Poet Spotlight: Juliet Cook on dolls, body, and uncomfortable poetry

Juliet Cook’s poetry has appeared in a small multitude of magazines. She is the author of numerous poetry chapbooks, recently including From One Ruined Human to Another (Cringe-Worthy Poets Collective, 2018), Dark Purple Intersections (inside my Black Doll Head Irises) (Blood Pudding Press for Dusie Kollektiv 9, 2019), and Another Set of Ripped-Out Bloody Pigtails (The Poet’s Haven, 2019). She also has two more chaps forthcoming — red circles into nothing (forthcoming from Clare Songbirds Publishing) and the rabbits with red eyes (forthcoming from ethel). Cook’s first full-length individual poetry book, Horrific Confection, was published by BlazeVOX. Her more recent full-length poetry book, A Red Witch, Every Which Way, was a collaboration with j/j hastain published by Hysterical Books in 2016. Her most recent full-length individual poetry book, Malformed Confetti was published by Crisis Chronicles Press in 2018.

I enjoy the way your chapbook, Dark Purple Intersections (inside my Black Doll Head Irises), offers a cohesive narrative arc. Please tell us about your collection and how it came into being? Did you plan to have a narrative arc to these poems or did you discover the narrative as you started writing?

For several years, I was working on this collection in bits and pieces. I had it tentatively titled “45” on my computer, because I tentatively planned to complete it when I was that age. It ended up taking longer. Basically, any time I wrote a few poem lines or a possible poem that was focused on personal age related issues, personal body based issues, negative memories of past relationships, and so forth, I’d place it in the collection-in-progress.

So I did plan to have a narrative arc, but during most of the writing process, I wasn’t focused on how I was going to arrange that arc. I was focused on the writing.

When it reached the point where I was ready to actually format it into a chapbook manuscript, there was some revision, including lines removed, lines added, and removing some whole poems — but the most challenging and time consuming part of finalizing the manuscript was deciding how to order all of the poems. I just had various different poems and poem lines semi-randomly bunched together, 2-4 on a page, and had to decide how to format their order, both thematically, and in a certain time frame sort of way — but not entirely past to present, more of a back and forth, semi-circle sort of interrelated intersection. As I was reading and re-reading the poems, I was tentatively numbering them — but then I’d think I had 1-7 numbered the right way, but then I’d end up changing my mind or writing another poem and suddenly having a 5.2 and 5.3 in the mix. Furthermore, I’d occasionally change what had been two separate poems into one whole poem or add another three lines to a poem and so on.

It took some time, but when I finally got all the poems ordered in a way that I thought worked stylistically and thematically, I then removed all of the numbers and bolded the first line of each poem.

Not too long after I had the manuscript completed, I then started to feel kind of weird about the collection, because I feel like it might be almost TOO confessional in a way that makes me seem really unappealing — not in terms of my poetry itself; but in terms of my negativity, my  lifestyle choices, my relationship issues, my body-focused issues and related attributes — but that was what felt the need to come out in this collection, uncomfortable or not.

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Poet Spotlight: Ashley Miranda on surrealism, pop culture, and navigating trauma

Ashley Miranda is a latinx poet & teacher from Chicago. Most of their work is an exploration of mental health, gender, and trauma. Their poetry collection Thirteen Jars: How Xt’actani Learned to Speak was recently published by Another New Calligraphy. They have a chapbook, dolores in spanish is pain, dolores in lolita is a girl, which focuses on sexual abuse and reclaiming Dolores Haze, published by Glass Poetry. Their work has been previously featured by Yes, Poetry, Rising Phoenix Review, MAKE magazine, and other publications. They tweet impulsive poetry and other musings @dustwhispers and you can learn more about their work at agirlaloof.com.

Tell us a bit about your new chapbook, dolores in spanish is pain, dolores in lolita is a girl.  What is the collection about and how did it come into being?

The collection is primarily focused on navigating sexual childhood trauma and how pop culture compresses and complicates dealing with trauma. It’s partly a critique of pop-cultural reimagining of Lolita/Nymphets/Dolores Haze and an attempt to navigate the gravity of sexual trauma, how it reaches out and resonates, ripples into everything you see.

