Why You Really, Really Need To Read Ocean Vuong
I bought Night Sky with Exit Wounds kind of on a whim. I hadn’t bought any new poetry books for a while and was generally browsing on Amazon for recent releases and books with good reviews. I saw Ocean Vuong’s collection and loved the cover as well as the title, but didn’t know much about the poet himself.
I popped it in my basket regardless, along with Katharine Towers’ The Remedies (which is alright) and Denise Riley’s Say Something Back (which is awesome).
I am so glad I did.
I like reading poetry but every now and then I get really, really excited about a poet. This is one of those times. Night Sky with Exit Wounds is possibly one of the best collections of poetry I have ever owned. Ocean Vuong literally kills it in every way possible; he’s got such a way with words and rhythm. His style is pretty much exactly the type of poetry I personally like and I’ve been completely blown away by both his debut collection, as well as all the other poems I’ve managed to find online.
Because the year is a distance
we’ve traveled in circles. Which is to say: this is how
we danced: alone in sleeping bodies.
‘Homewrecker’, Night Sky With Exit Wounds
I think my favourite feature of Vuong’s style is his use of metaphor and imagery. The way he writes about these huge topics like war, love and grief is profoundly new and sometimes a little surreal (which really appeals to my love of surrealist imagery in poetry). I also really his way of using snapshots and small, beautifully detailed images that tell these big, incredible stories in just a few words.
But I think that his work is hugely accessible. While surreal at times, it’s not the kind of poetry that takes ages to figure out what it means or what the poet is hoping to achieve. The language is clear and the meaning often somewhat decipherable at a first glance. But I definitely don’t mean that it lacks depth. Like any good collection of poetry, Night Sky with Exit Wounds gives more and more each time you read it. Those small, detailed images become more and more incredible. You find yourself re-reading and thinking ok, this is what I thought this meant, but it could also be this, and this or this. But I think most of the accessibility comes from the real emotion and ‘humanness’ of his poetry. His words resonate and the experiences or situations that Vuong writes become tangible through his use of accessible language that’s clear, yet extraordinary.
He also has a really impressive control over language and form. I usually don’t really like poetry that is too experimental with form. I tend to find myself wondering whether the poet is trying to hide crap poetry by trying to be innovative with structure. For me, right-aligning a poem or dotting words about the page doesn’t really add that much to my experience of reading. Sometimes it detracts. If a poet is going to be super experimental with structure, it’s got to be done in a way that actually flows with the language, rhythm and meaning, not just because it looks cool. And it’s got to be done well.
Ocean Vuong is possibly one of the most experimental poets I’ve read. But he has good control over his poetry. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’d recommend having a read of ‘Aubade to Burning City’ on the Poetry Foundation’s website to see what I mean. The pacing of the piece and the interwoven lyrics are just wonderful. And the fact he chose to use an aubade for the poem is even more brilliant. I also love the Seventh Circle of Earth within Night Sky with Exit Wounds, which I think is my favourite piece in the entire collection.
Overall, I really enjoyed Ocean Vuong’s collection and eagerly await his next one – it’s sure to be brilliant.