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Poetry that gives life

Cover of Not Here
A review of Not Here by Hieu Minh Nguyen

What a time to be alive. What a time for poetry that gives life. Rupi Kaur, Nayyirah Waheed, Danez Smith, Ada Limón, Morgan Parker, Tommy Pico, Chen Chen, Kaveh Akbar, Ocean Vuong, Solman Sharif, Mai Der Vang, Yesika Salgado. There is no shortage of new school poets with distinctive viewpoints and a moving way with words. Add Hieu Minh Nguyen, the Minnesotan son of Vietnamese immigrants, to that list.

Nguyen’s second volume of poems, Not Here, is a rich confessional written in everyday English. It is light on abstractions and heavy on subjective truth. Each poem feels interconnected, adding up to a cohesive exhibition of the personal as political. The collection swirls around and builds upon Nguyen’s bio-mythology: describing big, small, and still festering life experiences, with phrasings that both beautify and interrogate the poet’s (and the reader’s) relationships to family, ancestry, whiteness, abuse, and desire.

These poems are never showy, never patronizing, and intensely human. If you’re looking for raw poetry that pulls no punches, this is one of the best reads of 2018.

December 6, 2018