We Play a Game

Yale Univ. (Series of Younger Poets). Mar. 2018. 104p. ISBN 9780300230871. pap. $20; ebk. ISBN 9781571318480. POETRY
OrangeReviewStarBold, bright, yet decidedly unsettled and unsettling, this first collection—next in the Yale Series of Younger Poets—doesn't so much explore Doan's Vietnamese American experience as defy it. "When my brother/ and sisters and I talk about Vietnamese/ pronouns,// we're ghosts/ reminiscing about facial expressions," he proclaims, and in the poem "romanticizing Vietnam" states, "I fail to see// meaning in the white lotus// blossoming in the swamp." Doan focuses instead on an exuberant physicality (sometimes edged with desperation), as many poems reference dance and sports and the speaker totes up erotic encounters with members of both sexes ("She had me in the car. I came forward like a song"). There's personal pain, too ("One night I look up/ and bang/ our family/ has torn our family/ apart forever."
VERDICT Highly recommended.

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