teen? 

Dear Teen Me is a passion project I started in 2010 or something and then it became a book and now I still maintain the website with some helpers. And of course, all the letters from authors. It’s hard to say who I would have liked to hear from most as a teen. In high school I didn’t read much, since I was chronically behind on school reading and felt weird reading for pleasure. In middle school I so very much adored Piers Anthony, so I think it would have been lovely to hear from him. But, let’s be real, if Taylor Hanson or Dave Grohl had written to me as a teen, that would have been like, the end of the world party like it’s 1999 style. (And it probably would have been 1999. For the record I did not party—my mom wanted the whole family home that night and man was I pissed.)