January 8th, 2011 / 5:21 am

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:

1. An Interview with Maggie Nelson at About Creativity:

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.

2. An Interview with Maggie Nelson at BOMB:

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.

3. Interview with Maggie Nelson at Chaparral:

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.

4. Audio from various readings at Penn Sound.

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, but
prose has. My process of writing poems has
much more BODY in it: I write on napkins,
in notepads, on receipts, etc. and then put it
all down in one place and tote the pages
with me to different locales. But prose
makes me feel like my ass is waxed to the
chair. Instead of marking time, prose makes
it disappear. Whole days, lost to the wormhole of work. Perhaps you and I have this
in common: rhetorically we privilege indolence, but we both really like to work.
6. A Reading at the PENCenterUSA’s Festival of Poets:


  1. stephen

      1. I disagree.

      (Just FYI: I feel like dislike or dissatisfaction re humanist, domestic realist-type fiction with epiphanies and shit is often channeled by [certain people] into dislike for connecting fiction to its author or the discussion of/self-presentation of an author, autobiographical writing, etc. I think it is also channeled from a dislike for celebrity and celebrities. None of these dislikes are particularly appealing to me. I feel like it is akin, ultimately, to hating people and maybe to hating yourself, which is understandable but not productive, also to being an asshole in various ways, which is funny and amusing, I agree, and we’re all gonna die, I get that, but still seems like it would feel good to try harder to love everyone. And on some real talk, honestly feel it is pathetic to talk shit about celebrities, no joke, and a waste of [everything]. Feels like 1999 to me or something. I honestly feel like hate is wack in 2011, u guyz… I know u dont want 2 hear it (and that’s fine) but I’m sayin… Seriously though, I feel like hate is of fear, and I am of love, even though sumtimes I do get fearful yall (“pray 4 me”)…… I also think that the dimension of the author’s existence and personality and activities in real life (as opposed to say a character called the Author or [the author’s name] within the text, which is maybe a related game, but less connected to reality, and more connected to the text, depending on [various things], and not quite the same thing to me/the same, but that’s like complicated but whatever idk), so to speak, can be very interesting to me and is becoming noticeably present amongst contemporary writers in different ways than before via social media. I think a greater embrace of this dimension by both authors and readers could lead to a decrease in [something/whatever] and an increase in empathy and understanding, regardless of the content/seeming intent of whoever’s poem/story/novel(la). That last bit seems relevant. Like, just bc yr all experimental and kewl doesnt mean u have 2 h8 people, people presenting themselves/loving/being interested in and prone to analyzing themselves, books with characters and dialogue and things happening in them, etc. This extradimensional writing I’m talking about, where The Author is Present (via Abramovic), or superliterary writing, as our swell pal JC put it, seems like another path to [something/nothing], maybe, and like, “delicious”/potentially moving and involving/fun/”sweet-ass” as opposed to Effing God, Really, Fuck, H8 This, H8…U All…., Whereas postmodern/metafictional/Experimental! writing was/is a path to like I don’t know, a path into words/thots/mazes (just made that up; supply yr own), this is like a path into what we call reality by fictional limitless means, which means something is at stake, our lovely worthless lives, which I think is kewl because http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pT68FS3YbQ4(yeah, i went there(jk)(I dont care about yr superior taste in music)(the other other JC)(#2kdouble1)))

      2. Sweet. I saw her read somewhat by accident via my friends were going, and she seemed very nice/intelligent.

  2. Christopher Higgs

      Maggie Nelson also has a killer scholarly book out called Women, the New York School, and other true abstractions from Iowa University Press, which contains insightful essays about Bernadette Mayer, Alice Notley, Eileen Myles, and other important experimental women writers. She’s a good role model for anyone who wants to live the dual life of scholarly academic and creative writer.

  3. Ken Baumann

      Thanks for this post. Bluets is a new favorite of mine, and yes to 2 and that next paragraph.
      Also: I very much agree with this and try to live in parallel: ‘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.’

  4. Nikwalk

      Ooh. I didn’t know about the scholarly book. I’ll check it out.

  5. elizabeth

      check out her book something bright, then holes. the subject matter is more or less the same as bluets re: the love affair, her friend’s accident. i found it v. rewarding to read the two texts side by side. here’s the title poem:

      Maggie Nelson

      I used to do this, the self I was
      used to do this

      the selves I no longer am
      nor understand.

      Something bright, then holes
      is how a girl, newly-sighted, once

      described a hand. I reread
      your letters, and remember

      correctly: you wanted to eat
      through me. Then fall asleep

      with your tongue against
      an organ, quiet enough

      to hear it kick. Learn everything
      there is to know

      about loving someone
      then walk away, coolly

      I’m not ashamed
      Love is large and monstrous

      Never again will I be so blind, so ungenerous
      O bright snatches of flesh, blue

      and pink, then four dark furrows, four
      funnels, leading into a infinite ditch

      The heart, too, is porous;
      I lost the water you poured into it

  6. Sdf


  7. Anonymous


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  9. Anonymous


  10. Gina Myers

      Maggie is wonderful–I feel very lucky to have had her as a teacher. Bluets is probably my favorite of hers, but I second Elizabeth’s recommendation for Something Bright, Then Holes.

  11. Anonymous


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  13. Anonymous

      Can I also add, writing as the (former) publisher of Something Bright, Then Holes (though sadly not of Bluets) that folks might consider her book-length poem, Jane: A Murder, which I also published. FYI, she is also working on another scholarly book on aesthetics and violence for Norton which is, I think, publishing in 2012?

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