back to REviews
Review by Rachel Kendall

Hyacinth Girl Press
15 pages
$5.00 plus p+p
Available from: Hyacinth Girl Press

Do I spread my legs and let it fly?
Do I ask my surgeon to butterfly?

When I was asked by Margaret Bashaar (editor of Hyacinth Girl Press, a 'micro press dedicated to feminist avant garde poetry of spirituality and science'), if I would like to review their first chapbook I jumped at the chance, because the chapbook on offer was a collection of poems by Juliet Cook. Cook is one of my favourite poets, a writer who never fails to surprise and delight with both her poetic style and her choice of subject matter. Still, I must admit I was wary. I wondered what anyone can say in thirteen poems about one subject (even if that subject is the south side of the female form!) without drifting into repetition or banality. Cook, of course, did neither, and rose to the challenge with aplomb.

The chapbook itself is of the handmade/one-of-a-kind variety which is perfect for Cook's one-of-a-kind poetry, with subversively swirly anatomical cover art by Bashaar. Regarding the contents, it's a short 15 pages but it doesn't need to be any longer. It's a neat little package, which is kind of what the poetry inside is about.

Cutting coupons on dotted lines. Sharpen the scissors
and paper into scalpel and flesh. Clip the Extra, Extra
outer lips into new currency, a different kind of
purchasing power.

According to Juliet these poems were partly inspired by looking up vaginal rejuvenational surgery online. And yes, these poems are about that, but the images conjured are monstrous, synthetic and sinister with allusions to wrecked dolls and broken psyches. There are many layers or, dare I say, folds, within these poems about the societal pressures to succumb, to re-create oneself (although Cook's genius lies in allowing the reader to choose how deep to delve, whether to stay on the pretty, sticky surface or to plunge into the morass). Never mind the 'make do and mend' recycle and re-use green culture we currently live in. There's still a whole load of pink out there just waiting to be snipped, reshaped and sewn into a smaller, neater package.

All these frills and frayed edges don't come cheap

On more than one occasion Cook likens the surgical procedure to a lobotomy. Is she suggesting that the brain and the genitalia are linked? Or that the women who choose to go under the knife are 'crazy'? Or perhaps she is implying that both procedures amount to the same thing? That whether it's an implement being forced into the eye socket or a scalpel slicing into the most sensitive parts of the flesh, it's ultimately an experience arrived at by situations beyond our control?

Trembling lobes, trembling lobotomy…

Cook talks of flightless wings and butterflies, in a bodily sense. But is she referring also to a shift of power, of control? Like corsets and bound feet, insects caught and pinned, beautiful but restrained, killed for that same beauty? The way such invasive non-necessary surgery of the cosmetic kind can kill?

After the bee-sting effect is achieved, my angry hornet nest
Must be sewn shut. It's all about pleasing
Pink squiggles and tiny flightless wings.

I don't think Cook is making a 'statement'. I think she is simply enjoying the subject, toying with it, remoulding it into the felicitous shapes of her choosing. This is one thing that has always stood out with this poet's writing, her enjoyment of words. Like the delicacies she writes about, I get the feeling Cook derives a great deal of pleasure from marrying words and phrases, upturning clichés and re-jigging rhythms.

Some of us suffer from information overload.
Some of us can't resist too much information mode.
Some of us get sucked into the porn-o;
some of us get sucked into the surgical photos
in which some vaginas are docudramas,
some are soap operas, some are black holes
sculpted into softcore attention whores.

I think many more readers will connect with Thirteen Designer Vaginas, than with a similar collection by any other poet. This neat little package isn't just a compilation of pussy poems. It offers the whole woman, body, mind and words.