New England Literary News

Claire Millikin finds poetry amid the pines of Maine in ‘Ransom Street’

Claire Millikin’s new collection of poetry, “Ransom Street,” is both haunting and sharp.
Claire Millikin’s new collection of poetry, “Ransom Street,” is both haunting and sharp.Amy Wilton

Into the woods

Poet Claire Millikin lived for years in Owls Head, Maine, and returns there every summer from Virginia, where she teaches at UVA. What other state has a landscape more austere than Maine? And the forest density, the pines that rise, make place for secrets. Her haunting new collection, “Ransom Street ” (2Leaf), captures this austerity, and the shadowed places where things hide. Millikin wrestles here with different kinds of violence and the wounds that last. Hers is a geography of water and woods and skin, and she holds a deep awareness of the weight and weightlessness of words in comparison. “Understand there is nothing/ human inside, no secret self/ beyond this memory of pinewoods/ where no language spoken could leave a shadow,” she writes in “Shadowlands.” We cannot return to what we were, she makes us know: “Build a house of paper, translucent, material scar/ undone with desire/ to be innocent . . . never to have been.” Millikin will read and discuss her work on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the Owl & Turtle Bookstore in Camden, Maine.


Love in the air

We’re half a year away from Valentine’s Day, but this Saturday, independent bookstores across the country are celebrating the romance novel as part of the inaugural Bookstore Romance Day. Its aim is to bring romance readers and writers together, to focus attention on the genre, and to build the bond between the robust romance world and indie bookshops. Locally, 13 bookstores in Massachusetts will be taking part (as of now, tied with California and Washington state for the most participating stores): An Unlikely Story, Belmont Books, Brookline Booksmith, Cabot Street Books, Friendly Neighborhood Comics, the Bookloft, the Silver Unicorn Bookstore, Whitelam Books, Tatnuck Bookseller, Titcomb’s Bookshop, Harvard Bookstore, Buttonwood Books, and Trident. Different stores will hold different offerings. At the Brookline Booksmith, look for raffles, a display of staff favorites, personalized romance recs, and Booksmith Romance stickers. For more information, visit bookstoreromanceday.org.


Ease with unease 

Like Shirley Jackson, Paul Tremblay, who lives outside Boston, traffics in horror both straightforward and oblique, exorcising the monstrous within us as much as the monsters in the shadows, the woods, under the bed. The stories in his new collection, “Growing Things” (William Morrow), display a writer working with a powerful imagination, taking the world we know — our pals, partners, families, our neighborhoods, bookstores, bars, moving from East Providence to Antarctica — and injecting the sinister, the non-understood, the deeply dark in a way that grabs on and haunts. Alongside the bumps-in-the-night come more existential terrors: “Time is not an arrow. It is a bottomless bag in which we collect things that will be forgotten.” Taken as a whole, the book confirms Tremblay’s atmospheric mastery, his ability to capture a growing sense of Not Right, the moment when dream goes nightmare.

Coming Out

The Memory Policeby Yoko Ogawa, translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder (Pantheon)

Mydriasis: Followed by ‘To the Icebergs’ ” by J.M.G Le Clézio, translated from the French by Teresa Lavender Fagan (Seagull)

The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom (Grove)

Pick of the Week

McKenna Garrison at Trident Booksellers and Café in Boston recommends “The Power” by Naomi Alderman (Back Bay): “In Alderman's latest novel, the future is most definitely female. This is all thanks to a global revolution thousands of years prior, when women around the world discovered they had the electric Power within them and were suddenly armed and dangerous. If you, like me, are expecting the ultimate female empowerment fantasy, think again. Amid the wild, explosive story of upheaval and the global shift of control, a very different message is abundantly and uncomfortably clear: Power corrupts absolutely, no matter whose hands are in control.”

Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter.” She can be reached at nmaclaughlin@gmail.com.