Dolls

2Leaf Press, 2021
Category
New and Featured Books, Poetry as Claire Millikin
About

Poems that address the pain caused by gender stereotypes and racial oppression in the American South.

Claire Millikin’s poetry collection, Dolls, stages a confrontation of gendered and racial oppression. Working through the motif of the doll, the poems interrogate femininity in the traditional culture of the South, where damaging structures of gender and race are upheld. Millikin centers the book on an elegy for Sage Smith, an African American trans woman who disappeared from Charlottesville in 2012. Through the recurring figure of the doll—an ultra-femme figure who is frozen, damaged, silenced—Millikin protests the conditions of sexism in the area she was born in, offering poised responses to the wound of injustice that still shapes the region. With a reflective introduction by poet and scholar Sean Frederick Forbes, Dolls presents a harsh look at the price of traditional femininity.

Buy

(Nina MacLaughlin, The Boston Globe

“In the preface to her new collection of poetry, “Dolls” (2Leaf), Maine-based poet Claire Millikin writes of Sage Smith, to whom the book is dedicated, a 19-year-old Black transwoman from Charlottesville, Va., who disappeared in 2012 and is presumed dead. “She emblematizes the themes of this book: the conscription of femininity to suffering in the traditional South.” And she names the driving question behind the book: “How do we speak for the silenced?” Millikin’s poems are intimate, personal, addressing, obliquely and not, childhood sexual abuse, an eating disorder (she stopped starving herself at 15, “but it took decades/ after that to lose the habit/ of silence, hunger’s match”), what it feels like to be treated like a doll. And the poems look broadly at the American scene in this fraught moment, its sexism, racism, and transphobia. “A doll’s voice/ is a false front, a pretense,/ like the idea of American happiness.” The dolls throughout serve as facsimiles for girlhood and personhood, inanimate, unsouled, without voice. She brings other artists into the conversation — Walker Evans, Joseph Cornell, Dorothea Lange — and notes, with narrow-eyed clarity, “the fourth dimension/ isn’t time or light or gravity, but memory.”