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)
"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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