Ocean Vuong Wins 2012 Stanley Kunitz Memorial Poetry Prize

Ocean Vuong
Ocean Vuong <www.aprweb.org>

Kudos to Ocean Vuong, who has just been awarded the 2012 Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize for Younger Poets. His winning poem, “Prayer for the Newly Damned,” is featured in the current (September/October 2012) issue of the American Poetry Review. Take a read: you’ll find a powerful, haunting story with deep philosophical resonance. Using carefully selected images to sketch a shocking scene of violence, Vuong forces us to read between the lines of his stark narrative details. We are left contemplating broader questions of religion, truth, trauma, and memory.


Prayer for the Newly Damned

Dearest Father, forgive me for I have seen.

Behind the wooden fence, a field lit

with summer, a man pressing a shank

to another man’s throat. Steel turning to light

on sweat-slick neck. Forgive me

for not calling Your name. For thinking:

this must be how every prayer

begins—the word Please cleaving

the wind into fragments, into what

a boy hears in his need to know

how pain blesses the body back

to its sinner. The hour suddenly

stilled. The man genuflected, his lips

pressed to black boot as the words spilled

from his mouth like rosaries

shattering from too much

Father. Am I wrong to love

those eyes, to see something so clear

and blue—beg to remain

clear and blue? Did my cheek twitch

when that darkness bloomed from his crotch

and trickled into ochre dirt? Father,

how quickly the blade becomes

You. But let me begin again: There’s a boy

kneeling in a house with every door kicked open

to summer. There’s a question corroding

his tongue. There’s a knife touching

Your name lodged inside the throat.

Dearest Father, what becomes of the boy

no longer a boy? Please

what becomes of the shepherd

when the sheep are cannibals?

Vuong was born in Saigon, grew up in Connecticut, and now calls Brooklyn home. Last year, diaCRITICS guest blogger Eric Nguyen reviewed Vuong’s debut chapbook, Burnings. Keep watching for more great work ahead from this talented poet.



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