cover image Couplets


Maggie Millner. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25 (128p) ISBN 978-0-374-60795-1

Copulative pleasures abound in this spectacular debut that cloaks memoir in rhyming couplets and prose poems. The autofictional plot reads like a fairy tale: a woman in Brooklyn leaves her old life with “its familiar openwork/ of sex and teaching, kale and NPR// and the boyfriend at the center I revered,” for a woman, “My eye loved// everything it fell upon./ And then one day it fell upon/ a mirror. And he was nowhere/ in the mirror. And she was everywhere.” Love and lust find uncanny expression under poetic constraints (“isn’t love itself a type// of rhyme?”). The rhymes are at once delicious—at times gasp-worthy—and yet so expertly deployed that they become “a shape that feels more native than imposed.” “Those days, I was something else:// a soft vacuity. A sort of net./ No guilt, no age. No epithet.” As the perfectly paced narrative unfolds, self-scrutiny about life and writing deepens; love becomes “the engine of self-knowledge.” Exploring the question of how exactly to tell her story, the poet admits: “Sometimes when you sat down, alone with your mind, you felt you were performing both parts of an elaborate duet.” Erudite but never overbearing, this is a remarkable achievement. (Feb.)