Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Stroking the Poem: Planchette by Juliet Cook

I don't get these feelings much anymore, but I used to, feelings of being little little, doll-like little, small, a little player in a tiny house by toy train tracks where my sister's electric ran past little houses and tufts of trees. Feelings of having pastel blood and cashmere skin. I imagine it to be, if not universal to young (whatever) women, at least easily accessible by many. There is a part of many of us which is Glass Menagerie-bound, an inner Laura archetypically frail and dependent. (With age -- and I probably am twenty years older than poet Juliet Cook -- that part, if resilient, can change.) Too hopeful and slightly depressed and charming. (The male equivalent might be: too boastful and slightly aggressive and charming.)

Revived as it is by reading this chapbook, my little little Sarah part identifies with and recommends the poems in Juliet Cook's handmade, lace-tied chapbook Planchette. My girlish twists are classic urban; hers are punk and goth -- the chick who sits in the back of the class, smart, prescient, a reader. From 'Hippomancy":

My sloppy cocoons, my soft-looking cardigans
in muted hues like hollow seashells like
bright fizz dulled by narcotics. Luminosity
taken to the matte. Naying flatly at the naysayers.
Dolled by narcotics, two blue pills to
match my eyeshadow. Pretty coordination
or lack thereof. . . .

"Pretty coordination" -- what a phrase; distinct to the universal female (which doesn't exclude men). Images are infused ("muted hues like hollow seashells" "bright fizz dulled by narcotics"). The two blue pills may or may not be part of Cook's life, though I don't expect autobiography. Our lives are our material. Our art mixes our material with imagination, psyche (soul, spirit, breath) and sheer good luck.

While hypomania is a "mild mania" I have heard in arenas more esoteric than Webster's, hippomancy to be linked to divination. Which brings me back to that early girl. Whether the blue pills are valium or more "narcotic," in the poem they serve as emblem of the "secret bruise" Cook writes of, of the "Dream of white fizz" and its powers.

I'm figuring "white fizz" can nullify the bruise. Pills do what pills will do. Mind will continue to struggle, as will spirit, thank God. Hence, poetry. The fizz feels chemical, feels alchemical, and that's part of Cook's intention, to draw the reader into a mysterious, suspect but real world. Sir Isaac Newton, let's remember, was an alchemist. Poem titles reinforce this ouija + girl world: "Planchette" "Cataract" [seeing] "The Spindled Girls" "Stained Bloomers" "Ghost Doll"

Cook repeats words from poem to poem -- as the chapbook unfolds it self-mimics, which unites the ten poems. The bruise of "Hippomancy" is foreshadowed by the bruise in "Parlor Tricks." "Our fancy dessert plates burst / with lurid peonies, so swollen, / bruise-colored, almost lewd, but already wilting at the edges." The parlor - isn't that where Laura had her glass collection? In "Omen," "The parlor shrinks / into a crawlspace. / Pink liquid fizzes furiously."

The fizz, the experiment, the bruise, the change. From "Planchette":

Something is wrong with me.

I can't make things happen.

I'm trapped inside a little glass bunny.
I quiver inexplicably,
but never move smoothly across.

"Glass bunny"? No wonder I remembered Laura. Fortunately, Planchette's persona is not waiting for the fabled gentleman caller to save her. If anything, blue pills are a stand in, and by sheer mention of them, Cook dismisses their power without dismissing potential usefulness.

Blood Pudding Press, Cook's own, offers Planchette as a soft and strokable, jeweled and flocked treasure. Eat of the pudding.


  1. I love that section of Hippomancy. Thoughtful review of a great writer. I'm re-reading your THE FUTURE IS HAPPY & her HORRIFIC CONFECTION this week with much admiration.

  2. Thanks, Matt. She's another great writer I learned about - met - through social networking. Another - in reference to you.

  3. Hi Sarah. I just now saw this review and really enjoyed it! Thank you. I'm about to go to bed, but will link to hither & thither tomorrow. Also, I finished reading 'The Future is Happy' (which I also very much enjoyed) and jotted some notes so that I can hopefully concoct a review soon. Then I'm planning on writing a review of Matt Jasper's book.