Monday, April 13, 2020
There is much sadness in Hieu Minh Nguyen's poetry collection, Not Here, so when it slips into a celebratory tone, as it does in a drag bar in the poem "Monica West is Moving to Omaha, Nebraska," it's particularly shiny ("I see a world where I stay, where I stand at the foot of the stage & wait for them to reach down & take, I don't know, my money? My hand? My fear of a world that refuses to know their glory"). Nguyen effectively mixes in painful observations too--"We don't come here because the white people are better here than they are in the real world, cause after all, after last call, they will all leave & walk into a world where their clean faces have been the destination in the path of our unmasking. Cause after all, no blacks, no asians, no spice, no rice, no fats, no femmes. They push my friends, & say I don't see you--didn't see you standing there--" The little sonic booms in Nguyen's work cut. Nguyen's lucid and moving poems reflect abuse, unspoken desire, racial identity and more in concise, wrenching ways. The sharp-edged "Politics of an Elegy" shows the discordant complexity of an elegy in the first place: "I can lie & say I haven't written the poem / haven't buried her over & over at my desk / haven't described the ash of her body" and later, "I fill my lungs with English. / I numb her skin with English. / I English the light she walks into." Nguyen wields much power in his use of repetition and language in his compounded, multi-faceted work of strong subject matter.