by Jerome Spencer
After garnering national praise for 2009’s Bluets and 2015’s stunning The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson has become a household name (in literate households, at least). And we all wait patiently for her next endeavor, (she’s been releasing poignant literature since 2001, and it’s all worth revisiting). Soft Skull Press has released a gorgeous reissue of Nelson’s Something Bright, Then Holes and, despite being originally published in 2007, it’s easily one of the best books of 2018.
A true master of her craft, Maggie Nelson elicits genuine awe with each turn of the page. Something Bright, Then Holes is an essential 76 pages, but I’ve easily earmarked 70 of them, struck by the passion and control of such a bold display of words. The poems within these pages are so full of profundity and connotation that I’m inclined to go back and read them again yet forced to stop and remember to breathe before my entire chest caves in.
The narrative of Something Bright, Then Holes is candid and heartfelt, blurring the lines between poetry and storytelling fluently and with thoughtful contemplation. There’s real being in Nelson’s lines and while it’s tempting to dissect her craft and praise such illustrious technique, I’d rather dive into the depths of her observations and the elegant aspects of life she finds symbolism in as she expresses them until they’re palpable. These poems swathe their reader and craft a voyeuristic sense of empathy; it’s as if you’re not supposed to be there. Yet, here you are.
When Nelson describes brushing the broken teeth of her teacher/mentor in the hospital after a devastating accident, you can smell the impersonal sanitation and feel the unreasonably white sheets. When she laments a summer spent on the polluted and neglected canal, you can hear the cackling of the wayward seagulls and the whirr of the propellers. It’s next to impossible not to get enveloped in Something Bright, Then Holes as Nelson creates a world so poignant and vivid that it almost feels as if you’re intruding and stealing from her, but Nelson’s remarkable vision and rumination on love, lust, loss and letting go dissuade any guilt or hesitation and invite you in.