The first book I’ve read for #thesealeychallenge was Jane: a Murder by Maggie Nelson. Nelson writes about her aunt Jane who was murdered before Nelson was born. She looks at the ways this event impacted her and her family. This book isn’t a straightforward book of poetry as it mixes prose, poetry, dreams, journal entries, and other documentary sources. This style of poetry was new to me, and I absolutely loved it.
Over the past few years, I have been drawn to poetry and writing that explores grief. There were so many times when Nelson would provide a single line or image that captures the shapeless form of grief and how it can pop up even years from its origin. At one point she mentions picking up McDonald’s wrappers near her aunt’s grave after visiting it with her mother. This one small image captures the frustration and sadness that the world keeps going and people keep living their lives unchanged while a person experiencing grief can feel like their entire world has been split in two.
This book is like the reverse of the majority of true crime stories out there. By including Jane’s journal entries, Nelson has centered her aunt in the narrative. The story is about Jane the person instead of being about how she was murdered. The reader gets to spend so much time with Jane, and as a girl whose journal was the place where I felt I could be the most myself, I identified with Jane’s ups and downs and worries and assurances. She writes:
“I want so much – to be versatile, charming, warm, deep, intelligent,
accomplishing something, loving,
Fooling around, giving instead of getting, cheery not driven, sure
not uncertain, possessing not anticipating,
answers not questions.
I’m seething lately.
– but it too shall pass.”
This journal entry just summed up so much of what I felt as I transitioned into being a young adult. I loved the genre-less structure of the book and how we know from the outset that Nelson is building the narrative based on her understanding of things she read or was told, not from personal experience. It loosens things up and allows for more emotion, for attention to small things, that it isn’t like reading an academic article. It feels more real than when writers get hung up on everything being 100% accurate.
I am so inspired by this style of writing. I love the way it pushes the boundaries of poetry and memoir. I can see myself seeking out more poetry written in this way, and incorporating some of the genreless concepts into some future poetry.
So, who might enjoy this book? The prose/poetry mixed with a very clear chronological narrative make this a great place to start if you are looking to get into poetry. The language is accessible and the story is compelling and easy to follow. Some poetry leans heavily on abstractions and metaphors which can be magic, but it can also make it difficult to understand which can deter folks from reading more poetry. This book uses some abstraction and metaphor, but as it is anchored in more transitional parts of storytelling with a clear plot structure, it makes it simple for the reader to follow along and enjoy the lyrical writing and vivid imagery.
My favorites. Lines and sections:
“She doesn’t care what people think. She knows she is Cleopatra. She knows her guts are spears.” (pg. 19)
“Skin is soft; it takes what you do to it.” (pg. 105)
Demographics (pg. 134)
Barricades (pg. 165)
Lies (pg. 173)
Ghosts (pg. 175)
Sisters (pg. 185)
October 21, 1960 (pg. 174)
Koan (pg. 212) *I had to look up what a koan is and it is defined as a riddle without a solution, which is very interesting within the context and the poem to follow.
“She was a spitfire, my mother always said. She obeyed for years, then
started to talk back.
I went down to my room and looked it up in my thesaurus.
‘Spitfire: Big, tough woman; Amazon; giantess” (pg 177)
1966 (pg. 195)