Reviews of Time Is a Mother by Ocean Vuong

Time Is a Mother

by Ocean Vuong

Time Is a Mother by Ocean Vuong X
Time Is a Mother by Ocean Vuong
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  • Published:
    Apr 2022, 128 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Callum McLaughlin
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About this Book

Book Summary

The highly anticipated collection of poems from the award-winning writer Ocean Vuong.

How else do we return to ourselves but to fold
The page so it points to the good part


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.

The author of the critically acclaimed poetry collection Night Sky With Exit Wounds, winner of the 2016 Whiting Award, the 2017 T. S. Eliot Prize, and a 2019 MacArthur fellow, Vuong writes directly to our humanity without losing sight of the current moment. These poems represent a more innovative and daring experimentation with language and form, illuminating how the themes we perennially live in and question are truly inexhaustible. Bold and prescient, and a testament to tenderness in the face of violence, Time Is a Mother is a return and a forging forth all at once.

I
Snow Theory

This is the best day ever
I haven't killed a thing since 2006
The darkness out there, wet as a newborn
I dog-eared the book & immediately
Thought of masturbation
How else do we return to ourselves but to fold
The page so it points to the good part
Another country burning on TV
What we'll always have is something we lost
In the snow, the dry outline of my mother
Promise me you won't vanish again, I said
She lay there awhile, thinking it over
One by one the houses turned off their lights
I lay down over her outline, to keep her true
Together we made an angel
It looked like something being destroyed in a blizzard
I haven't killed a thing since

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Many of the poems flow freely, featuring unexpected line breaks and little in the way of punctuation. This lends them an almost breathless quality, as though thoughts and emotions are spilling forth unchecked — apt given the raw emotion at hand. With his remarkable command of the form, Vuong invites readers to pause, contemplate and see themselves and their own experiences reflected in the text. The poems are deeply personal, but their themes — including family, grief and selfhood — are universally resonant...continued

Full Review Members Only (575 words).

(Reviewed by Callum McLaughlin).

Media Reviews

LitHub
All of Ocean Vuong's writing shows a masterful attention to detail. He comes at language with a magnifying glass. He holds words differently than everyone else, and when he hands them to you, they are changed...Dealing with the death of his mother, this new book comes from a place of grief and memory, turning loss over and over in a way that only this writer can.

NPR
Aesthetically complex yet emotionally accessible, Time is a Mother at once innovates and affirms the existing poetic tradition...Vuong's portrait of Hồng is both intimate and iconic.

Vogue.com
Stories of personal loss are woven into vignettes and memories that explore the most sweeping of subjects—addiction, racism, war, death, family—with a gentle, modest touch and the occasional dose of humor...[F]or all his technical prowess, the most striking thing about Vuong's writing will always be its warm, beating heart even in the face of life's cruelties...It's a body of work as hauntingly beautiful as it is ultimately hopeful, and very possibly Vuong's best yet.

Washington Post
[A] stirring collection of poetry. [Vuong] experiments with language and form while probing the aftermath of his mother's death and his determination to survive it. Take your time with these poems, and return to them often.

Booklist (starred review)
[Vuong] focuses on the complicated relationship with his mother in quiet, astonishing lyrics...Even the most ostensibly simple moments prove mesmerizing in Vuong's treatment.

Library Journal (starred review)
Enriching Vuong's already sterling early career, this new collection feels abraded by both the weight of loss and of living, yet is cut with a profusion of affecting beauty and humor.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Vuong's powerful follow-up to Night Sky with Exit Wounds does more than demonstrate poetic growth: it deepens and extends an overarching project with 27 new poems that reckon with loss and impermanence...This fantastic book will reward fans while winning this distinctive poet new ones.

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Beyond the Book

Language Challenges for U.S. Immigrants

Language and communication are key themes throughout the work of Ocean Vuong. In both his fiction and poetry — including his newest collection, Time Is a Mother — he discusses the difficulties his mother faced as a Vietnamese immigrant living in the U.S. who didn't read, write or speak English.

Historically, being a melting pot of people from around the world, the U.S. was a polyglot nation, with the use of multiple indigenous and immigrant languages accepted as the norm. Historical studies on this subject suggest that at the time of independence, the first language of a third or more of American residents was something other than English.

The arrival of World War I in 1914 significantly curtailed immigration to the U.S.,...

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