Winner of the 2016 Cleveland State University Poetry Center First Book Competition and chosen by National Book Award Recipient Daniel Borzutzky, daughterrarium is an exploration of relationships mitigated by systemic intervention at the intersection of ancestral trauma, unnatural forces, violence, anger, and investigation of shame within the body.
What people are saying:
What are we born into? What does it mean to be loved by God and Earth? What do we owe and to whom? How does one experience the fusion of anger and shame in a mind and body? What do the doctors say to the bodies that are broken? Where do the bodies go when they are taken away from themselves? How does a body heal itself? How does a body degrade itself? How does a body mourn and survive the trauma of fear, pain and abuse? I admire daughterrarium for pushing too far, for making me cringe with its representations of what one human can do to another, of what a body can do to itself. McMullin takes a tenacious look at violence and the abject while also interrogating, with great compassion, the nature of faith, family and growth.
“There are those who have hurt you not because you are ignorant, but because you have a heart.” Sheila McMullin’s daughterarium is a collection of the kindest rage I have ever seen. The book chronicles, among its tendernesses, McMullin’s refusal to turn the rage onto herself–“How not to blame myself for being fragile?”– and the difficulty of locating what is hurting us, or why, and how to heal a wound that is constantly re-opened. If you believe in rage, if you care deeply about women, then read this brilliant book again and again across your lifetime. Otherwise, “You have to get out of the way.”
In a dish of fevered poppies, glassy runnunculus, and red tide hunger, the daughter infects herself. She’s infected by self, burning up until McMullin’s cool hand runs across the daughterrarium‘s viral waters. Cancer, the crab, a sunrise that won’t clot. The neogothic daughter, her many manifestations bleed together in this prize-winning jailbreak. She says [t]ake me out of this bed and put me back in the grass, but really she’s taking us. Out, back. Give her your hand or get out of her way.
…(Sheila is) a tulip filled with shark’s teeth.
Terrariums confine predators such as snakes and lizards, suppressing their instinctual fierceness. In the span of daughterrarium, however, the speaker augments and refines her aggression. Decay and a myriad of oppressive voices riddle her habitat, but when the speaker and the reader emerge from this “walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” both are much, much stronger.
–Katie Hibner, Galatea Resurrects
McMullin give glimpses into the speaker’s trauma without flinching or becoming sentimental. The poet covers issues of sexual abuse, cancer, isolation from family, dissociation from the body, and more; she writes, “Being unprepared meant handing over her body, / but seeing as it’s still attached to me / I can’t let go.” But the poet’s relationship with trauma is that of fierce and persistent acceptance rather than bitter resignation.
–Xan Schwartz, Heavy Feather Review
…before our eyes this daughter with claws begins to figure out how to feel good. At the end of daughterrarium, the horizons change. The daughter may be surrounded by flowers but also, as the daughter puts it, “I put the ginger flower into my mouth./ Orchards bloom inside me.”
–Keegan Cook Finberg, Southern Indiana Review
McMullin focuses and reveals the many ways the feminine body is exploited, is overpowered in the patriarchal schema of the world. She reveals these dynamics in ways that play with the reader, then confront the reader, and finally blossoms within the reader.
–Kristen Brida, So to Speak: A feminist journal of language and art
In Sheila McMullin’s collection of poetry, daughterrarium, the reader becomes witness. We observe the narrator’s journey through trauma, a journey in which she exposes her deepest vulnerabilities, her rage, and her quest for agency, as she keenly observes every emotion, every image, every angle of the lived experience of pain. In the suffocating parameters of trauma, she survives—and we want her to survive. We take the journey with her because she dares us to keep observing, to stay with her as she courageously processes her pain.
–Sheryl Rivett, The Ocean State Review
Throughout the collection, McMullin harnesses the power of recurrence. In “Tapering,” as we saw, mother and daughter have lived with depression. Elsewhere, words and lines repeat and/or are recombined, becoming leitmotifs allowing us to trace patterns, to feel through language and image how it feels to be one woman coming into consciousness of the similarities among women while maintaining a sense of the individual voice, the (I).
–Sara Burant, Omniverse
No, we won’t find much comfort here, or words pretty for pretty’s sake. Sheila McMullin scores the flesh of her observations and sears them with ponderous, mostly unanswerable questions about pain and anger, consequences, finality.
–Matt Sutherland, Foreword Reviews
Poet Sheila McMullin in her debut collection daughterrarium (CSU Poetry Center 2017) smashes the reader over the head with a song that spits out those limiting beliefs.
–Kristi Carter, Aqueduct Press