Time, normally associated with death and erasure, embodied in the image of the Greek god Kronos devouring his young, is transformed by the poet into a mother with endlessly regenerative power ... illustrates the poet's efforts to reconcile inexorable fate with aesthetic transformation, eternal absence with continuous presence ... Aesthetically complex yet emotionally accessible, Time is a Mother at once innovates and affirms the existing poetic tradition, bringing to mind John Ashbery's Paradoxes and Oxymorons. Vuong's portrait of Hồng is both intimate and iconic ... By addressing Hồng in 'Dear Rose,' Vuong also reaches out to us who, in reading his work, become his mother, the poem, and his community through space and time.
Not since Emily Dickinson has poetry conveyed such an oceanic openness to the self’s quiet laceration and resilience. These new poems collect fragile private moments and glue them together, like Joseph Cornell’s collages made out of rescued materials. They are emotionally potent due to their inherent vulnerability. Bullet imagery cuts through the book ... Vuong’s words hit us with debris that resemble our own memories of art, love, grief and survival. His mothering poems register the incompleteness of life, even as we find ourselves in a world where a single word, a quick turn of phrase or a short line make a difficult moment bearable. All the same, the violent process of fermentation they exhibit keeps poetry pungent, truth-seeking and unerasable.
There’s something about Vuong’s writing that demands all of your lungs. The succinct line arrangement and absence of full stops in poems such as 'Dear Rose' force you to breathe heavy ... Being led by urge and compulsion feels central to the emotional landscape of Time Is a Mother, sometimes to the point of recklessness. The painterly opener, 'The Bull', sets the tone for this sense of wild abandon ... Underneath the macabre scenes is an innocent curiosity and thirst for truth and beauty. These ghost poems are about the cavernous corners of loss, grief, abandonment, trauma and war, but that doesn’t result in nihilism or apathy for life; in fact, Vuong approaches death like an entrance rather than an ending.
... a capacious collection of poems, containing many voices which together create a bold and thrilling departure ... Instances of wit and levity are a formal maneuver, gasps of relief interrupting stretches of emotional intensity. But they also signal a shift, a declaration on the part of Vuong. To those who understand him as the sad, gay Vietnamese American poet who writes sad, gay Vietnamese American poems: 'you don’t know me at all'. This refusal is accomplished in part by the sheer variety of the collection ... To be sure, there are ghosts in these poems. But there is also a capacity for play. Alternating between these tones—sometimes in the space of the line—is itself a contemporary gesture, mimetic of how we scan without pause from news of ongoing police violence (one poem in the collection is dedicated to Tamir Rice) to memes about Pete Davidson, just as we achieve glimpses of beauty amid a seemingly impenetrable miasma. In Vuong, these somber moments bask in levity’s afterglow, allowing him renewed energy to break our hearts in all the ways he knows how ... Beyond sheer beauty, these poems delight in the harrowing middle, the lewd joke at the funeral—what we crawl toward and what keeps us crawling.
Vuong’s virtuosity and vulnerability resonated in a way I hadn’t anticipated. But that’s the essence of Vuong’s talent: he alchemizes deeply individual experiences with universal emotions into what is both familiar and new ... Vuong examines breakdowns—physical, mental—in a way that’s equally sensitive and straightforward, often in sentence fragments that replicate the emotional landmines through which the speaker is walking. The line between being in this life and simultaneously not of it is sometimes as thin as onionskin, and often unpredictable ... Vuong is ever a musical poet, with language and sound inextricably entwined, through voice and verse ... We need no more proof of Vuong’s importance in the poetic canon. With candor and sensitivity, marking universal experiences in a singular and deeply intimate language, Vuong shows us again how language both reveals and saves, for authors and readers ... The confluence of the violence of the ax, the connection with the tree, how acknowledging memory—sharp, sometimes painful, sometimes beautiful—can release us from our roots and allow us to soar and reinforces the power and vulnerability of this poet, in the prime of his work and life.
... reminiscent of his fantastic first novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous in the almost surgical superiority with which it does the jobs of insight, emotion, of surprise and beauty, while returning to some of the themes explored by Vuong in earlier work ... the language of toxic masculinity gets turned against its users, along with a certain dread, a fear of losing or dying coming up as the constant in the subtext of this very short, but intensely charged, volume full of forward motions ... a true magic trick. The message made into shapes sharp with meaning, but the weapon—clearly—is always the line.
There, within the sharp, supple sweetness of Ocean Vuong’s Time is a Mother, lies both devastation and wry relief for anyone who knows what it is to grieve ... Vuong has said that 'the only place I can control is the page,' and what marvelous control he wields over it. This book of poetry is a luminous remembrance for the mother he’s just lost ... every line is at once its own gut punch and jewel ... If you’ve read Vuong’s work before, you know you can expect to be dazzled, and he thoroughly delivers ... Vuong’s approach feels so effortlessly dazzling, at once fresh and familiar. It’s a challenge to describe his writing, because it’s nearly impossible to evoke exactly how he works his specific wonders ... It’s an exquisite kind of ecstasy. At the same time, there’s joy here, not to mention humor --- a reveling in the play of language, not only the work. Vuong writes with a sense of mischief as he bites back. Time is a mother.
