The online poetry community is abuzz concerning Juliet Cook’s newest chapbook, Thirteen Designer Vaginas, the very first publication from the newly launched Hyacinth Girl Press. The chapbook appears on three “Best of 2011” lists: Daniela Olszewska’s and Jessy Randall’s lists at No Tell Motel, and on Jendi Reiter’s blog. Any avid poetry reader can certainly see what the fuss is about. Who else besides Juliet Cook is gutsy enough to make vaginal rejuvenation surgery the center of one of his/her projects? “I was just looking for a new female doctor, /but got sucked into this Exclusive/Embossed Edge…”
Each poem within the collection is called “Designer Vagina” and there are indeed thirteen of them. Though, of course, this collection is about much more than just the physical female nether-region. It’s about how women are perceived by men and society, how women perceive of themselves when being cast into the role of “object.” “If he doesn’t deserve the present;/if he’s stuck in his desire for the past, then should I/wish to be unwrapped by someone who is wishing for me?/All these frills and frayed edges don’t come cheap.” It’s true: “A designer vagina might just be another punch line poem” and we are going to find out which is the truth.
Repeated images and sensory experiences are woven into the text to further assist in the overall unity of the chapbook: ribbons, the color pink, tubes, the feeling of being sucked into something, being tied down or restrained in some way, are just some of the recurring themes here. Also recurring in this collection is Cook’s usual liveliness and friskiness, and her utilization of humor in a sensitive situation. Who else would think of the line, “A bonbon and a boner walk into a bar.”?
Comparing Thirteen Designer Vaginas to Post-Stroke--Juliet Cook’s chapbook also released in 2011--sheds even more light on what is going on here. Post-Stroke also dealt with how notions of oneself change after a severe change of the physical body. In Post-Stroke, however, the transformation is not a chosen one, as it often is with vaginal rejuvenation. In both collections, there is a feeling present of losing a certain amount of control, of questioning the state of things, but to write the experience down, to make art out of it, is to regain control. The vagina, the woman’s body, and the woman herself are transformed from a punch line into a poem after all. The speaker of the chapbook says, “I don’t want to burst at the seams. /I want to stay intact and gleam.” And she does. Oh, she does.
***This review can also be found at Gently Read Literature