Bluets by Maggie Nelson
When I picked up Maggie Nelson’s Bluets I thought I was going to read a poetry collection about the color blue. I was delighted to learn that Bluets stretches far beyond all things poetic and blue. Bluets is a conglomeration of color theory, art, psychology, philosophy, music, anthropology, linguistics, memoir, and poetry. Nelson explores the multiplicity of meanings found in the word and color blue across time and language, the breathing and the inanimate. Nelson’s essay is written in tiny grouped, numbered examples that may or may not directly correspond to a chronological or organized fashion. Rather, this essay evokes a musing, stream of consciousness link between all things blue. Depression, paintings, the milky blue of her quadriplegic friend’s legs, the blue shirt of her ex-lover, the Dutch meaning of the word blue, etc. While the connections are not direct, there are connections. I’ll use one of my favorite passages as an example:
109. Over time my injured friend’s feet have become blue and smooth from disuse. Their blue is the blue of skim milk, their smoothness that of a baby’s. I think they look and feel very strange and beautiful. She does not agree. How could she – this is her body; its transformation, her grief. Often we examine parts of her body together, as if their paralysis had rendered them objects of inquiry independent of us both. But they are still hers. No matter what happens to our bodies in our lifetimes, no matter if they become like “pebbles in water,” they remain ours; us, theirs.
110. In Tender Buttons, Stein seems particularly worried about color and pain that seem to come from nowhere, for no reason. “Why is there a single piece of any color… Why is there so much useless suffering.” About blue itself Stein offers but this koan: “Every bit of blue is precocious.”
The link between her friend’s suffering and the color blue and Stein’s postulations on color and pain – both lack origin and clear purpose – speak to the ridiculous, awful, and beautiful dissonance of life: pain is precious in a terrible way, when we feel pain and loss we remember what we have and we know we are alive. We live in relation to the unexpected, to loss, to color that darts among the living and tinges memories of the dead. As Nelson offers, in discussing a depression self-help book for women, “Somehow the women in the book all learn to say: That’s my depression talking. It’s not ‘me.’ / As if we could scrape the color off the iris and still see.”
Haunting, intimate, and iridescent with vivid descriptions of blue, this essay will deepen with meaning and beauty with each reading.
My Feelings by Nick Flynn
As I read Nick Flynn’s most recent collection, My Feelings, I had two thoughts: 1) Dear Lord I wish I could read Flynn without weeping and 2) I hope I never become a person who doesn’t weep while reading Flynn.
First of all there is the dazzling and inventive arrangement of each poem. Space, italics, surprising breaks in lines … the poems have movement, but never feel chaotic or gimmicky. These tools across the canvas of the blank page are being used by a master artist who employs them to summon feelings, connect thoughts, carry the reader through an experience. In the titular poem “My Feelings” Flynn employs strikes through words to cage his feelings within the poem. In “The When and the How” the persona discusses his mother’s suicide with a his lover whose mother also committed suicide. The italicized portion of the poem is woven into the structure of the poem and denotes the feelings under the actions,
by uttering the word MOTHER fucked-up
painful wounded invisible unspeakable meaningless
I knew yours (like mine) had killed herself delicate & that
desperate unknown our conversations
from that moment on would be simply broken
Flynn wrangles the chaotic feelings by employing skilled craftsmanship. The poetry is never over-wrought, but rather exudes humble vulnerability and aching.
Is it today you finally open your shirtenough to show me the collarboneyour heart hangs from?
All the private hurts of longing, intimacy, vulnerability summed up in this distinct image. Masterful. Some Ether, Flynn’s first collection, remains my favorite, but this one is a very close second.