I first started working on poems without a clear idea of a chapbook about two and a half years ago. At first, I started with responses to Lana del Rey’s Lolita and the shop Dolls Kill, which featured a Lolita-inspired collection, both referencing Nabakov’s Lolita. Despite my love of Lana, I had an inherent issue with the idea of inhabiting Lolita in a positive light. And that’s grown. Commercialization of ‘Nymphets’ is growing – from clothes, to songs, to lipsticks. As someone who has dealt firsthand with that trauma, I felt immensely troubled by how normalized and sexualized young children were becoming through the media they were consuming.

From there, the chapbook realized itself. I wrote about trauma a lot, though I wouldn’t call myself a ‘trauma’ writer. It surfaces in my work because it needs to at times. Because I feel that the aftermath, the triggers, the PTSD, the mental health, the way others and I see the world are important. I wanted to voice that in my poems. I eventually began critiquing the novel Lolita, which is a novel that I have a hate-love relationship with and I have immense empathy for Dolores Haze, who is often an afterthought despite being the epicenter of the sensual representation of a ‘lolita’. Some of my poems are directly in response to lines describing Lolita, some poems are response to rape culture, some a response to strength. Whatever strength that those who have survived such events can capture.

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Poet Spotlight: Steven Withrow on formal and speculative verse

Steven Withrow

Steven Withrow is a journalist, poet, storyteller, and teacher from Falmouth, Massachusetts. His poetry books for children are It’s Not My Fault (Bloomsbury, 2016) and A Poem Is a Chameleon (self-published, 2019). His first speculative/weird poetry chapbook, The Sun Ships & Other Poems (self-published, 2019), includes poems appearing in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Star*Line, Dreams & Nightmares, Spectral Realms, Eye to the Telescope, and Epitaphs: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers. The title poem was a 2016 Rhysling Award nominee from the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association.

How did you get started as a writer? What keeps you writing?

I started writing stories, poems, and plays in elementary school and have never stopped. My first “professional” work was a stage adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time in sixth grade in 1986. The more I read and the more I learn about literature, the more I want to write. It’s a mixture of envy of good writing by others and a desire to make something that holds together even for a short time. I love the sculptural aspects of verse as much as the communicative aspects of poetry.

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Poet Spotlight: Sara Ryan on taxidermy and beauty in the uncanny

Sara Ryan poet

Sara Ryan is the author of the chapbooks Never Leave the Foot of an Animal Unskinned (Porkbelly Press) and Excellent Evidence of Human Activity (The Cupboard Pamphlet). She was the winner of the 2018 Grist Pro Forma Contest, and her work has been published in or is forthcoming from Pleiades, DIAGRAM, Booth, Prairie Schooner, Hunger Mountain and others. She is currently pursuing her PhD at Texas Tech University.

never leave the foot of an animal unskinned-sara ryanI loved reading your new chapbook Never Leave the Foot of an Animal Unskinned. Can you tell us a bit about this collection and how it came into being?

This collection manifested in a material culture theory class during my MFA. In this class, we contemplated objects in literature and how those objects were handled in these literary worlds. We were challenged to choose our own objects and engage with them critically and creatively, and after a lot of research into my various interests, I found an old book in our library that lead me on a strange journey into the world of taxidermy. This book, Taxidermy and Zoological Collecting: A Complete Handbook for the Amateur Taxidermist, Collector, Osteologist, Museum-Builder, Sportsman, and Traveller by William Temple Hornaday (published in 1891) became the nexus of this collection.

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Building Poetry Community: My Blogging Year in Review

I took part in the Great Poet Bloggers Revival, launched by Donna Vorreyer and Kelli Russell Agodon, which challenged poets to publish one new blog post per week in order to help everyone feel more engaged in the community.

This year, I managed to put together 63 blog posts — not all of these were put out weekly as intended and not all focused on poetry. But I’m feeling happy and confident about the amount of blogging I managed to do in 2018.

