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Ocean Wong’s New Poetry – Choir, Expatriate and American Literary Star – Culture

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After his successful first novel, Ocean Wong returns with a new volume of poetry, “A Mother of Time” – and with it his tragic loss of the world.

“A Mother of Time”. It’s the name of Ocean Wong’s new collection of poetry. The appearance of the word “mother” in the title comes as no surprise to anyone already familiar with Wong’s other work: his hit novel “On Earth We Are Briefly Great” is a nearly 300 page letter to his mother. A letter that could not even be read by my mother because I had not read it.

This episodic novel turned Ocean Wong into a famous literary star in 2019. But his professional fortunes soon clouded: shortly after the book was published, Wong’s mother died. He mourns in his new volume of poetry. The book is also dedicated to her. She appears again and again in poetry.

Torn between two cultures

In addition to the loss of his mother, Immigrant is a topic in the book of poetry: Wong’s internal turmoil between Asian and American culture. Ocean Vuong was born in Vietnam in 1988 and moved to the United States with his mother when he was two years old.

Other Topics: Foreigner, his homosexual and drugged friends. These are all lessons that Ocean Wong has played before. A new addition is his literary success.

Ocean Vuong does not seem to believe in extraordinary fame. So he lets his lyrics say: “Retreat – I’m a failure on the path to success.”

A mixture of poetry and prose

There are no rhymes in this book of poetry. There are no standard subtitle lengths. Some poems only fill half a page, others ten. Just as Wong’s novel “On Earth We Are Briefly Great” contained many lyrics, “Time is a Mother” now contains many long prose passages. Wong mixes varieties.

As before, his words speak to a sad feeling lost in the world. “Night” is often the focus. In addition, animals, cages, cold, storms, calm and snow. Fortunately, there are always clear thoughts you can have while reading Ocean Wong’s associative, often surrealistic films.

Sometimes he would ask, “Is the memory of the song the shadow of the sound?” Or “Why is the past always so long?” Asks good questions like.

Concrete, concise and artistic

Anne-Kristin Mittag translated the volume of poetry. He has already translated Wong’s first collection of poetry into German, “Night Sky with Exit Wounds” and “On Earth We Are Briefly Terrific”. So she knows Wong’s language very well.

She also excelled in the translation of “Time is a Mother”. She took all the necessary freedom from Wong’s English poetry to compose German poetry and to carry his artistic language pictures. Nevertheless, the original seems too stressful, too concise, and too concise.

So it would have been nice if the publisher had chosen the bilingual version. So one may have occasionally seen his original rhythm while selecting and reading Ocean Wong’s words.

Book note


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Ocean Wong: “A Mother of Time”. Hanser, 2022. Translated from English by Anne-Christine Mittack.