Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Hoa Nguyen, Violet Energy Ingots


I didn’t know my milk
      could return      racing

to save the orphan baby
this morning with ghosts

            minor men      and shook
the tricky omnivorous bandit

before it could bite again
Truck exhaust enters the house

One hydrangea flower
      and leaves gust in the wind

on “my” side of the fence      (stolen)
The smooth cup is upheld by a brown

hand as if to say
      Today is the 70th anniversary

of the bombing of Hiroshima

New from Toronto poet, editor and teacher Hoa Nguyen [see my 2012 profile on her here] is the poetry collection Violet Energy Ingots (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2016), her first full-length collection since her selected/collected poems, Red Juice: Poems 1998 – 2008 (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2014) [see my review of such here]. For those keeping score, it’s been four years since the appearance of a new full-length collection of poems by Nguyen—the poems from her chapbook TELLS OF THE CRACKLING (Brooklyn NY: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2015) are included here—back to her As Long As Trees Last (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2012) [see my review of such here], and Violet Energy Ingots continues her work in the small, personal moment, presenting a series of narratives stiched together in coherent lyric collages of halting breaths, pauses and precise descriptions. As she writes in the poem “Torn”: “To be original is to arise / from a novel origin?”

The short lyrics that make up Nguyen’s Violet Energy Ingots quilt together into a sustained conversation around pop culture, history, domestic matters and other concerns both large and small that in her hands become intimate, whether referencing the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, Anna Karenina, the song “Judy in Disguise,” Toronto trees, motherhood, the poet Philip Whalen or the colour red. To preface a recent interview with Nguyen posted online at The Walrus, Toronto poet and critic Michael Prior wrote that:

Her poems often use carefully juxtaposed phrases—images, fragments of dialogue, puns—in order to reveal the power structures and ideologies embedded in the seemingly most innocuous of comments and objects. Accordingly, Nguyen’s poetics are attentive to what she calls “the constellations of influences and community.” Nguyen’s phrase captures the striking allusiveness of her own work—in the first twenty or so pages of Violet Energy Ingots, the reader encounters 1960s song lyrics, Hellenic furies, an Egyptian pharaoh, Jane Fonda, and US poet Jack Spicer among many other literary and cultural figures past and present.

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