Poetry book “Time is Mother” by Ocean Fung. review – culture

Strong allergies have a downside: they age poorly. This also applies to art, and besides the previous great success of Ocean Vuong, this is the second reason why his new poetic book, Time or Mother, is so overburdened. In his bestselling novel “On Earth We Are Briefly Great” and the volume of poetry “Night Sky with Exit Wounds”, published in the United States shortly before and in Germany shortly thereafter, Vuong made permeability of strong influences the dominant stylistic principle. The novel has also been raised in the most sensitive of genres: as a letter to one’s mother, who cannot read and thus remains an unreachable recipient forever.

Now, after three years in which Vuong has not published a new book, it begs the question of how literature working with such high-speed emotional moments can continue. Shouldn’t the entirely mother-focused poems in the book’s title be emotionally overwhelming, especially given the sad fact that the poet died of breast cancer at the age of under sixty?

On the plus side: Not all texts even attempt to answer the headline’s super-dazzling sentence that defines time as a mother. Most poems, whether they are only ten pages or half a page, cannot be reduced to an objective denominator, from snow shoveling in the bitter cold to television images of war, from sterile hospital beds to skinny dipping under a guillotine sky, from snippets of quotes to fragments of memories. From a midnight encounter with a silent bull to bid farewell to a drug-related death.

Poems between neoclassical, everyday and poetic notes

This sounds delightfully ambiguous, writing poetry at the end not a novel, but rather an abandoned quarry altering vision and movement across the landscape, or a box of pins that you lay in a half-blind. In “time um” among a lot of pebbles and rubble, you can always find rare earth and one or another diamond in the rough, or a smile about the laconic claim that the writer in the poem “The Last Queen of Antarctica” is not a writer, but an underwater tap. One hammers one’s fingers at images of sharply pointed tongue, and is pleasantly disturbed by “fresh and confused bones”, eyes like “raindrops in a nightmare” and at the sight of two lovers “as panting salmon”. One breathes a sigh of relief when the poet in the heart of “American Legend” finally finds a pay phone to call him to get off an unwanted jaunt with his father, who was always drunk.

Even more than previous work, Vuong’s lyrical shots express the intention of directing a surreal look imbued with the smallest of things, of the few and fleeting things that can be captured “between the thumb and forefinger”. However, the poems in this volume do not always succeed in arranging their lyrical fragments into a convincing poetic form. Many break off at some point, end with the same tension as others begin, and monotonously undulate after a colon that pretends to be a caesar.

Colorful adjectives sit in the voids like filler words, patchwork of midnight green, cheery yellow and blood blue, which would have remained a cruel and disturbing coincidence. One poem about Amazon’s order list for a nail salon employee sounds like she’s a little hopelessly behind on her list of highly toxic work items and colorful recreational plastics. The language tools on display are also metaboitally intertwined very smoothly, the syllable quickly turns into a bullet, the word becomes an insect, and a vaguely remembered part of the body is split into an incomplete sentence. For long periods, the impression prevailed that poems stuck their heads in the sand somewhere midway between classical modernism and daily memoirs and ballads of poetry.

Ocean Vuong: Time is a mother. Translated from the English by Anne Christine Maytag. Hanser, Munich 2022. 112 pages, €20.

But then the wonderful piece of “The Artist’s Novel” emerges from the mist. At the end of a seemingly endless wander, the protagonist of this longer professional poem finds a cassette, hits the rewind button and watches a torrent of images that tell formative scenes from the life of a man who could be himself: signatures disappear from books by a writer Famous before being pushed back out of the spotlight on secluded streets. Two lovers are first naked, and then clothed again: “You return to them their garments as fallen laws.” Images of war from the Middle East are shown on television – it must have been the first Gulf War, because tanks are rolling backwards out of Iraq for the second time.

This arrangement must also defend itself against the suspicions of kitsch, but could argue in its defense that the life of rewinding is not constantly linear, but jumps unreliably: the bullet fired does not return to the barrel, a friend named Kelvin dies and remains dead he “does not He sits in his coffin to kiss his father, Mr. Ríos on the forehead.” From this we can conclude: in the poem, life is told as an artist, and not as an artist, time does not accumulate an autobiography, but burns and destroys one image after another. The best poem in the volume ends with the words “here at the end”, and the circle closes again here, and thus the other poems in the volume are seldom separated, although their content is constantly buried in memories.

In Friedrich Schiller’s theory, poetry is called naive if it manifests itself in harmony with its subject based on an antique model, while elegies, poets and irony are sentimental, i.e. poetic forms that attempt to overcome the distance to their subject without any prospect of success. Ocean Vuong’s new poems read like fragments of sentimental forms in a gullible guise: mostly epitaph, with occasional flashes of improbable fleeting novel. There is hardly any room for irony, because even then, the tendency toward lack of humor, carries a sensitivity that is nowhere near as fresh and confusing as in Vuong’s first two books. It was desirable that these poems felt called to be the mother of all time more than the “artist’s romance” or, as in the wildly intense opening poem “The Bull,” made an effort to make her uplifted. What remains is the hazy impression of a presence steeped in memories, which pulls teeth from the rest of the time.

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