An interview with Juliet Cook by Rachel Kendall
'I am not interested in snack pack pudding palatability; I wish to offer a different kind of edibility.'

Based in Ohio, USA, Juliet Cook has been composing her peculiar brand of dark poetry for the last 15 years. Her work has found its way into many online and print publications, including Half Drunk Muse, Potion, Wicked Alice, Poems Niederngasse and, of course, every issue of Sein und Werden since its conception. With the imminent arrival of her new chapbook 'Horrific Confection' Juliet Cook is leaving a pretty trail of poisonous breadcrumbs in her circuitous wake. She beckons us to follow with a glint in her eye:
RK: You've been writing poetry for a number of years now. Do you feel your poetry has changed much since you started, not necessarily in terms of quality, but in subject and style?

JC:  Yes.  My poetry has undergone various shifty permutations as my style and sensibilities have evolved.  I would posit that one trait that has remained something of a constant with my poetry is its over-the-topness.  To some, this may sound like a poetic weakness or detriment; but it is not a flaw, by my standards-or not a flaw that I desire to correct.  In life and in art, I tend toward heightened emotions and heavy drama.  I am drawn to intense imagery and unlikely/ sometimes jarring juxtapositions.  I am passionate.   I am anti-placation and pro-provocation.  Such predilections and proclivities tend to imbue my creative work with something of an over-the top quality.

To be more precise, I'd prefer to think of my work as poised AT the top or ON the brink, perilously close to teetering over/plummeting into, but not quite crossing that line.  It's a fine line, though-- sometimes blurred-sometimes not a line so much as a circuitous perimeter-and I know I cross over at times.  Into the land of broken doll parts and bloody egg yolks and twisted fairy tales no longer fresh.

I have some macabre sensibilities--but I prefer a dazzling, glossy darkness to a dull, clichéd darkness.  Suicidal sentiments exasperate me, fake angst bores me, and shock value is not my style.  I do like provocative content; but I don't like disconnected abstractions about blood and death and woe-is-me free floating pain.

The almost- over-the-top current in my poetry has manifested itself in different ways throughout the years.  15 years ago, much of my poetry focused on strange settings/situations/scenarios that were largely imaginary and did not have much connection to my real life experience.  Some of this poetry might have been categorizable as horror genre poetry.  Indeed, my first few publication credits, aside from the college literary magazine and small press publications edited by friends, were within a horror genre magazine called 'Wicked Mystic'.  This rag published gory slasher fiction, vampire-themed poetry, and so forth.  And some of my earlier poetry found a home betwixt its gruesome pages.

Soon, my poetry shifted into a direction in which the speaker of the poem was integral to the piece-and this speaker was usually identified in the first person -which is not to say that this speaker was the real life me-but perhaps it was one of my doppelgangers.  My poems began to reflect my own experiences and feelings to a greater extent.  Not necessarily to an autobiographical extent.  Rather, to the extent that I utilized my own experiences and feelings as poetic catalysts.  My poetry was transitioning from a realm of mere imaginative descriptiveness into a realm of more authentic emotion.

But I was still a young writer, frequently misfiring.  I remember one fellow, after one of my poetry readings, identified my poetry as akin to Good-n-Plenty pellets being shot from a machine gun.  Rat-a-tat-tat.  Ammo of overly obvious, explosive words.  Sweetly dangerous, but lacking in subtlety and finesse.  I had some significant things to express, but I was not channeling them with much sophistication.  I was angry and I liked to spit venom into smug faces.

In more recent years, my poetry has evolved into less setting-driven, less persona-driven, and more tone-driven pieces. I am interested in using language & imagery & style & content & context & unusual juxtapositions & more to generate or elicit certain tones-and not just anger.

I like to bake horrific confections, in a style that hopefully serves up a more pizzazz-esque take versus the sweetly dangerous mishaps of my poetic past.  I am not interested in snack pack pudding palatability; I wish to offer a different kind of edibility.  I like to play with alternate meanings and implications of consumption, especially as such matters relate to certain experiences of contemporary womanhood.

Although I am not overly concerned with the accessibility of my poetry,  I do like the idea of my creative work resonating for women who are smart and creative, but still find themselves feeling like failures-or losers-or  misfits.  I think that our society/media exerts so much pressure upon women to be attractive/successful in so many different ways that it's almost impossible not to feel like, 'I'm not good enough!', even if you are a multifaceted and free-thinking individual.

