Blue Monday Zara
Zara Joan Miller and Ute Kanngiesser (foreground) at Oto. Photo: Sarah White

Yesterday I watched Blue Monday performed as a dialogue between voice and cello by Zara Joan Miller and Ute Kanngiesser. A series of images shown on a 35mm slide projector triangulated this conversation, and the darkness of the room protected us all from the terrible blueness of a January afternoon. Images of scarecrows in smiling fields flash by slowly as the solidity of the projector’s mechanism creates a soft thunk against which the sound of the cello is a knife’s edge, the bow moving across a cluster of nerve endings, somehow this unpeeling feels good.

I love it when / the outside gets in

The ‘Blue Monday’ phenomenon claims that the third Monday in January is the most depressing day of the year. Today is that day and I’m walking a loop, testing the air with my teeth for a unique quality that distinguishes this day from all the other bleak days of January. Zara Joan Miller’s collection Blue Monday maps four years of Blue Mondays, making each poem a calendric. While many record days in less dreaded months they all share a sensory quality of blueness, a new blue—a strange alien colour, a depressive sensibility, a kind of luminous intimacy. The daily-ness of each poem marks the time whilst collapsing it, erasing itself, when a day forgets itself it leaves a space, folding over and over these moments like bits of paper, bending pages in this strange little book which has crept into my hand like a friend.

finding a stray in the grass / you say feel the / tip of this

But this is not a friendly book, the poems are taut and slippery, racing away from me down the page—each stepping stone has been polished by the current, so we must go slow, take care. Yes, it’s true that the best love poems are treacherous. We are following this twisting thread, a plait, a coil or something loaded like a spring, a torque, a tightrope, an email chain, a lasso, a lifeline, a U turn, a zip, a spine, a single strand of hair. As readers we are strung across an anticipatory moment, hung between all these switchings in the wind, switchings of direction. Days will be blue elsewhere with their own purpose reads the epigraph by John Ashbery and there’s not much agency for us to grasp for ourselves here, intentions are frustrated, investments deflated.

Blue Monday Kiss dolphin
Screening at Oto. Photo: Sarah White

a swamp folds onto itself / the way / a pool draws a line

I’m trying to work out what is happening here. I think these poems must be a very careful diagram or cross section that slices the surface of the present moment. I’m finding that reading this book requires some acute spatialisation—as each angle is tested, velocities measured, tangents make contact with plane curves, tensile loads are stressed, territories are demarcated and then redrawn. This experimental cartography always takes us back to the ocean which is vast and never blue, the poems spread out across its surface like an oil slick reflecting the circling birds back onto the sky.

refused to catch the light, inverting / the natural order of things

Reading it a second time I realise the idea of border control polices every poem in this collection. I think what is happening is trying to find a way to describe the space that opens between two things, or two people, a space which is also a kind of stickiness, a blue ooze.

are you really leaving me / am I really leaving you


Bella Marrin is a writer and artist living in London. She is the editor of Fieldnotes, a biannual arts publication. A recording of the Oto event is being broadcast in collaboration with Resonance FM on the same day as this article. Click here to listen

Blue Monday by Zara Joan Miller is published by Joan publishing and available to buy from their website:

Extracts from Blue Monday were published as a MAP series in 2021. Find the entries below.