Not Here by Hieu Minh Nguyen

Published by Coffee House Press

Believe the hype—Hieu Minh Nguyen’s second collection is a momentous event in the poetry of now. Its title, Not Here, is a paradox of sorts, in which the immediacy of its language contends with the ghosts of the poet’s past, all in the voices of incredibly palpable and accessible speakers. This is demonstrated best in the “White Boy Time Machine” poems, where the speaker’s relationships to white men—mostly past and present lovers—are complicated by history, race and personal trauma. The skill with which Nguyen weaves these subjects together into a multi-textured fabric of experience is honestly astounding. In “White Boy Time Machine: Software,” the speaker summons the horrors of Vietnam into a problematic dinner party at the house of his white lover’s parents: “I am who they think I am / I lace the corset, tight / blend a decimated village into the hollows/ of my cheeks.”

While it’s difficult to say any one aspect of Nguyen’s art is better than another, even a casual reading of Not Here will demonstrate that he is a master of form, somehow managing to make the book’s obsessions and recurring situations completely fresh from poem to poem, like a painter or photographer does with perspective. Instead of cataloging the strengths of this collection, which are many, it’s perhaps easier to say that the only thing this book doesn’t have is a dull moment. In other words, this is a generous poetry, a poetry that never forgets that the reader is an active participant and essential component to its magic. Not Here is in fact here, and can’t be forgotten.—Jordan Deveraux

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