Poetry News

Maggie Nelson Talks to Sasha Frere-Jones About Memoir, Fragment, Form...

By Harriet Staff


Sasha Frere-Jones interviews poet, nonfiction writer, and NBCC award contender Maggie Nelson, whose memoir The Red Parts is soon to be re-released by Graywolf. The two talked for Jacket Copy about writing and form. "Is Maggie Nelson a poet, a critic, or a memoirist? No label is quite right, no category quite enough." Well:

In “The Argonauts,” the unfolding of the story camouflages part of the story itself. You reveal Harry’s relationship to gender in a slow, indirect way. How did you think about that as you wrote it? You could have added a concrete paragraph explaining exactly who Harry was/is/became, but not doing so seems to part of your project.

The narrative unfolding of Harry’s and my romance in “The Argonauts” reflects the fact that, for many people, fixed or knowable gender is not necessarily a prerequisite for sex, love, or understanding. Non-normatively gendered people or situations may make this point more obvious, but in the best of circumstances, I think it can hold true for everyone. Flux is our birthright; it can also be very hot. Thinking that who Harry, or myself, or anyone, “was/is/became” has primarily to do with gender only makes sense in a certain universe, a universe not shared in by everyone in the same way; for these reasons, I would not say the book partakes in any camouflage at all.

“Bluets” and “The Argonauts” seem to form a pair: fragmented, nonlinear language tells a story of the birth of a child, the arc of a sexual relationship. There is a line from “The Red Parts” that seems like a precursor of this more recent mode of writing: “The diaries of the dead do not seem inviolable to me, though those of the living do.” I can imagine that being a single page in “Bluets.”

Not sure I can go with you on the progression you chart here, mostly because if you started out a poet, as I did, then all of these prose projects seem quite braided and accrued and organized to me in a way that I personally wouldn’t call fragmented. I mean, “Bluets” has the most to do with fragmentation, in that it’s explicitly interested in the fragment — both found and made — as a physical phenomenon and conceptual idea.

Read it all at Jacket Copy.