Alicia Cook is my favourite contemporary poet.
I stumbled across her poetry the way many do, through Instagram. I’m generally wary of “Instapoetry” because of many stereotypes associated with it: lack of substance, focus on aesthetics, and easy sharability. But the first poem of Cook’s that I discovered—“Sorry I haven’t texted you back”—was both unique and extremely intimate, and it hit incredibly close to home.
Clearly I was not the only one who thought so, because that poem later opened a collection of the same name, which I will be writing about shortly. But this is not a review of Sorry I Haven’t Texted You Back. This is a review of its younger sibling and Cook’s second publication, Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately.
Structured like a mixtape, Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately is divided into two parts: a Side A “the poems” and a Side B “the remixes,” the latter of which is comprised of blackout versions of the former. Both sides have something valuable to offer, and these drastically different styles complement one another quite well catering to both fans of longer poems that tell stories or shorter “Instagram-friendly” verses.
This structure is not just a gimmick, however. It effectively mimics the pattern of rumination so often seen in people who have experienced pain or trauma, either simplifying a story to its core sentiment or occasionally doing the opposite entirely and breaking the cycle by transforming indelible experiences into positive truths. And Cook has experienced pain and trauma, this much is clear from just the first poem (or “Track”) in the book. Dealing with themes of change, heartbreak, isolation, and death, it is ultimately a collection about the many forms of loss—including loss of self—and the grief that accompanies it.
Of course, every mixtape needs music. Each Track is followed by a “Currently Listening To” annotation. To those familiar with them, the songs Cook picks to accompany each of her poems adds a layer of depth not found anywhere else. These selections include rap, musical theatre, ballads, and everything in between, and it always brought a smile to my face to see a song that I was a fan of. As a bit of an aside, Cook is also pretty active on Goodreads and saw me getting really excited about our similar music tastes…
Another personal touch is the cover art itself, which was hand-drawn by the author. This is a collection written from the heart, and one that made me feel as if Alicia were right there, telling me her story. I would highly recommend it to anyone, especially to those coping with mental illness or a loss of their own. And, as the dedication notes, “to anyone who loves someone struggling with addiction.”
The first, self-published edition of Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately was nominated for 2016 Goodreads Choice Award in Poetry. The second edition published by AndrewsMcMeel is available in paperback and digital formats.