Time Is a Mother

Penguin Pr. May 2022. 128p. ISBN 9780593300237. $24. POETRY
“I was made to die but I’m here to stay,” writes Vuong in his second collection. It’s perhaps as fitting a theme as there is to be found in the collection, 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. Given its cathartic character—it was written following the death of his eponymous parent in 2019—this collection bears more thematic resemblance to the author’s novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous than to his debut work of poetry, the more austere Night Sky with Exit Wounds. In truth, though, any of the three titles would have proven apt for the author’s latest, suffused as they all are with intimations of mortality. But it’s easy to see why this title was picked: Vuong’s mother is as present as ever here, woven into poems that alternately reach back into memory and cast out toward the future, the author’s experimentation of form and fluidity of tone adding further dimension to his articulation of grief’s fickle process.
VERDICT 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.
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