Out of the Margins :: Poems by Hoa Nguyen

We move deeper into summer with poems by Hoa Nguyen. These poems use language in sometimes unsettling, disorienting, also playful, ways. Our attention is brought to the sounds of words, the slippery order of letters, the elusiveness of meaning, the quick, subtle shifts from one image in the mind to the next. Nguyen is highly esteemed and revered in the poetry world, with eight past poetry books and chapbooks, and a long-running private poetics workshop (based in Toronto and in cyberspace). Her latest book of poems, Violet Energy Ingots, will be published by Wave Books in the fall, and has already been listed as one of the top poetry books of fall 2016 by Publishers Weekly. We are honored to feature these poems of hers as part of Out of the Margins. For more, please visit: www.hoa-nguyen.com

Photo by Thai Nguyen Strom


I should like to king like the Troung sisters
Radicchio for the grail because you have to soak

alliance    Drown your long hair     (like in lost
like in lots of garlic and slicing in half)   Romances

goodbye       Lawn mowers groan and mustard garlic
grows    Circles where the syllables used to be

I said I’m at the threshold      which sounds
like something I would say

It’s cold        It warms        It suns        It rains


Can cry and alarm
the children

try to explainedness

despite Virgo birthdays
and pop music

of lineage past and future
to become crux of

“You seem mad at me”
(that’s my boy to me)

Cry with an ex-pat
expression     and strange tears after

Cry for distant girlhood widowed friend

also many dead    alive    relatives

and what history     A colonial victory

               fucked what if
fucked as if


(my green grief)
I believed an open
mouth   I disobedience

informed by a spider    ushered
from an eye

Many pale green
peppers in the garden

and freak out
& fall down in a weep

I said my heart was a coal miner
cave in    It was caved in
walking around

How to be
moving like words & magic

the true blue song & damp
deck         & wet pussy

& the trees have leaves
shaped like a heart
heart shaped leaves

We sent the spider
to the window for luck


He was the seventh president of the United States
He was responsible for the Indian Removal Act
He was poor but ended up rich
He was an enslaver of men, women, and children
He was given the nickname ‘Indian Killer’
He was put on the twenty-dollar bill


Headless or head lowered    bowed down
I have legs    could club you where
The zygote lives    A love zygote
A zigzag stream in orange

What are these metallic squiggles
and yellow    that giant urge
to hover       The place of death
and lentil burger dinner

Head down   golden golden
A blue explosion
crowned my head and wrung me out
Removed a tooth so I cleaned it


In the poems
and that part of

off-key   my head
to store the limbo

     The song
unless we hurt

it      where it shouldn’t be
I form green

onions     Montage of
fire     bathe under

Here: each way
sweet    frizzled

as in fruit in candy
or “bear” called panda

               (Just take it)
I run like an alehouse

run by a spider
Buffer cap

I mean buttercup   Fool
Sweet and butter sweet

Open up the sun
skipping over spring again


Let me never lose hold of this shape
Let me never lose
Life of my life    I shall ever try
Light    my light    the world-filling light
Light   oh where is the light
More life     my love     yet more
Mother I shall weave a chain of pearls
My desires are many and my pitiful cry
No more noisy loud words from me



Dash of Intrigue A Smidgen of Relish
Artist Statement: I’m interested in writing that exposes its own troubles and self-problematizes. I want poems that risk uncertainties while at the same time, risk saying something. I’ve long been interested in poems that have a relationship to song, poems that vibrate a little, ones that buzz and blur a bit, invite alternate voices, and create a kind of energy field of sound and sense.

Born in the Mekong Delta and raised in the Washington, D.C. area, Hoa Nguyen studied Poetics at New College of California in San Francisco. Author of four full-length books of poetry, her titles include As Long As Trees Last and Red Juice, Poems 1998-2008. Her new book, Violet Energy Ingots was selected by Publishers Weekly as one of the top ten poetry books published in the fall of 2016. Nguyen teaches at Ryerson University, for Miami University’s low residency MFA program, for the Milton Avery School for Fine Arts at Bard College, and in a long-running, private poetics workshop

This post is part of diaCRITICS’ Vietnamese American Literary Series, OUT OF THE MARGINS, launched in 2015-16. The series curates literary work from poets, writers and 
artists of Vietnamese-American and Vietnamese diasporic experience. Our mission is to create an inclusive, diverse, provocative, ongoing space for voices and visions from this community, thus bringing them out of the margins. Dao Strom is the series editor and curator.

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  1. Thank you for these lovely poems. I particularly like the one on Andrew Jackson and the collage of lines from Tagore. Jackson has been/will be mercifully removed from the $20 bill but, of course, his legacy cannot be erased. May I ask which translation of Tagore you refer? I find his poetry in Bangla more resonant than in English but your poem is resonant.


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