Review: Dark Purple Intersections (inside my Black Doll Head Irises) by Juliet Cook

Cover of "Dark Purple Intersections (Inside my Black Doll Head Irises)" by Juliet Cook

Dark Purple Intersections (inside my Black Doll Head Irises) by Juliet Cook

Blood Pudding Press for Dusie Kollektiv 9


Review by Eileen Murphy

My bedroom was filled with narcoleptic insects.
My bedroom was filled with poison barbs.
My bedroom was filled with broken parts
of ripped out doll head art.

I couldn’t remember whether I broke them on purpose
or accidentally knocked them down.

Broken heart after broken heart after broken heart, 
sometimes shoved under the bed,
sometimes exploding in my head.

I couldn’t decide
whether someone else broke me 
or have I always been this way?

(“My mouth was a crawl space”)

Feminist poet Juliet Cook is a self-described “grotesque glitter witch medusa hybrid.” She is the sole owner of Blood Pudding Press, known for its gorgeous chapbooks. She is also the sole editor of the web-based Thirteen Myna Birds, a literary magazine/blog that publishes other people’s cutting-edge (sometimes outrageous) poetry every month. With all that on her plate, she still manages to write her own poems that are highly relatable, using striking imagery. The new (May 2019) poetry chapbook Dark Purple Intersections (inside my Black Doll Head Irises) by Juliet Cook (Blood Pudding Press for Dusie Kollektiv 9) is an honest, beautiful meditation on the human condition.  

Juliet Cook originally published this book (using Blood Pudding Press to design the book) to contribute it to a poetry collective (Dusie Kollektiv 9). Dusie is an on-line poetry journal specializing in modern and experimental poetics. This year, Dusie Kollektive 9 will distribute .pdf versions of its members’ chapbooks free of charge. This is part of the Dusiue Kollektive’s overall experimentation with new, better ways to publish and distribute poetry books—basically, they try something a little bit different every year.

In these 32 interrelated poems (all of which use the first line of the poem as their title), Juliet Cook muses on everything that changed mentally and physically—or failed to change—when she achieved middle age. The speaker says:

…I’ve been in this middle-

aged semi-oblivion

for over fifteen years.

(“Parts of me”)

The speaker finds she remains her basic self. “…I do still exist / and I’m still the real me…” (“What if my most vibrant heart beats happened in the past?”).

Her doll seems to be a metaphor for a basic part of herself. “I’m 46 and part of me still lives / inside my doll’s head,” she admits (“I don’t like to throw things away”). And she tells us that her doll keeps saying the same three things, which are:

“Leave me alone”

“I hate myself”

“How come nobody loves me?”

(“My baby doll keeps saying the same three lines”)

Apparently, the life of the speaker inside her doll’s head has been ongoing since the speaker’s childhood (“Some people jump faster than others”).

Part of getting older is a child’s reassessing relationships with parents. The speaker’s mother is linked to the doll metaphor. In the poem “I’m 46 and my mother is still maneuvering,” the speaker asks: “Will she ever understand / that my doll brain works differently / than her doll brain….?” Apparently, her mother has not changed much psychologically over the years.

Someone else who hasn’t changed is the speaker’s abusive ex-husband, who keeps trying to re-insert himself into the speaker’s life to use her as a sounding board for his alcohol-imbued rants. In his case, the speaker says: “I’m tired of being a last resort, / a suicide hotline inside a middle-aged body..…” This relationship eventually comes to a turning point that causes her to reassess. “…I keep breaking / into more unattractive pieces, / but at least I’m no longer someone’s ugly wife” (“When I was about to turn 30”).

Another interesting change in middle age is that the speaker has started thinking about her legacy: “…When I die / my boxes of poems will be tossed / into a burn barrel” (“Maybe our real heads will never be taken seriously”). The speaker’s observations are spot on: middle age is a time when many people start thinking about their own deaths—and about what they will leave behind for posterity. As a poet, Juliet Cook’s thoughts about legacy naturally become reflections on her own writings and what, if anything, they mean to the world. For example, she struggles with doubts whether other people can relate to her poetry:

They [the “poem lines”] might still end

up being thrown away

by those who don’t care enough

about the parts of me that feel the most meaningful

to me.

(“I’m past my bedtime again,”)

A major theme in this chapbook is how the speaker’s body has been changing as a result of middle age, resulting in a multitude of health concerns and dangerous conditions. “Perhaps there are specters inside me,” the speaker thinks (“Perhaps there are specters inside me”). The speaker’s corporeal self has become almost an enemy, attacking the speaker like a traitor. Listen to the litany of bodily issues affecting the speaker:

My mood swings.

Almost constant bloating.

A cups turn into B movies but

don’t bulge out as much as my stomach.

Every pair of pants is too tight

and drenched in blood…

(“More mental insects”)

The speaker gives us thoughtful pictures of these bodily changes, disclosing some of the scary, distasteful, and painful details of her experiences. It’s not quite Confessional, in my opinion, because how in the world can a speaker talk about the bodily effects of middle age without talking about hormones and menstruation, for example? The details of the speaker’s bodily changes aren’t “too much information” in this context.

Blood Pudding Press’s chapbooks—and even the wrappings used to mail out chapbooks—are collector’s items, perhaps because Juliet Cook is also a visual artist. Dark Purple Intersections (inside my Black Doll Head Irises) is printed on heavy colored paper, hand-assembled, and can, to an extent, be personalized when ordering it. In any event, if you can afford it, I strongly recommend you buy a physical copy of this exquisite chapbook/work of art directly from Blood Pudding Press:

Highly original in a good way, the poems in the chapbook Dark Purple Intersections (inside my Black Doll Head Irises) by Juliet Cook give us necessary glimpses into the way human life is lived in and through our bodies. I recommend you experience these poems, joining Juliet Cook in her honest and beautiful musings. I enjoyed reading them. I think you will, too.

Eileen Murphy

Eileen Murphy lives near Tampa with husband and two dogs. She teaches literature/English at Polk State College. Her recent book reviews are published in Tinderbox Journal, Rain Taxi, Cultural Weekly, BLARB, Glass, Crab Fat, and other journals.