Night Sky with Exit Wounds: Ocean Vuong, Cape

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First collections are always mixed bags. There’s a sense of setting-out-of-stalls, of showing the world what you can do, of trying on different hats. This book is no exception to that rule.

There’s also a lot of “story” in Ocean Vuong’s poetry. As a gay, second-generation Vietnamese man whose parents were refugees, there is plenty of subject matter to be covered. So he opens with poems about his father, like ‘Aubade With Burning City’, about the evacuation of Saigon:


Milkflower petals in the street

like pieces of a girl’s dress


      May your days be merry and bright


      He fills a teacup with champagne, brings it to her lips.

                                                Open, he says.

                                                                                She opens.

                                                                                                Outside, a soldier spits out

                                                his cigarette as footsteps fill the square like stones

                                                                                     fallen from the sky. May

                                         all your Christmases be white ...


The quotes from “White Christmas” were apparently a code to start the evacuation of American troops and Vietnamese citizens from Saigon.

Other poems are about the life of a gay man in America, and they are written in a fairly florid but basically realist style. The poems play around with various forms but despite the “exploded” look of the above extract and a few other poems there is no real fragmentation or cut-and-paste technique here. The poems are largely direct and reasonably comprehensible. He’s still exploring shape and form across the page and I think that shows both his restlessness and his youth. I hope he keeps the restlessness at least.

Ocean Vuong recently won the Forward first collection prize, and I can see why. He does write often very movingly about his subjects. He’s not afraid to show his vulnerability in these poems, but these are very strong poems. I look forward to what he writes next.

Steven Waling


Ocean Vuong, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, Cape, £10


◄ 'Moving without sound as if charmed by the moon'

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Julian (Admin)

Tue 3rd Oct 2017 10:00

What a great, succinct review, Steven. Brilliant.

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Stu Buck

Mon 2nd Oct 2017 09:16

my current favourite poet and a stunning collection. the best book of poetry i have read this year. awesome to see it reviewed here and this is an excellent review, you have picked up on his positives and negatives really well. thanks.

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