‘Bluets’ stands as one of the most raw and poetic tributes to loss and heartbreak

Bluets by maggie nelson
Naomi Priddy | The Arbiter

Maggie Nelson’s 2009 part-essay, part-literature book titled “Bluets” pays homage to the color blue and the symphony of loss.

“Suppose I were to begin by saying I had fallen in love with the color,” Nelson wrote. “Suppose I were to speak this as though it were a confession, suppose I shredded my napkins as we spoke. It began slowly. An appreciation, an affinity. Then, one day, it became more serious. Then (looking into an empty teacup, its bottom stained with thin brown excrement coiled unto the shape of a seahorse) it became somehow personal. And so I fell in love with a color-in this case, the color blue.”  

Nelson collects anything blue: small knick-knacks, pieces of trash, fabric and scraps. She assures us that blue is her love language. 

Following the themes of grief and loss, her focus on blue becomes somewhat of a fixation and a distraction from the other challenges of her life, and in that the color blue itself becomes a more complicated metaphor for the loss of love Nelson has been grieving. 

“Life is a train of moods like a string of beads and as we pass through them they prove to be many-colored lenses which paint the world their own hue, and each shows only what lies in its focus,” Nelson wrote. “To find oneself trapped in any one bead, no matter what its hue, can be deadly.”

The book is organized into sections titled one to 240, rather than chapters, and each section reads similarly to a poem. 

The reader is given an intimate glimpse into the author’s mind as she notes the process of writing her book, mentioning how she told people for years that she was working on a project about the color blue. 

“At a job interview at a university three men sitting across from me at a table,” Nelson wrote. “On my CV it says that I am currently working on a book about the color blue. I have been saying this for years without writing a word. It is perhaps my way of making my life feel ‘in progress’ rather than a sleeve of ash falling off a lit cigarette.” 

Bluets by maggie nelson
[Photo of “Bluets” by Maggie Nelson.]
Naomi Priddy | The Arbiter

 As evidenced by the book’s title, much of Nelson’s writing explores blue. She discusses blue art, other writers’ relationships to the color, the science of blue and the history of blue, but more so, she invites her readers to understand why she has fallen in love with the color. 

Nelson also processes the themes of heartbreak in a profoundly poetic manner, making this piece lean more toward poetry rather than a collection of essays. 

“Last night I wept in a way I haven’t wept for some time. I wept until I aged myself. I watched it happen in the mirror. I watched the lines arrive around my eyes like engraved sunbursts; it was like watching flowers open in time-lapse on a windowsill. The tears not only aged my face, they also changed its texture, turned the skin of my cheeks into putty. I recognized this as a rite of decadence, but I did not know how to stop it,” Nelson wrote.

“Bluets” stands as one of the most raw and poetic tributes to loss and heartbreak I’ve read this year. It is a quick read with only 112 pages, but one that requires re-reading to truly grasp its depth. It is the kind of book you re-read at different stages of life, and in turn, you will be greeted with profound insight and a heart-aching tour of what it means to feel deeply. 

Having the opportunity to re-read Nelson’s work only enriched my love for the author and her themes. Collections of essays stand as one of my favorite genres of literature to read, as more often than not they allow the author creative freedom. Maggie Nelson is no exception to this idea. 

“199. To wish to forget how much you loved someone—and then, to actually forget—can feel, at times, like the slaughter of a beautiful bird who chose, by nothing short of grace, to make a habitat of your heart.”

Her wording is laid out in a poetic fashion, often disposing of grammar rules for the purpose of reinforcing a point. I came to fall in love with her folly of grammar rules, it only enriched her passages and humanized her in a way not a lot of authors can achieve. Her book feels like sitting with a friend, pouring her heart out to you, and that sacred moment between friends is often like a stream of consciousness, it’s not always grammatically correct.

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