In Maggie Millner’s “Couplets,” a twenty-eight-year-old woman shares the story of an affair, her raw ruminations on eroticism and attempts to make sense of her life by using poetry. Couplets are two verses that complement one another. Personifying a couplet is what she subconsciously yearns for but after being absorbed into an affair, she forgets that couplets are composed of two verses, not three.
The story starts with the protagonist sharing how she meets the woman who she has an affair with. They bond over the book she is reading, “Middlemarch” by George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans). Breaking out of the couplets and into prose, the protagonist then confesses to her boyfriend her erotic dreams with women and asks for his permission to experiment. He initially agrees but then changes his mind, although the protagonist is already too involved in her desires that she sleeps with the woman she met at the beginning of the story, and over time enters an exclusive relationship with her. Unsatisfied with her new—and toxic—relationship, she reminisces about her old one.
When the protagonist has the opportunity to explore her sexual desires, the affair leads to an existential crisis. If you’re in your late twenties, just like me, you understand that you can still learn about your sexual orientation. It can be a chaotic and puzzling process. The protagonist in “Couplets” works as a professor teaching a composition class, and in one brilliant poem, she reaffirms that she can get through difficult times:
Restate your thesis in the final paragraph.
You can fuck up and still be fine—remember that
“Couplets” explores many controversial questions like to what extent can an affair be considered an accident? Can eroticism exist without exploitation? And are there ways of expressing it safely and without shame after its release? This book is about more than someone who simply has an affair. We are also led to ask if we can make sense of life using poetic devices or do we just want to make poetry out of our life?
One can appreciate the literary references and constant quotes of writers like Adrienne Rich, Rachel Hadas, Virginia Woolf, Vivian Gornick and Audre Lorde. When I first started reading “Couplets,” I thought it was going to be a fast read but I found myself awestruck by some of its poems. I appreciated that the protagonist’s self-analysis drove the story. It is truly an intricate read.
By Maggie Millner
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 128 pages
Angelica Flores is a Mexican-American writer and Dominican University graduate. She enjoys working on English-Spanish translations and has created the Southwest Nest Series for the online arts publication, Sixty Inches From Center. She also writes for The Gate Newspaper, where she has reviewed books, films, and theater performances. She works for the Poetry Foundation and is the owner of the blog, The Macaron Raccoon.