In her debut collection, Monica Sok uses poetry to reshape a family’s memory about the Khmer Rouge regime―memory that is both real and imagined―according to a child of refugees. Driven by myth-making and fables, the poems examine the inheritance of the genocide and the profound struggles of searing grief and PTSD.
Nail the Evening Hangs On is fiery, trauma-stricken, tender, and complicated. Sok weaves together a remarkable collection wrought with memories of those who are alive but not living and those who are dead but not yet gone ... Sok masterfully manipulates tone through repetition to alter the reader’s expectation of how her poems will progress during the entirety of A Nail the Evening Hangs On. At times reminiscent of folklore, the repetition is hypnotic and tangible ... The reader senses that the author’s adroit understanding of human suffering is simultaneously exacting and delicate ... permeates the very essence of our humanity: the connection we have with undergoing hardship while knowing that, regardless, time will continue to pass. This book is about healing ourselves when time does not, and the people and memories that help us to do so. Monica Sok’s flawless collection holds the reader in rapt attention and there is no doubt that her writing will continue to cross innumerous borders—geographical and emotional.
Sok’s collection...deftly represents what is so difficult to represent: the haunting of history, the twisting of lies into truth, forced misremembering or erasure, and the will to heal ... It seems a mistake to think of Sok’s poems as surreal or magical because they speak to a haunting that is felt, experienced, bodily. The poems’ surrealism or disorientations live in material reality. In this collection, history’s haunting is not metaphorical or imagined ... Sok forces readers to imagine the protective time warp and simultaneously to grapple with the losses imbued in its supposed safety. Sok illustrates the intertwined nature of the past and the present, how the past continues to live in the present, though shifted ... Distrust and paranoia can live on in the body as trauma. Throughout A Nail the Evening Hangs On, Sok points readers to how these practiced sentiments haunt generations of Cambodians and Cambodians in diaspora today.
Sok retraces the contours of a difficult and important conversation on identity. She succeeds in using her Americanness to question her sense of belonging in the Cambodian narrative, while inviting the reader in two countries’ complex political history ... Her poems creatively play with form to convey rhythm, time and place in an evolving manner, page after page ... The poems dedicated to her visits to Cambodia, and her attempts to recollect and reconnect, are the most moving.