Two Passages from Maggie Nelson’s The Red Parts


“Falling out of a story hurts. But it’s nothing compared to the loss of an actual person, the loss of all the bright details that make up that person. All the flashing, radiant fragments that constitute an affair, or a love.”

“My mother was a teacher of fiction. She has read every novel under the sun. She wrote her master’s thesis at San Francisco State on Mrs. Dalloway while pregnant with Emily. To celebrate a poetry publication of mine years ago she sent me a card that read: We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” – Joan Didion. At the time I was living in a closet on St. Mark’s Place, and I pinned the card to the crumbling wall to remind me of her support, her thoughtfulness.
But the more I looked at the card, the more it troubled me. My poems didn’t tell stories. I became a poet in part because I didn’t want to tell stories. As far as I could tell, stories may enable us to live, but they also trap us, bring us spectacular pain. In their scramble to make sense of nonsensical things, they distort, codify, blame, aggrandize, restrict, omit, betray, mythologize, you name it. This has always struck me as cause for lament, not celebration.”


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