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The Chapbook Interview: Juliet Cook & Robert Cole on Collaborative Chapbooks

How did your collaborative chapbook begin?

Juliet Cook – My memory issues might be warped, but my recollection remembers me posting tortured Saint photos on my facebook page and then Robert Cole suddenly emailing me, asking if I might be interested in poetic collaborating. I wasn’t familiar with his poetry and I don’t think he was familiar with mine, so I suggested that first we should send each other a few poems to find out if we were interested in each other’s creative style and thought the two styles might fuse together well, and I think both of our initial impulses were YES and so we dove in.

Robert Cole – Yeah at first, I wasn’t very familiar with Juliet Cook’s poetry, but after we exchanged some of our work, the idea crossed my mind that it may be interesting to see how our writing would work together if we did some collaboration. After I approached her about it, I read a poem by her in an issue of Caketrain that caught my attention and pretty much sealed the deal. At the time we didn’t have a chapbook in mind necessarily, but we quickly started to realize we were producing enough poems to put together a cohesive manuscript.

I wanted to start a collaboration with Juliet to explore the aspects of life that I have been afraid to confront. I wanted to scare myself, really. It became apparent pretty fast that our combined style of writing was doing just that. Also, what few collaborative chapbooks I’ve read had always interested me. I wanted to step away from myself and my own work to see what would happen if I gave up complete control. Creating a hybrid, doing something strange, I wanted to try that. It turned out to be an inspiring experience. Collaborative poetry (or any kind of collaborative art for that matter) is something I think artists should explore more often.

Can you describe your collaborative process? How did you go about revising each poem, the sequence of poems, and finding a home for the chapbook? Was anything frustrating about the experience? Delightful? Surprising?

JC – For me, there have been a few times in the past when I’ve attempted poetic collaboration with writers I am familiar with and whose writing I like, but either our styles don’t seem to mesh very well together OR nothing ever happens after our initial attempts at collaborative writing.

I think part of the reason nothing ever happens (beyond the writing itself) is because oftentimes when you’re working with another individual, aside from the writing, you don’t know what their style is in terms of revising, submitting, and so forth. Robert seemed pretty open along those lines, so I handled our submission process the same way I handle my own work – start submitting poems almost as soon as I think they seem done. I’m good at staying organized when it comes to keeping notes about when and where I have stuff submitted – and I kept Robert on top of acceptances and rejections.

As far as the poems went, we worked on one at a time – some lines of his, some lines of mine, some lines of his, some lines of mine, arrange the lines, slightly revise some lines, remove some lines, rearrange the lines until we both agreed a poem seemed done – and then on to the next poem.

Most of Robert and my collaborative writing happened in April and I knew that Hyacinth Girl Press was accepting chapbook manuscript submissions in May, so I ordered and organized our poems into chapbook format, sent that to Robert for his approval, he approved, and I submitted it. Obviously I didn’t know if Hyacinth Girl was going to accept it or not (and if they didn’t, we would have submitted it to other sources), but it was accepted by Hyacinth Girl, the very first source it was submitted to.

Writing twenty some collaborative poems in about a month, organizing nineteen of them into chapbook format, already having nine of those nineteen poems accepted for publication by literary magazines, and having the whole collection accepted by the very first press it was submitted to made it a delightful writing experience for me (and hopefully for him too, but I don’t live in his brain, so I don’t know).

The only aspect of the collaboration that was slightly frustrating for me (and maybe for him too, but again I don’t know) is that poetry is such an emotional realm for me and such a mental turn on that if I’m working on poetically collaborating with someone and it’s going well, then I also tend to spurt a bunch of other personal information (thoughts, feelings, ideas, personal opinions), sometimes maybe to the point of causing them to feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed. After several times of sending Robert long emails and receiving a three sentence response, I realized I needed to back off emotionally and just stick to the poetry with him and so I did.

He’s a young guy anyway; he probably doesn’t need some mentally imbalanced middle aged woman spewing her junk at him. Except for in poetry land.

RC – The process was surprising in that I didn’t expect it to happen so easily. Nothing was forced. We started by exchanging 3-6 lines of whatever came to mind, adding to each set of lines through email, and quickly found a rhythm. Our chapbook was written primarily through email exchanges in just a few weeks time. Poetry is always frustrating, but the collaboration didn’t come with any stress that wouldn’t otherwise be there had I been writing by myself. It was also perfect timing. I was in the middle of this period in my life where I was struggling financially every day, living alone in a dismal apartment, eating rarely, battling plenty of health problems and worries to fuel my expression. That’s not to say things are different now, but after working with Juliet on this book, I have been able to enjoy a sort of creative relief.

