the world seems to split up
into those who need to dredge
and those who shrug their shoulders
and say, It’s just something
While Maggie Nelson refers here to a polluted urban waterway, the Gowanus Canal, these words could just as easily describe Nelson’s incisive approach to desire, heartbreak, and emotional excavation in Something Bright, Then Holes. Whether writing from the debris-strewn shores of a contaminated canal or from the hospital room of a friend, Nelson charts each emotional landscape she encounters with unparalleled precision and empathy. Since its publication in 2007, the collection has proven itself to be both a record of a singular vision in the making as well as a timeless meditation on love, loss, and–perhaps most frightening of all–freedom.
[Nelson’s] book--part memoir, part critical inquiry touching on desire, love, and famil
Maggie Nelson has proven her brilliance--a special blend of poeticism and philosophy, of theorizing and prose-weavin
Nelson’s writing is flui
In a culture still too quick to ask people to pick a side--to be male or female, to be an assimilationist or a revolutionary, to be totally straight or totally gay, totally hetero- or totally homo-normativ
There isn’t another critic alive like Maggie Nelso
Once again, Maggie Nelson has created awe-inspiring work, one that smartly calls bullshit on the places culture--radical subcultures include
An important and frequently surprising book . . . could be read as the foundation for a post-avant-garde aesthetics . . . Nelson, who is also a poet, is such a graceful writer that I . . . just sat back and enjoyed the show.
[Nelson’s] critiques of individual artists are delightfully fierce without being mean spirited . . . Fascinating and bracingly intelligent . . . The Art of Cruelty’s prose is often gorgeous.
A lean-forward experience, and in its most transcendent moments, reading it can feel like having the best conversation of your life.
I hope that critics, and aspiring critics, and those who are interested in the relationship between art and ethics, read [The Art of Cruelty].
Nelson’s expressive style springs from her subject as much as the content, in turn, inflects her vocabulary, tone and structure. Seeking such reciprocity--no less an ideal than, say, ’the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings’--may radically redefine poetry, as it increasingly becomes the genre that is not one.
Building the book as a collection of facts and quotations, Nelson interweaves her own insights, textual interpretations, and anecdotes ranging from the tragic to the outrageous. Nelson may, admittedly, have fallen short of the ’compendium of blue observations, thoughts, and facts’ she says she at first envisioned, but this slim volume is nonetheless an elegant, indispensable addition to the genre of the lyric essay.
From blue factoids like Benedict de Saussure’s 1789 invention of ’cyanometer, with which he hoped to measure the blue of the sky, ’ to her own struggles with depression, Nelson gifts us with what seems like a lifetime study of blue while somehow slyly avoiding any of the obvious ’blue’ clichés. Maggie Nelson continues to raise the bar higher in what a reader can expect from a book. Bluets is smart yet intimate, quiet yet provocative, and a welcome addition to the poetic non-fiction discourse.
In the end Nelson breaks free of romance’s tyranny. She dreams someone sends her cornflowers, the American name for bluets. Shaggy, wild, and strong--they’re a revealing metaphor for the author.
In 240 entries, Nelson relates a history of blue from philosophical, zoological and literary perspectives, all the while weaving in bits of memoir and emotional rumination. Through this collage, she broadens the definition of blue from a merely visual phenomenon to a vehicle for the divine.
It’s an impossible book to describe without simply handing it to you; it is, hackneyed as it is to say, a book to be experienced. I can only report that I am reading it again and again, that the resonances between the (seemingly) disparate propositions are startling and emotional, that I suspect your reaction will be different and also quite wonderful.
Brash, feverish, intractable, exploratory, and terribly ’touchant’ Nelson’s Bluets is, I am remind’d for some reason (it’s in Marías) of Rimbaud’s line: ’Par délicatesse / J’ai perdu ma vie.’
Nelson doesn’t want to leave anything out, as suits a collector’s project. Thus, in the same way that she wanders among blue objects (shards of glass, bottles of ink, stones and tattoos and the nests of bowerbirds) and accidental theorists of color (Goethe and Newton and Duras and Novalis) and the color’s utility in human imagination (blue moods, blues music, the blue divine), she likewise wanders among the positions the orchestrator of these lists must adopt. This results in an admixture of candor, passion and detachment that makes for irresistible intimacy.
It must be said upfront that Maggie Nelson could have worked this out as a book of poetry if that’s what she had wanted to do early on. Which is to say, for a book that might actually be an essay, which might be a lyrical essay, for a long work that ’blurs genre, ’ she fills the requirement of what good poetry must do, which is deliver new ways of talking and looking and thinking, and helping us to look and think.
The book is a philosophical and personal exploration of what the color blue has done to Nelson. Despite the exhaustion, Bluets wears its hybrid/fragmented dress well, showing its seams and much enthralled by its wanderlust, an aesthetic runway that constantly leads Nelson to find new ideas, images, and expressions.
Bluets reaches far beyond the constraints of its subject, resulting in a series of delicately associative numbered paragraphs investigating a broken romantic relationship, a friend’s chronic nerve pain, the writing process itself, and the deceptive elements of perception and color. The result not only defies easy categorization, but also leans toward Walter Benjamin’s famous declaration that all great works of literature either dissolve a genre or invent one.
In her dark excavation of grief, she has collected messages of great wisdom and powerful beauty.
