Movies, haircuts, forests, backroads, pottery, photographs, jewelry, birds: the objects that make up and are discarded in the process of a life are the transient, mournfully held subjects of Transitional Objects. The book is bound as four booklets: Straight Line, Film, Fakes, and Vanishing Point, encouraging readers to experience the narrative of Transitional Objects as fluent and shifting. It is the objects, the places where a life is held and the places that a life holds, that create this haunting and spare poetry of vision and touch.
Review by Kirkus Reviews
Millikin’s poetry collection offers a powerful meditation on trauma and ancestral legacy.
The poems collected here evoke forgotten, in-between places; in these verses, the author’s trademark imagery of cold pine forests and dark motel rooms continues to abound. Millikin is a poet preoccupied with the often painful imprint left by family legacy that manifests itself across several generations; in “The Dark Birds,” she observes, “My father was haunted by the wars / in which his father fought….” The speaker continues, “He brought home the bad dreams of war, and I inherit them / through my father….” Abuse is another sickening inheritance, as addressed in the poem “Barbie Doll as Tutelary Spirit for the Too-Early Dead,” in which a father gives his daughter a doll to appease his guilt: “As a small child, you weren’t ready / for your father’s love. / But with the ones who lead you / to death, it is never easy, / touching the beauty of their offerings.” The poet often intertwines memory with natural imagery to render nuances of pain: “my father’s love, that ran too deep, / stung and burned by nettles on descent. / The Romans used nettles to march their soldiers through winter. / Nettles burn the skin creating painful warmth.” While Millikin’s poetry is intensely personal, in poems like “Trailer Parks” it also presents a broader truth: “The abused learned to accept abuse / that’s what I know from my childhood at the outskirts.”
The author has the ability to effortlessly locate complex emotional states. The opening of “Straight Line” advises, “To manage grief, cut your hair each evening.” The poet later goes on to declare that “All those years, I grew my hair longer, / preparing for what I’d have to face” (readers who have spent their lives braced for the worst will relate immediately to Millikin’s shrewd observations). Still, her writing can prove discomforting. There is a deep, artful sorrow in the manner in which the poet captures the passing of time in poems such as “Ocean Closets,” which suggests, “On a day of heavy weather, stay in the house, listen. / Trees stretch their branches into cries. Your child will grow up / leaving behind outgrown pairs of shoes for you to discard.” Elsewhere, the cautionary poem “Outskirts” describes a deplorably rapacious world: “If you are beautiful, they will rape you. / If you are strong, you will carry their burdens.” The poem “Outdoor Parties” observes, “If you don’t talk, no one will know / how strange you are, and they’ll like you / because you’re a pretty girl, with the right make-up. / I used to think it would work, following this advice / of my pastor uncle.” Millikin expresses horror over the idea of other women being manipulated and subjugated by men similar to her uncle; her thorough unpacking of how patriarchy operates is a call for other women to emphatically reject it. This collection demonstrates a profound understanding of suffering and resilience.
Intricate, incisive writing that traces the fallout of the past and righteously rails against abuse.