Friday, January 14, 2011

A Thing of Beauty

I bought Maggie Nelson's Bluets a few months ago and just read it last night. I have to say it's an incredible piece of writing. The sort of writing that works on the reader psychosomatically. It was at turns an arousing and depressing experience. Written in a total of 240 numbered vignettes/thoughts/critiques--240 bluets. A field of 240 cornflowers swaying in a blue wind.

"48. Imagine, for example, someone who fucks like a whore. Someone who seems good at it, professional. Someone you can still see fucking you, in the mirror, always in the mirror, crazy fucking about three feet away, in an apartment lit by blue light, never lit by daylight, this person is always fucking you from behind in blue light and you both always seem good at it, dedicated and lost unto it, as if there is no other activity on God's given earth your bodies know how to do except fuck and be fucked like this, in this dim blue light, in this mirror. What do you call someone who fucks this way?"

This is one of Maggie's more raw and impacting moments. Notice I say Maggie's--the possessive. This is her experience. I mean Bluets is an incredibly poetic, genre-bending work (it's not all about crude language, for those conservative). But perhaps what makes it most raw is that the reader is aware that this is Maggie's experience. Bluets is certainly among works like Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther in it's expressions of youthful nihilism from the fallout of a seemingly unforgettable high. But, unlike Goethe's young Werther, Maggie only has Maggie. There's no tampon for her blue period. The voice is honest. It is beautiful. It is more full of bluing than you might expect.
I had a couple initial thoughts that stayed with me after having read the book.

1. Maggie and I have similar taste in literature. Or at least turn to some of the same authors for advice.
2. There is a concern for beauty and salvaging innocence (or a purer state of womanhood to be more specific)
that bears a striking resemblance to Anne Carson's work in Beauty of the Husband and Autobiography of Red.

I thought first of Beauty of the Husband because, like Bluets, it approaches the subject of beauty and its
osmosis unconventionally. Anne uses tangoes. Maggie uses what I like to think of as a bluet.
What is most interesting as a male reader is the absence of a prominent male lead in these works. The absence of men is what allows the reader to draw the image of man or the man responsible. What woman is not. What absence. Is man? The antagonist in a sense. That which withdraws, possessed of an otherworldly, intoxicating beauty. It's an incredible inversion of the phallogocentric model. And it excites me, as a writer and reader, to know more incredible female voices.

-Andrew E. Colarusso


  1. I read about half of Bluets at a bookstore, but could not afford to purchase the book at the time, and so had to leave it. This was not a very thorough reading, but here are my thoughts.

    Of course, the inevitability of the writer's presence in their work is undeniable. I would agree as well that Beauty of the Husband and what I read of Bluets do seem more impacted by the personal life than perhaps other poets (ringings of Sylvia Plath?).

    I did not find the writing in Bluets to be quite as exciting or enjoyable to read as any of Anne Carson's work, especially Autobiography which I found absolutely brilliant, but it was very nice. Maggie Nelson has created a field of blue (as you said). She stands separated, at the far other edge of a color, the distance between you and her closing with every poem. Somewhere in the middle you ask, "Has the plane just become darker? Is everything bright?" Everything molded out of the same paper, and all the shapes go tumbling into Nelson's hand, and she is saying, "Here is this one...and here is this one..." and you are so transfixed you don't notice how far you have moved across this world she has displayed when you stop reading.

    I believe the absence of men in these works is exactly what you say. Man is a sort of unseen opposite which manages to be so alluring that you cannot help but wander about its lack of presence (which I suppose gives it more of a presence). This is also not a concept I have thought through as much as you have. I will have to read some, think hard on it, and return.

  2. I think I've always just liked people named Maggie. If you'd like we can send you a copy of Bluets? Just shoot us an email.