Bluets is brilliant and sad, and it adds to the excellent body of work this prolific, young writer has created.
Very rarely does a book come along that combines such extraordinary lyricism and ethical precision with the sense that the author is writing for her very life. The Red Parts is one of these. At every turn of this riveting, genre-defying account, Nelson refuses complacency and pushes further into the unknown. A necessary, austere, and deeply brave achievement.
Her quivering, precise ethical sensitivity is everywhere at work, worrying, probing, discerning . . . Nelson’s resistance to the easy answer, her willingness to reach a kind of conclusion and then to break it, to probe further and further, to ask about her own complex and not entirely noble intentions instead of facilely condemning others, make The Red Parts an uneasy masterpiece.
The Red Parts is meandering and diaristic, plunging us into a story as it happens. We sit beside Nelson and share her bewilderment, and by the end of the book we are forced to recognize that this is one of the greatest gifts an author can provide us: the chance to admit that we do not know what we think.
Maggie Nelson is having a moment. . . . In writing The Red Parts, Nelson has made her own box holding the fragments of many things. It’s not a beautiful object, but a valuable, coolly shimmering one, which captures the raw bewilderment that can affect a family for generations after a violent loss.
Is Maggie Nelson a poet, a critic, or a memoirist? No label is quite right, no category quite enough. Works like Bluets and last year’s The Argonauts are full of sentences that move from the personal to the critical, take a dip into quoting another writer, corner hard into comic profanity and then come to an emotional stop you couldn’t never have predicted three lines earlier.
The story blossoms into a meditation on memory, the fallibility of forensics, the grieving process, the justice system, and much more . . . Nelson’s account is both riveting and nuanced. The result is like Making a Murderer as told by Joan Didion--a breathtaking and discomfiting experience that will stay with readers well beyond the latest true crime fad.
[Maggie Nelson’s The Red Parts is] an enthralling personal story-slash-true-crime-book that just happens to be written by one of the most thoughtful writers of our time.
Grief and fear are not eradicated, but bluntly confronted. ’Justice’ is constantly in question. Each chapter startles then reverberates with Nelson’s poetic language . . . [The Red Parts] challenges an often misogynistic, and unfortunately familiar, origin.
The Red Parts does not attempt to conclude a hazy family who-done-it, nor does it seek out reparations. Rather, it is a memorial that gives testimony the fallibility of Truth.
The Red Parts has none of the trappings of a whodunit. It doesn’t look for answers, it just looks unflinchingly at the wreckage, the loss, the love and the fear. It bears witness.
The Red Parts has the pacing of a crime novel and the eloquence of a poem. A fascinating, page-turning read. I couldn’t put it down.
Every bit as gripping as a true-crime book, but infinitely more complex and rewarding.
The Red Parts bears weight, though it moves nimbly; it is expansive, shifting, and sprawling, eddying into small moments of memory and time before flooding outward, straining against the limits of the writer and the writer’s mind . . . [It] adds welcome insight to understanding a writer who is miraculously able to eschew narrative at the same time embarking on her own mythology.
A genre buster with an engaging prose style, Nelson intertwines psychoanalysis, personal memoir and true-crime tidbits into a darkly intelligent page-turner . . . She argues that stories are by nature imperfect--and yet she also shows us how they can become totally worthwhile.
Alternating between the current trial and her family history, Nelson’s account is lucid, her head clear, and her writing strong. Memories of her childhood--particularly of her father, who died when she was a girl--are the most emotionally charged elements. But her wry and honest account of the clownish calamity of the courtroom and the impending media circus (Nelson was on 48 Hours Mystery) are also affecting. Given the popularity of crime TV, this is a much-needed reminder of the long, painful aftermath of heinous crimes.
A deep, dark, female masterpiece.
This true story of murder and childhood beats down the last sparks in the cremains of genre with grace and appetite. Poets who want to write fiction and fiction writers who are sick of their limits, take a good look at this book that is speedy and readable in all the right ways. It is a model for change.
In this blurred genre memoir, Maggie Nelson attempts through poems, reflections, diary excerpts, dreams, scraps of newspaper accounts, and excerpts from police records to resuscitate a sense of her murdered aunt. Haunting this book are Jane’s unaccounted for last hours, ’a gap so black/it could eat/an entire sun/without leaving/a trace.’ But Jane is less about filling that gap than about illuminating the life that existed before, and the lives that struggled on after, her death. An empathetic and beautifully controlled approach to a profoundly difficult event.
In Jane: A Murder, Maggie Nelson tells the story of her aunt, who was murdered before the writer was born. Through a text composed of poems as well as prose fragments, Nelson transforms her harrowing subject into an experimental, splintered tale that questions the complacencies of conventional autobiography. With a lyrical, ethical clarity, her work bravely probes the unknowability and undecidability at the mysterious heart of any life, any death.
These poems manage to say everything about everything--each determining day, each shifting sense of inexhaustible person. Back of it all is an extraordinary ear for the way words find place, make a passage from here to there, blessedly keep on talking.
Few poets are strange and quick enough to capture the frenetic quality of contemporary life. Her poems move fast, think on their feet, hit and run with equal parts of humor, glamour, and horror. In every way, she is a thoroughly original voice for our time.
Maggie Nelson is one of the most exciting poetic talents of her generation.