cover image Night Sky with Exit Wounds

Night Sky with Exit Wounds

Ocean Vuong. Copper Canyon (Consortium, dist.), $16 trade paper (70p) ISBN 978-1-55659-495-3

In his impressive debut collection, Vuong, a 2014 Ruth Lilly fellow, writes beauty into—and culls from—individual, familial, and historical traumas. Vuong exists as both observer and observed throughout the book as he explores deeply personal themes such as poverty, depression, queer sexuality, domestic abuse, and the various forms of violence inflicted on his family during the Vietnam War. Poems float and strike in equal measure as the poet strives to transform pain into clarity. Managing this balance becomes the crux of the collection, as when he writes, “Your father is only your father/ until one of you forgets. Like how the spine/ won’t remember its wings/ no matter how many times our knees/ kiss the pavement.” There are times when Vuong’s intense sincerity edges too far toward sentimentality: “Honeysuckle. Goldenrod. Say autumn./ Say autumn despite the green/ in your eyes.” Yet these moments feel difficult to avoid in a book whose speakers risk so much raw emotion: “7:18am. Kevin overdosed last night. His sister left a message. Couldn’t listen/ to all of it. That makes three this year.” By juxtaposing startling observations with more common images, Vuong forges poems that feel familiar, yet honest and original. (Apr.)