I very much feel like I'm not good enough.  I don't think that I look good enough.  I don't think that my poetry is good enough.  I don't think that anything about me is good enough.  Many people seem reluctant to give voice to such insecurities/neuroses/weaknesses.   I think that giving voice to such thoughts/feelings might help others who are experiencing similar issues to feel less alone.  I think that fostering a sense of resonance and commonality re: such issues might help to bring them to the forefront, give them more credence, and position them as more likely to be dealt with.

Poetry has been my primary vehicle for dealing with my perspectives that do not mesh with what other voices imply is expected of me.  Poetry has been my preferred forum through which to present the voice of a woman who does not fit into the doll injection mold.  My relationship with poetry and my poetic process has helped me to transcend some of my own self-hate and self-destructive impulses.  Poetry is my venue for offering the conflicted/contradictory/complex thoughts, feelings, and experiences of a contemporary woman who wants to avoid complacency and avoid subscribing to the status quo, but who still desires to achieve a sense of self-awareness and personal worth.

I have feminist sensibilities; but I do not fill the role of any kind of cookie cutter activist. I am not very politically correct, as I think that certain aspects of political correctness border on censorship.  I will froth at the mouth about how my own body hair disgusts me or how hung up I am on my blemished flesh or how bothered I am by the idea that I am not viewed as 'hot'.  It seems stupid and weak to obsess about such superficial details, yet I do.  I am conflicted, flawed, and warped, as are many women.   I am not interested in presenting myself as a victim; but I am willing to present my flaws.

You mention your attraction to dazzling glossy darkness as an underlying element in your poetic style. But there is another theme that continually crops up as a malignant evil or monstrous feminine metaphor-that of food, specifically, confection.  Sugary, baked treats as juxtaposition to the provocative horror.  Can you elaborate on this a little?

In my college-level creative writing workshops, I was teased re: the proliferation of food and sex in my poetry.  More often than not, my abundant food/sex imagery appeared together, rather than separately.  At the time, I wasn't sure how to explain this-because I wasn't a food fetishist or a food snob or a glutton.

Such imagery was predominant enough that more than one person who knew me via my poetry, but did not know the real life me, thought that my real name-Juliet Cook-was a nom de plume.

Later, it was not so much food and sex as food and violence-or more specifically, as you pointed out, dessert products and violence re-appearing in myriad twisted motifs in poem after poem.

As previously mentioned, I am interested in various modes of edibility and consumption, especially as related to contemporary womanhood.  Looking good enough to eat.  Curbing one's appetite in service to one's appearance.  Indulging one's appetite. Different manifestations of a voracious appetite.  Unapologetic lust.  Shame.  Eating or being eaten.  Consumption as purchasing goods.  Consumption as devouring.  Consumption as disease. 

The conflict between desiring to be viewed as edible, but not actually wanting to be consumed.

My interest in such ideas accounts for the high incidence of consumables in my poetry.  Delectable consumables.  Tainted consumables.  Women consuming.  Women as consumers.  Women choking on what they're supposed to consume.  Women being consumed.  Women as dessert products, because they are both delighted in and deemed sinful.  They are both adored and dismissed as so much frivolous fluff.

But if they're not as pretty as a sweet slice of cake, then they may be demonized.  If they're not easy on the eyes/easy on the mind, then they may be castigated.  Our society wants its women to be easy, yet punishes them for being easy.  We're whores if we're easy; we're unfeminine if we're hard.  I appreciate your phrase 'monstrous feminine', because sometimes it seems as if unattractive women might as well be monsters, based on the way such women are presented in the media.  Sometimes it seems as if women who do not fit the mold are presented as anomalies.  But most women don't fit the mold.

I don't wish to be pretty but bland.  I don't wish to be akin to vanilla pudding.  I do want to be desired; but I'd like to be desired by those who have unique appetites and are up for acquiring new tastes.  I'm not aiming for mainstream appeal with my art.  Art that strives towards accessibility does not suit my preferences.  Why should art be easy to swallow?  That's not the way life is.

Thus, the consumables in my poetry are mixed with spikes/blades/poison/jagged artifacts.