This summer, I had the chance to check out the work of poet, critic, and memoirist Maggie Nelson: mini reviews of The Argonauts and Bluets are included below!
The author of nine books of poetry and prose, Maggie Nelson is a queer author who writes genre-bending works that resist categorization. Over the summer, I had the chance to read her two most famous books: Bluets and The Argonauts. While I can’t call either book a favorite, Nelson’s style of writing is so well cultivated that it’s difficult to outright dislike her work.
(1) In Bluets, a lyrical essay made up of loosely connected prose-poems, Maggie Nelson examines love and loss through the lens of the color blue. For much of the book, Nelson reminisces about her relationship with a former partner, as she cares for a friend recently rendered quadriplegic. All the while, she considers what a wide range of cultural icons have had to say about melancholy, grief, and, of course, the titular color. Goethe, Stein, Emerson, Leonard Cohen, and Lucinda Williams are but a few of the many referenced. Too often, the author cites the work of these disparate figures without making their connections clear or elaborating upon her own thoughts. But Nelson’s writing is beautiful and makes Bluets worth reading.
(2) Mixing memoir and cultural history, Nelson uproots conventional notions of genre and form in The Argonauts, supplanting them with her radical interest in creating art without a center. The short book quickly branches off from the writer’s initial focus on her romance with her life partner, trans artist Harry Dodge, and it sprawls in many different directions. Nelson touches upon the ethics of feminist art; the difficulty of sustaining queer relationships, without having models to follow; the intricacies of childrearing; the shortcomings and strengths of critical theory, past and present; and so much more. While The Argonauts can feel aimless at times, Nelson’s insights on (queer) motherhood are astute, and following her intellectual somersaults makes for a stimulating reading experience.
Have you read any of Nelson’s books, or would you want to check out her work? What are some of the favorite memoirs you’ve read this year?