Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"The specificity and strength of my relation"

This week, I read a book I've been meaning to read for a while: Maggie Nelson's Bluets. I first came across Maggie Nelson's work when I was working at my college library, shelving on the level with the Ns and Ps. Since I was working on my own senior project writing poems, I often pulled volumes straight from "to be shelved" to read, and this was the case with Nelson's book The Latest Winter. I loved reading that book, her later Jane: A Murder, and now this one.

After reading a review of Bluets, I wasn't sure where to look for it at the bookstore - literary nonfiction, poetry, fiction? As it turns out, I had to have it specially ordered anyway, but I guess what I would call the short, numbered pieces in the book are meditations. In fact, that may have been what the reviewer called them, and I'm just plagiarizing. They're meditations on blue: the color, but also the concept, and other, related concepts: depression, heartbreak, drowning, holiness. It's a very moving book. The writing is literate and honest. There is a lot to think about, and I'm still thinking about a lot of it.

Aside from all that, though, the experience of looking for it in the bookstore, and of reading it, underscored a transition (?) I've been going through lately. I've talked to a couple of people recently who asked me, "Are you still writing poems?" And I am, but far fewer than I used to. Often I find myself with thoughts I want to write down, but at a loss for their proper vehicle: they just don't make a good poem, or even part of one. Reading writers like Maggie Nelson and John D'Agata make me wonder if I should just accept this, write, and then shape whatever it is, whether it turns out to be a poem, an essay, or something else. I'm reminded of the retrospective essay I had to write to complete my English major. I wrote about taking a fiction writing class as a freshman, how it made me realize that I wasn't cut out to write fiction - that I cared so much more about individual words and sentences than plot and dialogue, and should probably concentrate on poetry instead. I wonder if this a similar shift is going on now.

Within Bluets, Maggie Nelson comments on what she's writing and how she's writing it:

"...I imagined creating a blue tome, an encyclopedic compendium of blue observations, thoughts, and facts....I thought I had collected enough blue to build a mountain, albeit one of detritus. But it seems to me now as if I have stumbled upon a pile of thin blue gels scattered on the stage long after the show has come and gone...." (91)

And (referring to Leonard Cohen's song "Famous Blue Raincoat"):
"...I have always loved its final line - 'Sincerely, L. Cohen' - as it makes me feel less alone in composing almost everything I write as a letter. I would even go so far as to say that I do not know how to compose otherwise, which makes writing in a prism of solitude, as I am here, a somewhat novel and painful experiment." (41)

And finally:
"It does not really bother me that half the adults in the Western world also love blue, or that every dozen years or so someone feels compelled to write a book about it. I feel confident enough of the specificity and strength of my relation to it to share." (61)

The thoughts I have, the ones I want to write down - about street names in New England and human behavior and adulthood and a bunch of other stuff - I don't know yet which ones I feel confident enough in their and my specificity to share. But I think I'm going to have to stop tying them to one form to find out.

All quotations from Nelson, Maggie. Bluets. New York: Wave Books, 2009.

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