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Micro Review: Ocean Vuong's "Time Is a Mother"
Lauren Brooks reviews "Time Is a Mother"
In this deeply intimate second poetry collection, Ocean Vuong searches for life among the aftershocks of his mother's death, embodying the paradox of sitting within grief while being determined to survive beyond it. Shifting through memory, and in concert with the themes of his novel On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, Vuong contends with personal loss, the meaning of family, and the cost of being the product of an American war in America. At once vivid, brave, and propulsive, Vuong's poems circle fragmented lives to find both restoration as well as the epicenter of the break.
Micro Review by Lauren Brooks
I read Ocean Vuong’s second collection of poetry, Time Is a Mother, slowly, pausing every few poems to allow myself to process his words and sit with them. Each time I put it down, I found myself feeling alternately gutted and breathless, which perhaps on some level means the same thing but which also suggests Vuong’s power to use words both to punch and to create something ethereally beautiful. The collection is short but meaty, grappling with loss, mental health, sexuality, masculinity, Vietnamese identity, aging, and survival.
Throughout the collection, Vuong plays with recurring motifs such as boats, the passing of time, and colors and engages in characteristic wordplay, often dangling hyphenated words over a line break to emphasize double meanings. Many of the poems are positioned by their titles as letters (Dear X), emphasizing the act of writing as a way of both meaning-making and of communication with those in the past, present, and future.
Particular standout poems for me included: “Dear Peter,” a delicately written poem about being in a mental hospital; “Not Even,” a powerful poem on personal history, identity, and the act of writing; “Reasons for Staying,” a beautiful contemplation of the mundane beauty that makes life worth living; and “Almost Human,” a confessional poem that explores the ways in which writing heals us and doesn’t.
Vuong’s poetry feels self-aware and urgent, as shown by his reflections on writing in “Dear T,” “Almost Human,” and “Dear Rose.” He reminds us that writing is an act of Creation, a way of both meaning-making and of immortalizing our own individual existences.
Even if you’re new to poetry, I recommend giving this collection a try. While I find Ocean Vuong’s poetry to be fairly accessible, virtually every poem has a nugget or two that can stand on its own as a bit of wisdom or profound observation – in this manner, reading his poetry is an opportunity to excavate the most powerful, most beautiful, and most golden phrases from the containers that caress them.
Lauren Brooks is a half-Taiwanese writer of fiction and poetry. In addition to her work as a full-time nonprofit fundraiser, she manages a book review blog, where she reviews both titles by AAPI writers and international works that have been translated into English. She is also an inaugural member of Feminist Press' Young Feminist Leaders Council. Follow her on Instagram @literarybread for more reviews and updates on her writing!
You can preorder “Time Is a Mother” here, it will ship April 5th.
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