Click here to listen to So Here We Are on MiPoradio
I would like to say a few words about Juliet Cook’s Horrific Confection originally published as an e book and now published in hard copy by BlazeVox Books (www.blazevox.org) of New York.
Juliet Cook’s Horrific Confection combines elements of magical realism and dark horror in a poetic exploration of the domestic, especially food, and the artificial. It is set deeply within the meaning of confection as a noun ‘the making or preparation by mixture of ingredients’ (OED 1), ‘a preparation made by mixing; a composition, mixture, compound’ (OED 5) and as a verb ‘to make into a confection; to mix, make up as a seasoned delicacy’ (OED 1). More than that, Cook reaches back to older meanings of confection such as ‘a medicinal preparation compounded of various drugs’ (OED 5b) and ‘a prepared poison, a deadly potion’ (OED 5c).
The book is divided into four sections, ‘heat me up’, ‘cool me down’, ‘consume me’ and ‘choke on me’, which provide both a narrative and analytical structure. The opening poem, ‘Morning Fragment’, introduces two recurring motifs, the egg and the knife, within a breakfast image of bloodshot eggs, glistening marmalade, glowing hot wire ribs and crumb cake crawling out of the narrator’s throat. The egg registers as nutrition, embryo, ovulation, fertility and eyes and the knife as implement and weapon, showing the domestic to be both constructive and destructive.
The first section, ‘heat me up’, inhabits a domestic world that is both sensuously tactile and swerves between the kitchen as a site of sanitised violence and food as nourishment and poison. The raw seems to permeate and resist the cooked. Here the narrator attempts to resist the artificial and sinister world of her mother’s domestic regime:
A black line blurs
into bristling trellis. Throbbing. Little sister ensanguined,
straining twisted limbs. Furry bodies wriggle in sockets. Honey
bees burst out her eyes. Leave behind
tiny stingers pumping venom into trespassed flesh. (page 15)
Note how the stressed ‘b’ produces a savage intensity. ‘She Warns Me’ continues:
Mother’s burgeoning tongue. Cyanosis-blue and serrated
abduction. I can’t hide. I surrender to the toxic spill,
the swarm. Excruciating swell and thrall
Words sprawl disembodied. A husky hum
from the filthy darkness underneath a rusty engine.
Tendons slashed. Ripped open dress. Knivey licks
and public restroom reek of chloroform. (page 15)
Cook’s feminism is indirect and subtle. Domestic violence lurks and hovers in all manner of unexpected places and weapons, from the mother figure, to Barbie dolls, to confectionery and the male gaze.
The artificial is seen most graphically in the poem, ‘Dollophile’, which concerns male fascination with blow-up and other dolls, and occasions some blistering and comic language:
He wants to smooth pancake makeup
onto already poreless ‘flesh’
He wants her preprogrammed ‘voicebox’
to ‘acquiesce’, ‘deliquesce’, ‘luminesce’,
and release a steaming shitload
of dirty words. He wants made-to-order, interchangeable
crotch panels, blinking lights, a bottomless spit valve.
He wants a barely legal doll who can fit a small octopus
inside like some kind of mutant nesting doll rape. (page 17)
In the second ‘cool me down’ section, the poem ‘Grotesque Intimacy’ features a narrator that yearns for the artificial and transgressive desire. Here the self and her partner seek invasion: ‘We’re being drained, smeared, / dragged into the lush desire for even darker disguises.’ The language is suitably double-edged and shifting into a multilayered universe of possibility. ‘Beady-eyed sweetie. Zombie lips. / Feel the baby earwigs tickle your spine. / They know how you want to be a book.’
The textual solidity of the poems forces through to a world that is less make believe and more credible horror through its constant reminder of the self as consumer and its proximity to the raw. ‘Swathes of mucus always ooze / from slugs nestled inside her pastel cupcake papers.’ and later from the same poem, ‘Horrific Confection’, ‘A shiny knife winks at her. It wants her -- / a frosted slice. Gaping and glazed with coagulum.’
The third section begins with ‘Self Portrait as Gingerbread Girl’ and takes the reader into the heart of this culinary dystopia. Here the narrator longs ‘for a dress that flaps open’ and to ‘escape this edible mess / of shams.’ in order to avoid decapitation and gives voice to the Gingerbread Girl that ‘didn’t ask to be cut in the shape of a girl.’ This is an attack on the artificial as she would prefer to be ‘abstract’, ‘unable to be construed’ and ‘spicy misdeeds’. It is a wonderfully idiosyncratic elegy. The section as a whole gives voice to confections that insinuate and fester against the matronly domestic goddess and her opposite the domestic witch. These poems show the ways in which the artificial penetrate other parts of a woman’s life and culminate in ‘Costume Party Afterbirth’ where:
You’re more like a pin-
striped service provider, holding down the tongue depressor gag.
You experiment with cup sizes, but have nothing real
to fill them. Sample 1. Fake Secretary Sample 2. Fake Pig
Suspended in Silicon Sample 3. Besmirched Cryptozoology.
You have anthropomorphized yourself, you have felt yourself up
for suspicious lumps. You have frisked your hollow panda bear head
until at least one piece of candy fell out
your eye socket. Your gaping piebald maw. (page 42)
The final, choke on me, section gives voice to more mutant confections, fake cakes, horror cakes and gaping holes oozing slime leading to ‘Self Portrait as Semi-Amorphous Entity’ where ‘she’s beating / her own head against a doll house / door’ and the narrator’s head ends up in the cake pan. Choke on me shows the impact of the artificial on the young girl that veers away from the domestic goddess to the domestic witch in a blistering series of dramatic and satirical poems. Poems such as ‘Oh Those Mercurial Wrists’, ‘Spilled Milk’, ‘little death scenes’, ‘Pink Bird’ and ‘The Angel of Death’ bring this energised collection to a climax full of invective and humour. Here’s the beginning of ‘Oh Those Mercurial Wrists’:
The way she froths at the mouth then explodes
into sexy blasphemy.
The way her lips sizzle then ignite –
Painted flames drizzle down to
scintillating nipple ring gleams.
This leads to
The way she makes up her own eyes with a languorous,
she calls ‘Tarred & Feathered’.
The way today’s look is called ‘Little Bo Peep the Whore’
as she wields a tiny riding crop, exclaiming, ‘Faster Lambchop!
We must escape the damned rapscallions!’ (page 54)
This, however, is a mere warm-up for the full violence of ‘The Angel of Death’ that links its sustained attack on the artificial to a Catholic upbringing and explodes in visceral anger.
My womb is a real muckraker
and half the congregation’s dirty fingers are stuck inside.
Some of them are trying to get me off;
some of them are trying to turn me off,
but my motorized blades are still whirring furiously.
You see, in MY visceral guide to uterine occupation,
the vagina dententa myth is true.
I’ve cued the seizure-inducing lights
and the spew of slashed babymakers.
Bang your head to the strains of this heretic c--t. (page 63)