Department or Program
Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor
Yoon Sun Lee
Octavio R. Gonzalez
In his debut poetry collection, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, queer Vietnamese-American refugee poet Ocean Vuong claims his work is “an attempt to navigate history through a rewriting or rather, a recasting, of history into a mythology, much in the tradition of our poetic forebears, like Homer, Dante, Milton.” In this myth-making, closely related to memory and the constitution of empire, I read Vuong’s collection through scholar and novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen’s “just memory”, a way of memorialization that seeks to give voice to all people involved in conflict, examines the conditions in which war memory is produced, and explains how memory is in service of creating the identity of a nation. I look at the poems “Telemachus”, “In Newport I Watch My Father Lay His Cheek to a Beached Dolphin’s Wet Back”, “My Father Writes From Prison”, and “To My Father / To My Future Son” as they constitute the mythology of the father, a figure who creates memories of war that Vuong has no access to. I use this framework in relation to its original intent, as a way of configuring national identity through war memory, but also in understanding a queer mythology Vuong puts forth, one that also questions the American identity as a heteronormative ideal. I turn to the poems “Of Thee I Sing”, “Seventh Circle of Earth”, “Because It’s Summer”, “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous”, and “Devotion” in understanding this queer mythology. What proceeds is a broad understanding of Vuong’s poetry, in its attempt to give voice to the voiceless and critique the identity/identities of the United States.