A woman lives an ordinary life in Brooklyn. She has a boyfriend. They share a cat. She writes poems in the prevailing style. She also has dreams: of being seduced by a throng of older women, of kissing a friend in a dorm-room closet. But the dreams are private, not real. One night, she meets another woman at a bar, and an escape hatch swings open in the floor of her life.
Couplets are seductive, but a dangerous lilt, as too much of this good could easily tilt to light verse. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with fun! Millner’s not shy of whimsy and singsong ... Her puns punctuate, rather than dictate.
They’re best when they’re inevitable, part of the substrate instead of spotlit (as in the line break 'in Bed-Stuy with our playlist on': too cleverly said) ... Though Couplets could be viewed from some angles as a novel, this book is straight-up as formal poetry as it can be, while, simultaneously, queering all binaries.
Millner explores what happens when the ferocity of wanting is bound by the restraint of form ... Millner depicts a woman fully awakened to the possibilities of being alive, despite the shackles on her hands, mind and heart. Keeping the stakes high on every page, Millner transcends the tawdry to ask readers, obliquely, whether they are sleepwalking through their days ... Millner delights in the small pivots and grooves afforded by strict verse. Even the line breaks provide fractals of the fractured themes of longing, grief, hope and passion. Restless, imaginative and daring, Couplets advances the canon of the erotic.
Stand further back from the passage and you can see the poet herself laying out the parts she’s been given, finding the 'hundred screws,' the 'plastic pegs,' the words with which she’ll make those parts into a serviceable whole. As anyone who has assembled a piece of ikea furniture knows, things rarely line up perfectly, and what you’re left with is something you can live with but also something that will never entirely conceal that you are the one who put it together. Rhyme is working that way here ... What Millner has built, after all, is not a bed but a poem, one that wants you to notice its own discomfort in its anachronistic, unfashionable form ... If the tendency of rhyme, like that of desire, is to pull distant things together and force their boundaries to blur, then the countervailing force in this book, the one that makes it go, is the impulse toward narrative ... Millner’s ultimate achievement is to draw open the distance between the book’s first line and its ostensibly identical second, between the self that one takes as given and the self, no less true, that one cannot help but make.