A TIME Magazine Best Book of 2022
The New York Times-bestselling collection of poems from the award-winning writer Ocean Vuong
"Take your time with these poems, and return to them often.” —The Washington Post
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.
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. Braiding past and present, Vuong's speakers contextualize personal traumas within larger systems of dehumanization. Gold becomes a key visual motif for capitalist tendencies: "There is sunlight here, golden enough to take to the bank" and "Because everyone knows yellow pain, pressed into American letters, turns to gold." His skillful technique is evident in elegies such as "Dear Rose," which describes a mother's life punctuated by poignant asides ("are you reading this dear/ reader are you my mom yet/ I cannot find her without you"). "Dear T" offers a meditation on the artistic process: "look a bit of ink on the pad/ & we're running down the street again/ after the thunderstorm/ platelets still plenty// in veins beneath your cheek." Yet there's a new, biting insouciance and self-awareness in Vuong's voice, "Oh no. The sadness is intensifying. How rude," turning his trademark epigrammatic flair to darkly humorous effect: "Because when a man & a man/ walk hand in hand into a bar/ the joke's on us." This fantastic book will reward fans while winning this distinctive poet new ones.