What collaborative collections do you admire and what is it about them that works?

RC – A few months ago I began corresponding with poet John Amen, editor at The Pedestal Magazine, and he was kind enough to send me several copies of his chapbooks. But one book in particular, “The New Arcana”, really grabbed my attention. This collaborative project Amen did with Daniel Y. Harris is interesting to say the least. I’m not a book reviewer, and wouldn’t know how to elaborate on why I enjoy this collaborative project so much, but it contains a great deal of innovative language. The humor in “The New Arcana” also hit home for me. A portion of the humor in this book that I continue to return to pokes a bit of fun at the academia and their impossibly outstanding author bios and curriculum vitae.

JC – I don’t recall reading any new collaborative books or chapbooks recently; for the most past, I’ve always tended towards individual creative expression more so than collaboration (until recently, do to my awesome collaborative experience with Robert). However, in 2012, I solicited several poets to participate in a collaborative chapbook to be published by my Blood Pudding Press – “Fainting Couch Idioglossia”– and I really enjoyed how some of those collaborations turned out, such as Daniel M. Shapiro & Jessy Randall and Kelly Boyker & Margaret Bashaar. Both of those collaborators two different styles fused together really interestingly. Also, I’ve fairly recently read some uniquely interesting collaborative work published by the online literary magazine, Counterexample Poetics.

I’ve had the opportunity and sneak-peak of your chapbook Mutant Neuron Codex Swarm forthcoming from Hyacinth Girl Press. I enjoyed the word play, the rhythm, and sound. Can you talk about how this chapbook is similar to or different from work you’ve done alone or in collaboration with other artists?

RC – I personally have never written work myself quite like what Juliet and I managed to create. I appreciate how it’s a combination of our voices, virtually a 50/50 share of writing work load. Many lines I contributed to this collaboration were simple sentences or 5 word lines I had been sitting on for months or years but never found a place for them. When I handed them to Juliet, suddenly more substance could be pulled from them and I was happy to finally put these ‘stand alone phrases’ into something more substantial. Although I’m working on another collaborative project now, this chapbook was my first attempt at working with another artist. The difference between collaborative work and writing I do alone is the sense of not being fully responsible for the completion of a poem. In other words, if I wrote 4 lines or so but couldn’t think of how to continue, Juliet had no problems expanding upon the lines in a way I would have never considered.

JC – I feel similarly to Robert on this. I was delighted by how our two different styles seemed to interestingly mesh and fuse together so well. Also, since as an individual writer I seem to use similar content and even similar words a lot, I really enjoyed receiving lines that included words that don’t usually pop out of my poetry brain (like scrimshaw and sultans and puppies) and integrating that stuff into the same forum as my kind of words (like egg cups and tentacles and a blow torch) and probably creating new kinds of descriptions for both of us. I’m currently working on another collaborative project too, but there’s no way it’s going to come close to the lightning fast blow torch pace of Robert’s and mine. I don’t usually write my own poems anywhere near that fast, so it was a really unique experience for me in that respect too.

What cover art do you have in mind for Mutant Neuron Codex Swarm?

RC – We’ve been looking at a few different options. Juliet, I believe, may have a better answer to this question.

JC – When I participated in a Hyacinth Girl Press poetry reading this past July, HGP editor, Margaret Bashaar mentioned an artist she had in mind for the cover art, whose work she thought might fit well with the dark twisted MUTANT content and I was able to meet that artist. Her name is Rachael Deacon and she’s an independent film maker, as well as a creator of her own unique art photos and drawings and paintings. I’ve seen some of her art that already exists and am definitely a fan. I think she is going to create a whole new piece of art for the MUTANT cover and I think it will be hideously, gruesomely powerful and non-humanly awesome.

What is inspiring you these days?

RC – Music, documentaries, B-rated sci-fi movies, artifacts, ancient mysteries, playing chess online. I like to entertain the idea that there might be a scroll of forbidden wisdom hidden beneath a floorboard in my house. I’m not entirely sure if I get inspired or not. Some nights I just wake up around 3 or 4am with an urge to write one sentence that won’t leave me alone and it kind of just goes from there.

JC – Visual imagery sometimes inspires my words (and vice versa). Plus other poetry, movies, music, thoughts, feelings, mental imbalance, and dreams too.

A bottom leg got cut off/
in last night’s dream.

How are you trying to get better as a poet?

RC – I’m never content with how accurate my writing reflects what I mean to say, so that helps. Reading a lot is important. I keep up with as much new poetry and fiction as I can, but I also read things like microwave instruction manuals or spam mail.

JC – Continue to read, write, re-read, revise, think in a focused way, and express myself my way.

