Maggie Nelson Roundup
1. The book is all there is, and it doesn’t matter who wrote the book. The text is the text and has no relationship to anything outside the text. What’s outside the text doesn’t matter. All that matters is what’s inside the text.
2. This book is so interesting that I have come to believe that the writer of the book is very interesting. I want to read the writer’s other books, and I want to know about the writer and read interviews with the writers and find out what the writer has said about herself.
This second impulse is amplified when the book is confessional or obsessive or in some way different from other books you’ve read. Maggie Nelson’s Bluets is all three of those things. It’s a hybrid of essay and prose poem which starts as a meditation on the color blue, but ends up being about almost everything. If you look at a thing to which you’re drawn closely enough, the book seems to be saying, all your other important attachments will rise alongside the meditation about the thing you’ve taken as your subject.
I’ve read Bluets twice now, and even though I would enjoy reading Bluets a third time without knowing anything about the writer of Bluets other than that she was the writer of Bluets, I still wanted to know other things about the writer of Bluets and the writing of Bluets. Here are some excerpts from some things I found on the Internet, with links to those things:
I know there are many who believe in the Trollope school of thought, that one should wax one’s ass to the chair and spit out novels or sestinas or whatever without waiting around for that elusive, romantic, ghost-in-machine, inspiration. But for me the work of being a writer is the easy part. I like being at work. What I like less are the soggy, ill-defined but probably necessary periods between monsoon and drought. The periods of silence, inactivity, and aimlessness that inevitably punctuate a life. Being possessed is pleasurable — it feels good to lose control of the car while also somehow staying behind the wheel. But abiding with a dead or resting or paused brain, or numbness, or ordinariness, or sanity — that’s harder for me. So the best trick I know has less to do with tapping into creativity and more to do with cultivating the capacity to live without it. To let it go, and not feel as if the plug has been pulled on life. This abiding demands a certain kind of acceptance: If it is better that I write something again, let me write something again. If it is better that I never write again, let me never write again. (The prayer I’m cribbing from actually requires a more radical acceptance: If it is better for me to be dead, let me be dead.) I wouldn’t call this a trick, exactly; it’s more of a renunciation.
I’ve always loved blue, and I’ve always been a writer, so the prospect of a book about blue has been hovering with me, around me, for some time. But in another sense, the book was a localized, reactionary choice: I had just written two books about a sexual murder in my family (Jane: A Murder and The Red Parts) and I actively wanted to spend time writing and thinking about something I loved rather than something I found despicable and frightening. So it began as a pillow book of sorts, a book devoted to pleasure. Because I am who I am, or because pleasure is what it is, the book slid pretty quickly into dealing with pain too.
I was recently writing this book about the color blue that’s coming out this fall. It’s kind of paragraph chunks, prose, but they are all numbered. The editor thought it would be a good experiment to print out each paragraph on a separate page and re-arrange them, but there were too many of them. The book is over one hundred pages and by doing that there were over 250 pages. I just thought, I’m at the edge of my montage era. It was infinite. It was a good exercise. I did eventually see the parts that could become more enlivened through some re-arranging. When people want to write something experimental they sometimes think the main feature is that it shouldn’t be chronological. But Jane and The Red Parts are both, in some sense, chronological—they’re just not linear, per se. Chronology, to me, has come to mean the art of charting the mysterious and perhaps illusory movement of events through space-time, which is always a necessary and unruly task.
5. Conversation between Maggie Nelson and Wayne Koestenbaum at Poetry Project Newsletter (Scroll down to page 20 in the PDF):
Poetry has never injured me, bodily, butprose has. My process of writing poems hasmuch more BODY in it: I write on napkins,in notepads, on receipts, etc. and then put itall down in one place and tote the pageswith me to different locales. But prosemakes me feel like my ass is waxed to thechair. Instead of marking time, prose makesit disappear. Whole days, lost to the wormhole of work. Perhaps you and I have thisin common: rhetorically we privilege indolence, but we both really like to work.