Author and poet Ocean Vuong talks with Jon Joseph about his writing, his childhood in Vietnam and the US, and his first encounter with Buddhism and its influence on his work. “As an artist, there has to be an allegiance to wonder and awe and mystery, and a willingness to quest beyond truth.”
From his writing:
As an artist, there has to be an allegiance to wonder and awe and mystery, and a willingness to quest beyond truth … What is the meaning of rain? Rain doesn’t have a secret. It just exists. It’s the same with music. You experience music. Why do we cry listening to Bach? There’s no meaning inherent in the notes.
With [grandma] Lan, one of my tasks was to take a pair of tweezers, and pluck, one by one, the grey hairs from her head …
For this work, I was paid in stories: ”Help me, Little Dog.” She pressed my hands to her chest. “Help me stay young, get this snow off of my life—get it all off of my life.” I came to know, in those afternoons, that madness can sometimes lead to discovery, that the mind, fractured and short-wired, is not entirely wrong.
They say if you want something bad enough you’ll end up making a god out of it. But what if all I ever wanted was my life, Ma?
I am thinking of beauty again, how some things are hunted because we have deemed them beautiful. If an individual life is so short, then to be gorgeous, even from the day you’re born to the day you die, is to be gorgeous only briefly …
I think of the time Trevor and I sat on the toolshed roof, watching the sun sink. I wasn’t so much surprised by its effect, but that it was ever mine to see. Because the sunset, like survival, exists only on the verge of its own disappearing. To be gorgeous, you must first be seen, but to be seen allows you to be hunted.
—Ocean VuongRead More▼