Something like humanity lies beneath flaws: mistakes and regrets color our lives and relationships with something real and vulnerable, something ugly yet stunning. Imperfection and oddity abound in one of my most treasured books of poetry, The Latest Winter by Maggie Nelson. I first discovered Nelson during my senior year of high school, and she has since become one of my favorite poets for her unapologetically singular voice. What I love most about her work is its sincerity—Nelson possesses an exceptional ability to hone in on the small details that embody humanity, imbuing her poems with tones of nostalgia, awe, and desolation.
The Latest Winter ruminates on a variety of subjects, ranging from the emotional aftermath of 9/11 to the future of poetry to the disintegration of a relationship. Nelson’s words are stark in their simplicity and raw in their honesty, leaving her both exposed and accessible. In her poem “my life as an exchange student,” the lines “those were the days of pepper trees, when/I was unsure if anyone would ever love me” unveil the insecurity and uncertainty of youth with a bitter reverence. Throughout my favorite piece of her work, however, Nelson weaves an undercurrent of aching grief as she poignantly reflects on the death of a friend. The poem “Dear Lily” draws to a close with the lines “I so wish you were here, to lay/your ear against mine, hear/the hollow flapping in my head,” a verse so resonant that it pulsates with overwhelming sorrow.
Nelson’s work is uncanny, embracing quirks while giving a language to the heartbreaks and joys of everyday life. Nelson’s poetry is thoroughly engaging for its original and contemplative perspective on relationships, emotions, and life in general. As a female author, she inspires me to pursue my passion: her work may be obscure, but it’s dynamic, vulnerable, and affecting. I aspire to write in ways that mirror the humanity I see and feel around me, and Maggie Nelson is a woman whose sensitivity, ambition, and creativity remind me that although my goals may be risky, they are also attainable.
1| Citation: Nelson, Maggie. The Latest Winter. Brooklyn: Hanging Loose, 2003. Print.