[Vuong] grew up listening to his grandmother’s stories and folk songs, and his poetry takes the musicality of that oral tradition and weds it, brilliantly, with his love of the English language. The poems in Mr. Vuong’s new collection, Night Sky With Exit Wounds possess a tensile precision reminiscent of Emily Dickinson’s work, combined with a Gerard Manley Hopkins-like appreciation for the sound and rhythms of words. Mr. Vuong can create startling images (a black piano in a field, a wedding-cake couple preserved under glass, a shepherd stepping out of a Caravaggio painting) and make the silences and elisions in his verse speak as potently as his words ... Mr. Vuong writes as an immigrant and as a gay man, and his poems capture what it means to be an outsider (a 'beast banished/ from the ark') and the brutal history of prejudice in America.
Vuong writes in the ecstatic mode, right up close to the body. 'In the body, where everything has a price,/ I was a beggar' the book begins, as a young boy spies on his father singing in the shower. The child enters that song and renders in vivid images the experience of war, dislocation and loneliness, trying to understand both his own suffering and the world’s ... These are love poems, erotic poems, songs of hunger that merge a child’s vulnerability with a man’s passion ... In Vuong’s Night Sky, the entry and exit wounds are real, torn open by gunshot and 'misfired' words, but his poems insist we can be made whole by rapture.
Night Sky with Exit Wounds shows us what it means to shatter the oracle of public expectations, recovering the heroism of the helpless and staring the abyss into submission ... One way of reading Night Sky is as an epic of vulnerability, whose luminous flame catches the toughest of brutes at their most susceptible and the most susceptible of survivors at their fiercest ... very few poets can do what Vuong does. His gift is not for avocados and fresh laundry, but for shocking the most jaded of readers with devastating earnestness.
Vuong doesn’t shy away from depicting how nativist fear and suspicion can fill private and public spaces with a language of violence ... But for all his laments, Vuong holds out hope for a life that isn’t defined by fear...Vuong’s major contribution in Night Sky With Exit Wounds is to push back against the inclination to let fear define the exile’s life.