Fragments, Moments, and Stories: On Maggie Nelson’s Bluets

blue flowerVivian Wagner is an associate professor of English at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio. Her essays have appeared in The Kenyon Review, Zone 3, McSweeney’s, Silk Road Review, and other journals, and she’s the author of Fiddle: One Woman, Four Strings, and 8,000 Miles of Music.


  1. I started reading Maggie Nelson’s Bluets this spring on my way to AWP in Minneapolis for the weekend. Feeling restless on the airplane, I downloaded it onto my iPad and began reading. I read and read, all the way to Minneapolis. I glanced up now and then to see the sunset over the prairie of clouds, to see the plane descending through grayness into the city, to see the inexorable approach of the runway. After each glance up, I’d fall back into the book.
  1. Early this morning, I saw the first of my Alaskan wildflowers blooming in my Ohio garden: a blue flax. It had a small yellow center and fine purple lines radiating outward. Delicate and strong, it fluttered in the cool breeze.
  1. I’m easily distracted, as a reader, as a writer, as a person. Bluets speaks to me partly because it lets me read in bits and pieces. To read and then look out the window. To think and then read again. To let my mind wander and then focus.
  1. In second grade, my teacher wrote a note to my parents on my report card: “Vivian tends to daydream.” That word — “daydream” — caught my imagination. I’d never heard it before. I asked my mom what it meant, and she said it meant I didn’t pay enough attention. I realized then that the teacher was right. I thought of all the time during class that I gazed out the window, listening to the desert wind blow sand against the glass. I paid attention, but not always to what the teacher wanted me to. I daydreamed.
  1. My writing has been influenced irreversibly by Bluets. The book has freed me from thinking that narratives must be linear and chronological. I knew this prior to reading Bluets, I suppose, but this book helped me to feel it, to understand it. And, perhaps most importantly, to practice it.
  1. Bluets’ numbered sections work well on an iPad. I’m not particularly proud of the fact that I first read this book in its digital version, but this book grew out of the digital age, with all of its demands and tabs and windows.
  1. I’ve been making recycled paper lately with old bills and junk mail. It’s calming and engrossing. I love how the slurry dries and reveals a few single letters here and there – random a’s and d’s and z’s. Sometimes I mix violets, clovers, and grass in with the paper. A few days ago I accidently mixed in a small flying insect with a handful of leaves. I found it in the paper, its delicate wings outstretched, flattened. I felt bad. I wished I had looked more carefully at what I had gathered, what I had thrown in.
  1. After I make the paper, I stitch it into small journals and chapbooks. I have many of them now, waiting for words.
  1. I’m going to Alaska this summer to spend time with my boyfriend. He’s a pilot, an engineer, a photographer, an explorer. I love his dark, kind eyes. The way he’s always up for an adventure. The way he’s always in the moment. The way, when I’m writing, he sits by me quietly – reading, gazing out at the water, puzzling over his own projects, thinking his own thoughts. I love being with him.
  1. Bluets doesn’t have a story, exactly. At least, it’s not a story in the traditional sense of that term. It’s composed of 240 fragments, facts, details, observations, and story-bits. Together, they add up to what might be considered a narrative about a lost relationship, about the regaining of a sense of self, about depression, about hope. Now that I’ve finished the book, I like to dip back in and read a passage here and there. Maybe the one about bower birds. Or about Derrida. Or about Cézanne. Or about cyanometers. Or about Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons. Each one stands alone, and yet each one belongs with the others.
  1. The blue flax flower in my garden still blooms now, in the early afternoon. The sun’s reached its petals, slightly brightening their shade of blue. In a few days, this particular flower will stop blooming and go to seed, but I see another bud near it, slowly unfurling, waiting for just the right moment to open up.

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