Available for purchase at Amazon(Burnings is currently sold out at Sibling Rivalry Press.)
Review by Rhiannon Thorne
When April Michelle Bratten says, “I love their work,” I've learned to listen. Consequently, I have several chapbooks I've bought on her word. So when she pointed me Vuong's way, and I saw that his chapbook Burnings was sold out at Sibling Rivalry Press and that its presence on Amazon was dwindling, I immediately snagged a copy. It's one of my best buys this year. So, here's your warning, if I've convinced you to read Burnings by the end of this review, time might be of the essence. Better snag yourself a copy.
Burnings is a chapbook I simply did not want to put down once I started. Vuong's verse is executed with equal parts serrating horror and tenderness, making it a somewhat hard, but truly intimate, read. The first section is a refugee's memoir of songs Vuong needs to give voice to; to recreate or just create; to honor and to remember. Some poems ring with fear, some with sorrow, some with the point blank horror of napalm burnings. In “Kissing in Vietnamese,” Vuong's grandmother “kisses/as if bombs are bursting in the backyard” - a bittersweet song – while in “Song of the Mothers,” he writes with great empathy for the Vietnamese women who died in the violence of the U.S. War in Vietnam:
Sing of the sisters who help hands while soldiers took turns, who fled by closing their eyes, only to find their bodies too cold to return to.
In the second half of Burnings, Vuong finds a new song, recounting both the trials and celebrations of a budding homosexuality, moving from hiding his relationship in “Paramour”:
When the last exhalations fade, through with desire, we dress in silence, say the awkward farewells. You clutch your father's bible. I smear my neck with lipstick.
to the simple celebration of self-exploration in “Ode to Masturbation”:
Reach down, there is music in the body, play yourself like a lyre
and at the end, in “Seeing As It Is,” Burnings ends with beauty. So this is me paying it forward: You will love Ocean Vuong.
Rhiannon Thorne's work has appeared or is forthcoming most recently in Foundling Review, Midwest Quarterly, Words Dance, and The Doctor TJ Eckleburg Review. She edits the online publication cahoodaloodalingand may be reached at rhiannonthorne.com.