Introduction for Maggie Nelson

The other night I got in to bed, expecting as I usually do, to fall asleep within one to three pages of reading the book in my hands. But I was reading Women, The New York School and Other True Abstractions. Even though it was my third go with this book, I was so awake by the time I finished the introduction that I could not fall asleep. Finally I dreamed about this line: “critical attempts to police [New York School or Language Poetry’s] borders became complicated when one considered them through the lens of gender.”

I woke up and jumped to the Eileen Myles chapter, reminded of how excited I was when I first found Other True Abstractions three summers back. I was then reading about Myles for the first time in an academic context, in the full chapter devoted to Myles’ writing, grounded in Eileen’s own statements on her poetics and history. Nelson’s critical work is like a key for me but an irresolute key.

Nelson reminds me the “dimensions of a label” are troubled. They are unreliable. Art Movements are weirdly like the audience at the reading, shifting around maybe restless in their seats, a guise of history. The name, only like a street sign, asking you to walk along it, not necessarily knows how to give directions from where you stand on that street. Nelson’s prose gives weight to history but also asks what could be the depth of knowing this while living right now.

There is a full disclosure. The desires of a “poet, fan, feminist” how they take shape when in conversation with subjects. The overarching feeling of Nelson’s poetic and critical work is one that persists as an investigation of thresholds. Or, I thought of the word threshold as one iteration of limitations and how language comes up against them.

I was reading some of Maggie’s early books of poetry this weekend, The Latest Winter and Shiner, and I noticed the voice of the poems is often walking on the street, from home to somewhere. There is a foreshadowing of a falling in love with the color blue in there. Looking down as if the sky where a darkened cavity, a pothole, or today, a puddle, it’s that opposite of everywhere.  It falls hard, lands like charisma, instanced by response.

I read Nelson’s Bluets when it became required reading amongst different groups of friends as soon as the book came out. And even one friend, who shall remain quasi anonymous, named their dog Bluet, an act of admiration for Nelson’s poetic essay form.

What is the work of naming something, of singular obsessions, other than to disprove their single-ness, to get lost in something deceivingly simple on focused topics. This from Bluets: “I must admit that not all blues thrill me. I am not overly interested in the matte stone of turquoise, for example, and a tepid, faded indigo usually leaves me cold. Sometimes I worry that if I am not moved by a blue thing, I may be completely despaired, or dead. At times I fake my enthusiasm. At others, I fear I am incapable of communicating the depth of it.”

When I picked up The Art of Cruelty to write this, I landed randomly on the last page of the introduction, which announces the book’s deep alliance with Barthe’s nuance in executing a daring and at times gruesome study. Nelson calls for whole books as experiments. Which makes them relentlessly of the moment. To be up for that challenge is to “delineate the undelineatable.”