The Book and The Poet: Ocean Vuong

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In Profile: Ocean Vuong – No

This 2016, April to be exact, sees the release of Ocean Vuong’s ‘Night Sky With Exit Wounds‘ and if ever there was a poetry book you need to get your hands on, this will be it.

Ocean Vuong is extraordinary, a force of gorgeousness, unique in voice and beauty. The future ahead for Ocean as a poet is going to be massive and mark my words, you will know this poet in the coming years. Again, The poetry of Vuong, just like that of Dimitra Xidous, has the potential to drop into my obsessive-collective of Neruda, Lorca, Handal and Simic.

Re-reading ‘No’ (YesYes Books, 2013) late last night for the 5th-6th time still gave me goosebumps. A short little book of 13 poems, each powerful and remarkable in craftsmanship, gives a delicious taste of what’s to come in his first full-length collection ‘Night Sky With Exit Wounds‘, forthcoming from the brilliant Copper Canyon Press. I beg you to seek out the poetry and essays of Mr Vuong, you will be introduced to a world you will never want to leave.

Who is Ocean Vuong?

The Book and The Poet: Ocean Vuong
photo: Peter Bienkowski

Ocean Vuong was born in Saigon, Vietnam and moved to the US, Hartford, Connecticut, at a young age. He now resides in Brooklyn. He was raised by women — a single mother, aunts, and a grandmother and this experience of growing up has seeped into part of his writing.

In an interview Vuong has stated ‘Language and literacy haven’t come easy in my family. We come from a line of illiterate rice farmers from Vietnam and I am the first child to go to school past the sixth grade‘ which is part of an incredible story of immigration to a foreign land of a poor family, living in one room, and out of struggle came a gifted writer and poet.

With todays similar situation with refugees in other places, people should look to the likes of Vuong and open their minds and hearts to the incredible possibilities and advantages that can be obtained from helping people coming from similar situations.

This chapbook along with his first Chap ‘Burnings’ (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2010) were both selected by the American Library Association’s “Over The Rainbow” list of recommended LGBT reading. He has numerous Pushcart Prize nominations, as well as honors and awards from the Poets House, the Elizabeth George Foundation, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, the Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts, the Academy of American Poets and he is a 2014 Ruth Lilly fellow.

His work is everywhere and has been translated into Albanian, Arabic, Bulgarian, Cantonese, French, Italian, Hindi, Spanish, and Ukrainian. He has also been awarded the Stanley Kunitz Prize for Younger Poets by the American Poetry Review.

The Book ‘No’

The Book and The Poet: Ocean VuongDevastatingly beautiful is the way I like to describe this little gem. It may be small, may only have 13 poems, but make no mistake, you come away with a lot from this well-crafted thought-provoking book.

This collection is a book of elegies dedicated to people dear the writer who were lost too soon due to suicide, a topic close to my own heart and as well, other topics and images that synthesises everyday life with warfare and violence.

Yet within the aching language and powerful images is truth and beauty in a lyrical beat like someone breathing heavily, unafraid to bring alive the dead, masterful poetry that seeps into the bottom of you gut.

As in Torso of Air, Vuong writes ‘Suppose you woke/& found your shadow replaced/ by a black wolf. The boy, beautiful/and gone. So you take the knife to the wall/ instead. You carve & carve./ Until a coin of light appears/ & you get to look in, for once,/on happiness. The eye/ staring back from the other side—/waiting.’ The images and pain here are felt and are extraordinarily powerful that it is a poem I return to often.

In ‘american dreams’ the poet brings us on a dream-like journey with Jakie-O and John F Kennedy in the car on the day Kennedy was murdered

I’m not really Jackie-O

& there isn’t a hole in your head, a brief

Rainbow through a mist

of rust. I love my country

but who am I kidding? I’m holding

your brains in, darling.

My sweet, sweet Jack.

This is a heart-wrenching dramatized piece of writing and the way the lines are layed out, alternated between left and right and interchanging, creates a form of panic, disillusionment and horror; her husband is dead yet she is still patriotic, brilliant.

Vuong is a poet with rare lyrical gifts and brilliance. This is no light-hearted book yet the language will warm you and needs to be experienced. His poetry will dig deep into your subconscious and stay there whispering with lyric intensity.”Hope is a feathered thing / that dies / in the Lord’s mouth.” And with such honest, intelligent and intimate beautiful lines, hope of finding a copy of this little book is slim.

Where To Find Ocean Voung

Some of my favourite poems online

Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong in The New Yorker

Telemachus in Beloit Poetry Journal

Torso of Air in B O D Y

In Defense of Dancing in Guernica

Essay: Beginnings: New York in The Androit Journal

Buy the new book Night Sky with Exit Wounds here on amazon

Oceans website


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