Bluets by Maggie Nelson is a deeply researched genre-bending essay—all centered on the color blue. Nelson carefully weaves the history of blue through many lenses (that of philosophers, authors, lyricists), while also reflecting on her own personal meditation: how it relates to her, her relationship (the “you” character, her friend), and the world around her. In creative nonfiction, we often discuss segmented essays as a “braid”: various strands of thought woven together carefully through a shared theme. In the lens of this analogy, Nelson’s Bluets is a carefully crocheted shawl in varied shades of turquoise, cobalt, teal, navy—which wraps around the reader, compelling them to contemplate love, loss, and escape alongside Nelson.
It’s quite notable how Nelson introduces her heartbreak; she doesn’t start off the piece describing the “you” character or detailing their relationship, but she lets this naturally fall within the essay. There aren’t many numbered sections that discuss their relationship explicitly, but it works as an anchor here—maybe to show why she loves blue so much, why blue feels like something constant for her, something for her to find a place of security within. Blue seems to be an overall metaphor for everywhere-ness and encapsulation. This is illustrated both in the sense that blue is something that Nelson feels is something that’s a part of her—in sadness, in desire, and in contemplation. There’s no doubt that Nelson is a prolific writer. I found it especially interesting how Nelson’s rumination on blue was something the reader grew to expect, yet never grew tired of. She takes a poetic approach to accomplish this: by condensing language, scenes, and zeroing in on emotion and transformation: “This is the disease talking. This is the deepest blue, talking, talking, always talking to you” (25) and “I am writing this down in blue ink, so as to remember that all words, not just some, are written in water” (51). Like poetry, this essay is a powerful force of image and movement. Each section moves quickly while still feeling authentic—in the speaker’s brooding and in their contemplation of the hard feelings that come with a breakup. Strong visual details are used (often repetitiously) to strengthen the impact of the image (such as the “square of ripped blue paper” and how her past lover was always “breaking things”) (47).
Before reading Bluets, I knew the basics of how people often use blue in writing (mostly how it’s used to reflect unhappiness, which Nelson does allude to with “feeling blue”) (16). But, Nelson adds a nuance to this symbolism by presenting blue as a state-of-mind and something that can be both holy and evil. In all, this stream-of-conscious style invites the reader into a contemplation of the various shades of blue within our own lives, prompting us to also define all the blue and its shades—which is certainly something I have been doing since reading.
Work Cited: Nelson, Maggie. Bluets. E-book, Wave Books, 2009.
Shannon Kucaj is a senior at IUPUI majoring in Creative Writing, with minors in Professional & Public Writing, Psychology, Communication Studies, and Classical Studies. She’s an aspiring editor and writer and currently works as one of two Managing Editors for IUPUI’s literary & art magazine, “genesis,” and has interned within publishing. You can find her work in “genesis” (Spring 2021 issue) and in “Manuscripts” (Volume 87). In her free time, Shannon enjoys singing and baking. Connect with her via LinkedIn and firstname.lastname@example.org.