Your chapbook credo:

RC – Since this project with Juliet will be my first chapbook, I haven’t been able to develop any kind of credo. I think it helps to visualize how the words will appear on the printed page while remaining detached from the idea of publishing it until it’s completed.

JC – I don’t have a set in stone credo, but if I have close to 15 new poems that do not yet appear in a chapbook, I might start thinking about how they might fit into one – and then concept, poem order, other formatting, title, and so forth.

Number of chapbooks you own:

RC – Thirty or so.

JC – Hundreds.

Number of chapbooks you’ve read:

RC – Probably 18.

JC – Hundreds.

Ways you promote and serve other chapbook poets:

RC – When I have the money I think the best way to promote and help other poets is to simply buy and read the chapbook. I have mixed feelings about Facebook, but I think social media can be useful for networking and helping promote other poets who are really worth reading.

JC – Purchase chapbooks, read chapbooks, share lines from chapbooks, and publish chapbooks through my Blood Pudding Press. I’m currently in the process of reading chapbook manuscripts submitted to the latest Blood Pudding Press chapbook contest.

Where you spend your chapbook earnings:

RC – Buying time to write more stuff. Time is really expensive. When I earn money from my creative writing it tends to go toward groceries or bills which translates to me having to work a few less hours one week, giving me breathing room to think and make poems.

JC – Towards publishing chapbooks and buying other art supplies and art and unique tidbits.

Your chapbook wish:

RC – I have three chapbooks I’ve been rewriting back and forth for years now. I’d like to extract what I like from these three and create a new chapbook altogether.

JC – Sometime in 2014, organize another new chapbook of mine and find a new press to accept it.

Residence:

RC – The Paseo Arts District in Oklahoma City.

JC – State-wise, I live in Ohio – but mostly, I live in my warped brain.

Job:

RC – I recently found good work as a copywriter and editor, but for most of my adult life I worked in customer service, food establishments, casinos, gas stations, anywhere really.

JC – I help at a paint your own pottery shop – but passion-wise, my job is mostly poetry and artistic pursuit in various ways.

Chapbook education:

RC – I have a lot to learn.

JC – Ongoing. I’ve been interested in the content and design of zines and chapbooks for more than twenty years. I was involved in the Dusie Kollektiv chapbook trading group from 2008 through 2011. I started my own indie chapbook press, Blood Pudding Press, in 2006 and it still exists.

Chapbook Bio:

RC – Right now I’m in the process of writing a collaborative novel with another poet/editor that I’ve appreciated for some time and hope to have some news on that soon.

JC – My own poetry chapbooks include “The Laura Poems” (Blood Pudding Press, 2006), “Girl Gang” (Blood Pudding Press, 2007), “Planchette” (Blood Pudding Press, 2008), “Gingerbread Girl” (Trainwreck Press, 2008), “Projectile Vomit” (Scantily Clad Press, 2008), “MONDO CRAMPO” (Dusie Kollektiv 3, 2009), “PINK LEOTARD & SHOCK COLLAR” (Spooky Girlfriend Press, 2009), “Tongue Like a Stinger” (Wheelhouse, 2009), “Fondant Pig Angst” (Slash Pine Press, 2009), “Soft Foam” (Blood Pudding Press for Dusie Kollektiv 4, 2010), POST-STROKE (Blood Pudding Press for Dusie Kollektiv 5, 2011), Thirteen Designer Vaginas (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2011), and POISONOUS BEAUTYSKULL LOLLIPOP (Grey Book Press, 2013). Plus the forthcoming “MUTANT NEURON CODEX SWARM” by Robert and me, to be published by Hyacinth Girl Press sometime in 2014.

Blood Pudding Press chapbooks by others include, “GROWLING SOFTLY” (a multi-writer chapbook, 2007), “ w i n g’d” by Kyle Simonsen (2008), “ECTOPLASMIC NECROPOLIS” (a multi-writer chapbook, 2008), “SPIDER VEIN IMPASTO” (a multi-writer chapbook, 2009), “At night, the dead” by Lisa Ciccarello (2009), “The Spare Room” by Dana Guthrie Martin (2009), “LETTERS FROM ROOM 27 OF THE GRAND MIDWAY HOTEL” by Margaret Bashaar (2011), “FAINTING COUCH IDIOGLOSSIA” (a multi-writer chapbook, 2012), “Renegade//Heart” by Lisa M. Cole (2013), “Poking through the Fabric of the Light that Formed Us: Songs and Stories to Read in the Mirror” by Lora Bloom (2013), and “Sister, Blood and Bone” by Paula Cary (2013). Plus the two winners of the current Blood Pudding Press chapbook contest will be announced in early 2014.

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