Ocean Vuong is an American poet and essayist based in New York City. His most recent book is Night Sky with Exit Wounds, a collection of poems published by Copper Canyon Press (2016). The Creative Independent sat down with Vuong to discuss what it means to tackle new forms, the generosity required to be both a reader and a writer, and the radical notion of taking language into your own hands.
On Trauma & Patterns in Creativity
“The Italian philosopher Vico had this theory that time moves more in a spiral than it does in a line. He believes that’s why we repeat ourselves, including our tragedies, and that if we are more faithful to this movement, we can move away from the epicenter through distance and time, but we have to confront it every time. I’ve been thinking about trauma—how it’s repetitive, and how we recreate it, and how memory is fashioned by creation. Every time we remember, we create new neurons, which is why memory is so unreliable. I thought, “Well if the Greek root for ‘poet’ is ‘creator,’ then to remember is to create, and, therefore, to remember is to be a poet.” I thought it was so neat. Everyone’s a poet, as long as they remember.”
“I learned, relative to our creative spaces, that, for some reason, the art of recognizing one another in our goals was not privileged. In workshops, we often privilege correction as progress. There’s this capitalistic anxiety to fix it. Even in the way we talk about writing: polish, cut, write, chop, tighten. I want it to be more about actual creation—looking at people making organic things with their imaginations.”
On Fear & What Writing Comes To
“I’m afraid, ‘What if none of this matters?’ Maybe this is the working-class roots of my family, where I feel like—I sit two days in a hotel, I get 10,000 words—what if it doesn’t matter? What if I could be doing something better with my hands for my community, my people? Maybe, in a queer body, that’s always a question: ‘How can we be of service to one another?’ At least for myself. That’s how I think of art, is how we are service to one another.”
Author Website: Ocean Vuoung