Post-Stroke, one of Juliet Cook’s chapbooks published in 2011, as part of the 5th Dusie Kollektiv, arrived in the mail a few days ago wrapped up in string like a long-awaited present. Indeed, reading this handmade mini-book was like devouring delicious, savory treats with a bittersweet aftertaste.
Bittersweet, because the poems were inspired by a serious stroke which Cook experienced about a year ago. The stroke caused aphasia which greatly affected Cook’s ability to read and write. It is a testament to the quality of Cook’s work and sensibility, plus her dedication to the craft, that she was able to continue writing and creating after such suffering. Immediately in the text, Cook confronts her new relationship with poetry, her anxiety regarding writing again following the stroke: “Post-Stroke my words are not over-/ly obvious. Why on earth should my/ non overly obvious poetry be dead?... A vicious new voice will slowly seep out of my skull.” Thus, we see that the poet will not be defeated, that she is confident. Even though her torment, “Like a terrible pterodactyl necklace it bit,/sunk in and left me/bloody” the poet still knows, “I'm not a nightmare. I'm a dark delightful dream.”
Undoubtedly, the stroke left its mark on Cook, though the poems here are as alive, and as vibrant, as they ever were. Certainly, the poems in Post-Stroke are different from the poems which Cook wrote prior to her stroke, in collections such as Projectile Vomit, Planchette, Soft Foam, or Volume 2 of H__NGM_N’s Combatives series. The new poems are shorter, bite-sized morsels, though they still retain their playfulness and spunk in the midst of a serious topic. They still relish in sound, rhyme, and wordplay in the most engaging way. The shorter form is perfect for Cook. There were times in Cook’s earlier work that the images in the poems were so tightly packed that they almost overwhelmed the reader. The shorter form allows for more breathing room between Cook’s powerfully rich and surprising images and sounds. The sensory experiences in Post-Stroke are especially visceral and vivid. For example, the speaker’s “…hands are staple removers with metal fangs…” They are “bulbous sausages ready to burst/ out their conjoined links.” In “Angioplasty Show,” “Tiger teeth exhale red angiosperms/ like a tattered face mask./ Misshapen corpse vat writhes open/ a dark vaudevillian synapse.”
Cook says that she has new work coming out from Strange Cage Press, and that she is sending out a book-length manuscript which includes poems from Post-Stroke. It will be such a treat to see what else this extremely talented, innovative artist has in store for her readers!
***This review can also be found at Gently Read Literature