That sense of oneself as a monster, as a problem nobody can solve, governs these pages, and gives them their bitter, terse power ... The poems in Not Here feel inevitable as well as painful, full of sentences that Nguyen had no choice but to write. That said, he has made the right choices about how to write them. They feel at once raw and ruthlessly condensed ... Nguyen’s stripped-down style also makes available pithy, saddened advice, almost along the lines of Philip Larkin, whose poems about hating parties, and attending parties anyway, stand behind Nguyen’s decision to show his face at one more wintry gathering ... In an ideal world no one would grow up with the life that Hieu Minh Nguyen has had, and many thousands would have his talents, his compression, his way with figures, his talent for turning harsh memories into elegant verse. In this world, many people have similar troubles, and try to describe them, in prose poems and in verse. But very few could do what Nguyen has done.
The most exquisite and fierce of Nguyen’s poems, 'White Boy Time Machine: Software' is a perfect collision of the themes of the collection itself: the heteronormative, capitalistic consumption and disposal of bodies; sexuality as a commodity to be bartered and exploited; the condoned violence of exoticism; dangers of homophobia outside and within Vietnamese culture; ambiguous ancestry and inherited loss; historical and cyclical abuse of whiteness; childhood trauma and suicide; hope-ful/less-ness and healing ... As one continues to read Not Here it is impossible to ignore the strength and maturity of Nguyen’s poetic voice, now bolder and more confident than in his previous book ... one of Nguyen’s most remarkable gifts, aside from his harmonious arrangements of provocatively ugly language and stunningly gorgeous imagery, is his chilling comprehension of cruelty ... Unlike the title of Nguyen’s book, Not Here, his poetry is very much immediate and alive. And like spirits that cannot be seen but sensed, his words will pass through generations like blood. As a reader, I honor his shadow – a haunting outline, although greater than mine, is still painfully familiar.
Not Here masticates life and spits it out in glorious rhythm and rhyme ... Not Here will be loved, sticky-taped copies will adorn many collections. Like Ocean Vuong, the violent intensity of the poet’s life finds precise, piercing articulation in his art. His verse is memorable, quotable but in a way that’ll give you pause ... You can’t talk about being ‘moved’ or ‘touched’ at this stage. He’s reached it, the sublime.