For the love of blue

For the love of blue

Emily Daly reviews Bluets by Maggie Nelson (2009), featured in the STAND Book Club this week.

Composed in 240 fragments or reflections, Bluets by Maggie Nelson is an ode to the colour blue. A beautiful blend of poetry and scholarship which ultimately defies genre, Nelson’s work is a celebration of her love affair with blue as well as an exploration of the history of the colour. There is a great sense of equality to her reflections. While her work is bursting with references to the great philosophers and writers, she also records song lyrics and the insights of her quadriplegic friend. All contain their own unique wisdom which is powerful, important and true.

Although the colour blue is the central character of Nelson’s work, Bluets is an all- encompassing exploration of theology, morality, female sexuality, and above all heartbreak. Throughout Bluets, Nelson is particularly drawn to the writer Goethe and philosopher Wittgenstein, both of whom wrote theoretical works on the concept of colour during periods of deep personal pain. Nelson joins their ranks with this work which was composed in the aftermath of a relationship with a man whom she refers to as the “prince of blue”.

Flashes of heartache recur across the pages of Bluets. In a deeply personal fragment, Nelson wonders if her grief will last forever: “But though I have learned / to act as if I feel differently, the truth is that my feelings / haven’t really changed”. She is equally truthful and open about her loneliness. In one fragment she writes, “I have been trying, for some time now, to find dignity / in my loneliness. I have been finding this hard to do”. The simple language in which she describes her pain is achingly poignant.

However, Bluets is not a book of hopelessness. While Nelson can think of many times when “blue has made (her) feel suddenly hopeful”, she can not remember any examples of when the colour has made her despair. Moreover, Nelson has that wonderful ability to experience the extraordinary in the everyday. For example, she is deeply grateful for the “turquoise ocean”, which by its very existence makes her life “a remarkable one”. Although sadness is inescapable there are moments when the light gets in.

Nelson once referred to the poetry of her contemporary, Eileen Myles as “necessary”, perhaps the greatest compliment a writer can receive. The same should be said about her own work.


Photo by Kate Eburg via Flickr.