... builds on the themes of the previous books, displaying a new degree of precision and elegant power in Vuong’s use of form. But that growth extends beyond technical matters. In this book, Vuong gives greater voice to reckoning with loss by embracing survival. Hope exists, yes, but grasped from harrowing circumstances at great cost.
Nothing short of beautiful. Fresh feeling poems populated with violence, the roadside, love, and what endures. Where war and tragedy and trauma persists, so do the bold spirit in each of these poems, unafraid to look back be tender. What I found most compelling in Time Is a Mother was the rhythm, dilating and breathing one moment, rapid and pulsing the next, capturing the flow of relative time the way only a voice like Vuong’s can.
Vuong orbits the contours of grief, embedding them into clausal configurations and juxtaposed tones. These structures are reflected in Vuong’s themes of time and place, parent and child, nation and individual, and strength and weakness as he unfolds the logic of loss ... Retrogression, lists and notes structure some of Vuong’s words, but the poet’s linguistic ferocity illuminates his mother’s spirit from the rays of memory.
... quiet, astonishing lyrics. Vuong conjoins the figures of motherhood and time (the speaker’s mother works at a local clock factory, for example), while drawing from the deep wellspring of his Vietnamese heritage ... For all its evocative intensity, the book’s not without its humor, albeit often dark and pointed ... Even the most ostensibly simple moments prove mesmerizing in Vuong’s treatment.
... a work that seeks to tease beauty from violence, to find life in pain. Indeed, these intentional contradictions have proved lodestars in Vuong’s work, but here he feels scraped rawer than ever, easily sliding between playfulness and acidity, his language both elliptical and meticulous ... Enriching Vuong’s already sterling early career, this new collection feels abraded by both the weight of loss and of living, yet is cut with a profusion of affecting beauty and humor.
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 ... His skillful technique is evident ... there’s a new, biting insouciance and self-awareness in Vuong’s voice ... This fantastic book will reward fans while winning this distinctive poet new ones.
In general, there is a turn away from the other and towards the self in Vuong’s new book, which loosens its connection to the world...Such self-pity is galling when the author is enjoying popular and critical success ... The effect this has on the poetry is detrimental: not only does Vuong’s imagery lose precision, but the poems lose their shape and definition ... Where the book focuses on people other than the poet, as in a poem about his partner’s Russian Jewish grandmother and another about a seven-year-old cousin, it is genuinely moving. But even here there are slip-ups.
Death and art go hand-in-hand. In fact, loss has often inspired enormous creative innovation. Still, meditations on death can be somewhat one-note, forcing the reader to experience, over and over, the all-consuming sadness that comes from grieving. In his newest collection of poetry, Time Is a Mother, Ocean Vuong masterfully eludes this obstacle. The poet’s language recognizes the trauma of death, but also revels in the glory of life ... This collection reprises some of the flourishes in Vuong’s earlier writing, particularly the way he focuses on the smallest, most fleeting moments to discover surprising emotional resonances ... Still, Vuong moves in a new direction here, embracing self-reflection ... It should be noted that, in some of his poems, Vnong’s self-conscious excavation of the past may become inscrutable. Vuong plays with form and structure throughout Time Is a Mother, often avoiding punctuation and scrambling up his stanzas and line breaks. For the attentive reader, this challenge rewards because it forces a greater attentiveness to the language. In this sense, Vuong is very much a modernist. But for those who hold, as Mary Oliver would put it, that poems are like prayers, these indirect explorations of mourning may contain too much to grapple with ... The formatting of the poem makes it a somewhat daunting read, from the lack of punctuation and the mid-thought line breaks to the staggered line placement. Still, Vuong’s strategy, though difficult, is necessary: the lack of punctuation makes the poem seem to be unending, a forever testament to the ecstasy of youth. The poet makes powerful use of a paradox here, as in the rest of the collection: the mid-thought line breaks give the poem an erratic, spontaneous feel, but the regimented line staggering insists on structure, even a sense of uniformity. By yoking together intimacy and distance, Time Is a Mother, dramatizes how love and loss subtly intertwine.
His poetry, which is stark and evocative, has the accessibility of the spoken word, leans towards the confessional, and has no shortage of gorgeous sentences. The lines often lend themselves well to quotation ... He has a keen ear for rhythm ... Vuong feels the world with his words, holding images in his mind and letting them fold into each other in startling new ways. On the page, as in real life, his voice is soft, wistful and direct ... Even at his most self-indulgent, Vuong is self-aware.
This new book of poetry is subdued ... It is hard to make an unfinished feeling into a warm one. But the book’s intimacy reaches out to readers, as if to say: you know when you know about what it’s like to lose someone you love ... Vuong’s style is achingly simple. With coherence to the rest of his work, Vuong refuses finality, but honors death by acknowledging the depth of grief, which is also the depth of love. He is not afraid of the word as a tool to take one step beyond fatalism. And in this brave act opens the realm of a possible infinite.