"So what if a piece of wood discovers it’s a violin..." - Arthur Rimbaud
About Ocean Vuong
Ocean Vuong’s literary output is a survival project, its high stakes evident in both its central questions – pertaining to desire, trauma, masculinity, personal and public histories, to sexuality – and in its mutable forms. ‘Besides being a vehicle for the poem’s movement,’ Vuong has said, ‘I see form as an extension of the poem’s content, a space where tensions can be investigated even further.’ Indeed, throughout this selection, lineation is used to great effect, showing the reader not only how to sound Vuong’s lines aloud but offering a more fundamental comment on the nature of poetry and perception: ‘Look, my eyes are not/your eyes.’ (‘To My Father/To My Future Son’)
Born in Saigon, Vietnam, in 1988, Vuong’s mother and grandmother later took refuge in America, moving to Hartford, Connecticut, where they raised him. His publications include Night Sky With Exit Wounds (2016) – which, published one years later in the UK by Cape, won both the Forward Arts Foundation’s 2017 Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection and the T.S. Eliot Prize – and the chapbooks No (2013) and Burnings (2010). His many accolades include prestigious fellowships from the Poetry Foundation, the Elizabeth George Foundation, Poets House, Kundiman and the Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts, as well as an Academy of American Poets Prize, anAmerican Poetry Review Stanley Kunitz Prize for Younger Poets, a Pushcart Prize, a Whiting Award and a Beloit Poetry Journal Chad Walsh Poetry Prize. More recently Vuong has turned his hand to prose; his first novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (Penguin, 2019), which shares its title with one of Vuong’s poems, is already a highly praised New York Times bestseller.
Vuong’s success as a writer is all the more impressive for the way in which he has sought to challenge the often-closed circuit of the lyric: ‘I think the strongest poems allow themselves to collapse completely before even suggesting resurrection or closure’. In these recordings, the openness of Vuong’s approach is palpable, as is the way in which many of his poems represent a plea for tenderness. Speaking of his mother and grandmother, Vuong has described their oral creation of their own mythology as ‘almost intoxicating’ due to their ‘powerlessness’ in almost all other aspects of their lives. This same potent reclamation is present in Vuong’s work too. Here, it is reinforced by a linguistic suspense that allows readers to connect with his message, for that message to spread.
Ocean’s recording took place on 14th January 2019 at Northfire Recording Studio, Amherst, Massachusetts.
Featured in the Archive
Books by Ocean Vuong
Night Sky With Exit Wounds
Copper Canyon, 2016/Cape 2017
T.S. Eliot Prize (Winner) - Night Sky With Exit Wounds
Forward Prize for Best First Collection (Winner) - Night Sky With Exit Wounds
Thom Gunn Award (Winner) - Night Sky With Exit Wounds
Whiting Award (Winner) - Night Sky With Exit Wounds
Lannan Literary Fellowship (Winner) - Night Sky With Exit Wounds
Ruth Lilly / Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship (Winner)
Pushcart Prize (Winner) - Self Portrait as Exit Wounds (poem)
Stanley Kunitz Prize for Younger Poets (The American Poetry Review) (Winner) - Prayer for the Newly Damned (poem)
Lambda Literary Award (Finalist) - Night Sky With Exit Wounds
Kate Tufts Discovery Award (Finalist) - Night Sky With Exit Wounds