Tales of unordinary womanhood: suctions, injections, mutations.

An introduction to Juliet Cook's poetry.

Letizia Merello

Mine was another abstract series
some might label botched results.
I might call small mutants. A different kind
of before & after. Squirmy tentacles somewhere
in the midst of dry ingredients.
A new definition of zest.

(from Adornment[1])

Tentacles into the reassuring warmth of a kitchen. What sounds like an exotic recipe is something more: the writing of Juliet Cook, poet and publisher from Ohio. Juliet's poetry is run across by a desecrating vein, it's a per-verse dough in which the author delves into, shaping anti-lyrical and powerful forms, contaminated by a diversity of languages: the obsessive rhythm of assembly lines, the sophistication of wanton pastry decorations, the cruel precision of surgical instruments, splatter gore and porn from the '70s ... The result? A clear, surreal yet hyper-realistic world and a reconfiguration of the female sex: a revolution against the broadly accepted standards of femininity none of us is (unfortunately) immune to, taking place on the body's scene.
In addition to continuously engaging in a visceral poetic research, Juliet runs her own publishing house, Blood Pudding Press, a tiny vibrant piece of the U.S. underground publishing world, through which she publishes her own poetry collections, as well as giving voice to other authors with multi-writer projects and chapbooks. Particular attention is given not only to contents (the short manifesto published on the press' website, http://bloodyooze.blogspot.com, reads: "Blood Pudding Press hearts (...) Icing bags, scars, deep sea creatures, love, lust, longing, burlesque, grotesque, flirty and at least a little bit improper…") but also to the package: each book is handmade by Juliet, who also personally takes care of the artwork or selects works by other artists. Another of her initiatives is the online magazine Thirteen Myna Birds (http://13myna.blogspot.com/), a constantly evolving "flight formation", consisting of 13 poems by different authors, which alternate from time to time in submission order.
In shaping her words with her carving knife, Juliet reveals the woman's body in its essential nature: a product not intended for mass consumption, despite the frosting and colored sprinkles (after all even vanity is a female prerogative).
Along her lines we discover the unknown - yet deeply set inside us - horror of our innards, dripping with juices and secretions, resonating on teeth and bone, but also a new flesh with new capabilities, mutant appendixes and indecent indecent orifices. The recesses of the body, despite being unattractive in terms of conventional aesthetics, can not but arouse an irresistible magnetism, due to their own truth, soaked in the extremes of horrid and grotesque: the mixture dripping from Cook's cauldron not only works, but is beautifully intoxicating and thought-provoking . The body's factory eventually becomes the forge of self-expression: flesh becomes the mouthpiece of its own shameless hunger and inevitable necessities, and the instrument exposing the myriad forms of direct and indirect violence and repression to which it is subject. Beware, though: we're not talking feminism. Juliet shuns dogmatism, focusing on the consistency of inconsistency: "I'm interested in the conflict inherent in my desire to be perceived as consumable, even though I don’t really want to be consumed."[2] A sensitive force, aware of its fragility. A recent series of Juliet's poems, the Designer Vaginas, inspired by the recent fashion of vaginoplasty, or vaginal rejuvenation, focuses on one of the bizarre manifestations of the female desire for acceptance. Here is an example, Designer Vagina 5:

Her pink scalloped lips part, a meatier variety
of snapdragon. A strange but effective treatment
is meat tenderizer. Then she’s so deliciously numb,
it’s like tying phantom limbs to four horses & performing
surgery, as an audience applauds those delicately trembling lobes.[3]

Every image, even the crudest, and every object, even the sharpest, are essential to the creative process, which becomes a sort of digestion process: "Stuff like bukkake and bestiality don’t seem so troublesome to me anymore now that I’ve had my way with them by inserting them into MY contexts."[4] Juliet's Mondo Crampo (Dana Teen Lomax for Dusie Kollektiv 3, 2008) poems are an excellent example of this: an assembly of frames in which the female "womb" plays a lot of roles: in the middle of a feast, worn as an accessory, even transformed into a donut hole, in a whirl of improbable porn-food metaphors.
Contrast and non-conformity seem to be critical aspects of Juliet Cook's poetry, which faces the dichotomy of love and death in Soft Foam (Blood Pudding Press for Dusie Kollektiv 4, 2010). As she explains in her afterword, Soft Foam may be "(…) the calmed down version of a violent frothing, but it could also be something that is purposely sprayed into rifts and crevices to contain the gaping. To put it another way, it could be ebbing & flowing expression versus repression(…)."[5] Hot Water just talks about a "pearl-making ache" to which the tongue (the words, the longing) is tethered: a painful tension for self-expression, on the verge of complete abandon.

My tongue is tethered to this pearl-making ache.
This longing to escape the bivalve open & shut.
I can’t turn off the steam. Like abalone
in hot water when he flashes his eyes at me.
Flares his nostrils (please). Already attached, but

this multicolor seizes up my partial formation.
Shiny and gritty. The messy truth is
I want them both.
(Is this such an anomaly?
So dastardly?) To be so tempted

I’ve pretended the timing was off when I knew
my impulses were non-linear. Not about the nice fit.
Whole enough to roll between his fingers’
small circles, but not perfect spheres that might be strung
around a couth neck, an orderly solar system model.

My adornment is misshaped. Desire
to spill down his naked chest.
I don’t want to be fastened.
I want to stay open. I want to be crushed
by the entire wild weight of his body.

Emotional and sexual impulses are body languages, just like illness. A few months ago Juliet suffered from a stroke that prevented her from reading and writing for a while. Her Post-Stroke Poems are just another form of experimentation, though unwanted, of a female body which can't help but express itself.

Marmalade Glaze

Like a terrible pterodactyl necklace it bit,
sunk in and left me
bloody. Snorted thousands
of remembered words out of my system.
Appealing turned into appalling.[6]

For a complete list of publications and for more details about Juliet's poetry, please feel free to visit her website at http://julietcook.weebly.com/.
Letizia Merello has been translating Juliet Cook's poetry into Italian since 2008. Angel Face Trailer (Blood Pudding Press, 2010) is the first of Juliet's chapbooks featuring her translations, available both in print, on Juliet's Etsy shop (http://www.etsy.com/shop/BloodPuddingPress) and online at http://www.scribd.com/doc/33347869/Angel-Face-Trailer.

[1] Juliet Cook: Horrific Confection, BlazeVOX Books, 2008.
[2] Juliet Cook: Designer Vagina Dentata, Delirious Hem (http://delirioushem.blogspot.com/2010/02/juliet-cook.html), February 2, 2010.
[3] Published on print literary magazine "Tits".
[4] Ibid.
[5] Juliet Cook: Soft Foam, Blood Pudding Press for Dusie Kollektiv 4, 2010.
[6] Published on online literary magazine "Horse Less Press".


"This article was first published in a slightly different Italian version on Arterotica http://www.arterotica.eu/3762-juliet-cook-poesia.htm


Speaking of Soft Foam, check out this wonderful little review of that chapbook, by Margaret Bashaar - on Karen the Small Press Librarian's site:

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