Out of all the blogging I’ve done in the past year, I am most proud of the eight poet spotlight interviews I’ve conducted. It’s such a pleasure to be a part of and learn from the poetry community — and since I’ve been lax on participating or attending readings and open mics, being able to still feel connected through these interviews has been wonderful. Links to the eight interviews are presented below.

Sarah Blake on leaving earth and finding home in poetry:

“It’s hard to describe why I write poetry because it feels somewhat out of my control, but I know I need poetry to move through the world and my life, and I’m extremely grateful that poetry is the form that feels like home to me — even if it’s a scary home that I find riveting and that I feel extremely vulnerable in.”

Chelsea Margaret Bodnar on horror and the dilemma of female power:

“I was a total tomboy and actively discouraged being perceived as feminine, but lots of horror movies (think The Ring, Carrie, and even Psycho, in a deferred kind of way) reinforce that femininity can be dangerous, which is problematic, obviously, but also weirdly empowering. Basement Gemini was kind of born out of that idea — the simultaneous, seemingly-contradictory-but-not-really victimization, vilification, and empowerment of women that’s encountered so often in horror.”

Joanna C. Valente on spirituality and the drive to communicate:

“I largely consider myself a witch with a mashup of Eastern Orthodox/Jewish beliefs, which is because of my relationships and upbringing and interest in largely just being authentic and true to myself. So this book is largely an exploration of that as a queer person, using the first part to explore gender and sexuality and dysfunction in the tradition family setting, while the other parts explore this within the technological realm.”

Anthony Frame on the environmental impact of people and making poetry dance:

“I’m not someone who sits before the page every day; I do a lot more daily internal work and note taking, which leads me, eventually to the page — but after a while (maybe a year or eighteen months) I had a decent stack of poems. So, I did what I normally do — I looked through them to figure out my obsessions to help guide me towards a new manuscript.”

Stephanie M. Wytovich on staring down your demons:

“To me, the horror genre is all about survival and strength, which is why I feel drawn to it. I enjoy writing in a genre that doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that monsters (both real and imagined) exist, and I like to take the opportunity to teach my readers (sometimes through personal example) how to face down their demons and win.”

Marisa Crawford on pop culture, feminism, and the value of emotional knowledge:

“There’s a long history of literary critics and gatekeepers insisting that poems that reference pop culture or contemporary culture are necessarily not serious works of art, and that great literature must be timeless. I reject this idea — I think it’s dumb to try to divorce art from your lived experiences and the culture it comes out of, and that trying to ties into this false notion that literature can or should be “universal,” which historically has really just meant writing that appeals to straight white men.”

Holly Lyn Walrath on hybrid writing and the idea of femininity:

“Weird writing inhabits a liminal place between genres. It’s the stuff of the strange and not-quite-definable, a hybrid kind of writing that sings its own song and creates the instruments as it goes. Basically, it’s anything that doesn’t fit the mold. I think this approach excites me because I don’t really think or dream in the ways that are expected.”

Saba Syed Razvi on the interplay between dark and light:

“There is a different kind of knowledge that emerges in the obscured spaces, those shaped by the shadows of what is in the way of our easy reach. The allure of the uncertain, the risk, the hidden, and the dangerous orbit around the notion that risk brings relief, brings possibilities beyond what is easily inspected. Just as we are so accustomed to the image, we tend to crave the comfort of texture or touch, the scent of the unfamiliar as much as the sensation that invites us into staying in the revelry of the uncertain. In this space of darkness, what we see is never really certain, and the secret parts of the psyche find opportunities to come out and play.”

Other than the poetry spotlights highlighted above, I also blogged about my culture consumption (books, movies, TV, games, etc.) throughout the year, shared news about my writing and travels, and hosted a couple of giveaways. Among these, the five that I’m most pleased with are:

    1. As a Single Lady Alone on Valentines Day
    2. The Beautiful Horrors of Junji Ito
    3. Six Things I Loved About Egypt
    4. Jeff VanderMeer’s Wonderbook is a fantastic toolbox for fiction writers
    5. Wizard and Glass – Returning to The Dark Tower, Part IV

All in all, I think it’s been a pretty good blogging year for me. Thank you to everyone who’s been with me on this journey. I hope you’ll stick around and continue reading in the new year.


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