In 2010 Ocean Vuong offered his first collection of poems – BURNINGS – and this reviewer wrote the following: ‘It is very difficult to read the poetry of Ocean Vuong: he gets inside the marrow and hides there for even a few moldy moments of memories that we've tried to erase. Perhaps not for everyone, this response. Likely for most these poems he collectively and intuitively titles BURNINGS will be simply the virtuosic, luminous constructions of a vividly experienced/inherited life. Ocean Vuong is Vietnamese, now living and writing and teaching in Brooklyn. He was born in Saigon in 1988, well after the US withdrawal of troops from that grossly wrong war, but his parents and grandparents carry the napalm smells and bitter battles in every cell of their bodies: Vuong's inheritance. And now, years away from that fetid error, his poems ask, if not force, us to recall that cancer that will never go away. So for those of us who experienced the Vietnam of which he speaks these poems are pockets of pain and renewed compassion. Ocean Vuong expresses the mind of a refugee as defined as any poet of our time. His poems can arrest the movement of our eyes, forcing them to accept the wrong that cannot be righted. But they can also create strange lullabies he recalls from the past, his past, our past. Vuong's perfectly crafted poems are intensely personal, and intensely universal. What he has to whisper to us sears our eyes and minds like a branding iron, burning. Whether his words are of wars past or present, they are inescapably palpable. This is the work of a gifted cantor, singing of pain, singing of healing.’
Why share this again? It is now 2019 and because during the past decade Ocean Vuong has become one of the more highly regarded men on the literary scene. He is first a poet and now a novelist, but no matter the form in which his words are dressed, the level of empathy glows. ON EARTH WE’RE BRIEFLY GORGEOUS is a fine novel, an autobiography in prose and poetry, and an intense examination of family, race, class, gender, drug addiction, immigrant status, filial devotion between a mother who does not read and her son, and finding inner self. The book is successful on all levels and now stands as another trophy in the growing respect for this splendid artist. Very Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, June 19
4 stars Author: Asian-American born in Saigon 1988, now teaches writing at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Renowned poet widely published, multiple awards. Openly gay. One of 100 leading global thinkers according to Foreign Policy magazine 2016. Premise: Series of letters from successful Asian-American writer to his illiterate mother, who came to US as a refugee after Vietnam war. Plot: Not a lot. The narrative is short and loops back and forth chronologically and turns into a gay love story in the second half. Prose: Extraordinarily intimate and lyrical. Like nothing I've read before. Character development: Limited but effective. Bottom line: There's a lot of (too much?) autobiographical metafiction around nowadays. This is one of the better examples.