Soap for the Dogs

Stacey Tran. Gramma, $16 trade paper (124p) ISBN 978-0-9987362-5-9
The poems are minimal but never simple in Tran’s debut, a sensuous collection replete with images that surface like slowly developing Polaroid pictures: “Kneel beside/ a glass case/ filled with wet grass// Sit with how/ it is heavy/ to come// Beside the lake// Incense burning.” There is a warmth to these sparse fragments as they recall the pleasures of taste, smell, touch. “Only caterpillars/ desire my kind/ of bilingual,” Tran writes. The book is interwoven with three sections of “Fake Haiku,” which forego the traditional 17-syllable formula and hint at a wry critique of the American obsession with authenticity. The eponymous section is the meatiest, both in form and subject matter. Here, the verse grows stark as Tran moves away from softer memories and gravitates toward prose poems while approaching issues related to her Vietnamese ancestry. The work shifts from the collection’s opening focus on sensations and textures into precise family narratives about survival. As the collection moves and Tran sheds her linguistic ambiguities, she reveals her most potent truths: “We have a long way to go// Learning to peel mangoes without fear// Học ăn, học nói// Học gói, học mở// How to eat, how to speak// How to close, how to open// Everything must be learned.” (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 06/04/2018
Release date: 03/01/2018
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