Cover Image: Time Is a Mother

Time Is a Mother

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Member Reviews

Thank you to netgalley and the publisher for giving me free access to the advanced copy of this book to read.
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Critically acclaimed poet and MacArthur Fellow Ocean Vuong returns with a new body of work. He follows his award-winning collection, On Earth, We are Briefly Gorgeous with Time is a Mother. 
Still processing the death of his mother, Vuong explores themes of personal loss, family, and feeling like an outsider in American society. Poems cover the immigrant experience, longing for the unavailable, and the death of his mother. How do you move forward when your creator, center, and protector is gone. How do you honor her?
One of the hardest poems in the collection to read for me was the Amazon History of a Former Nail Salon Worker. Even the title makes such a sharp contrast with a person who is such a strong force in one's life and then reduced to a job and shopping activity. When the poem turns and covers cancer accessories (a scarf( and then ordering an urn) the sharpness takes your breath away.
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An incredibly raw and moving colection of poetry. While I've read other reviews that said this one was less impactful than Vuong's previous collections, as a first time reader of his, I found it bothing moving, emotional, and very accesible.
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A beautiful collection that, as with much of Vuong's work, explores emotions relating to his relationship with his mother. This second collection of poems speaks about grief, and while some of the poems felt like they could have been further excavated to get his message across more clearly, even the oblique lines jump from the page with a visceral emotion that is hard to look away from. Simply stunning.
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Vuong’s writing focuses on mother/child relationship. So I was hesitant to read this. His novel hurt in ways I will always think of sentences and crumble a little. I wanted to pause on his language but I kept on thinking about what else he had to say.I wasn’t overwhelmed as I assumed I would be. I was nonetheless devastated, I’m seeing and thinking about how authors are dying to tell their stories, how vulnerable loving/losing feels. Access to a language so raw is the ultimate gift.

My favorite lines were:
“Forgetting I had no language. He kept breathing, to stay alive.”
“The dry outline of my mother/Promise me you won’t vanish again.”
“I feel sorry for anyone who has to die”
“I can make you look like something true”
“Childhood is only a cage that widens”
“If you see me then I prayed correctly.”
“My name a past tense where I left”
“Dear reader are you my mom, I can’t find her without you”
“How can any thing be found with just two hands?”
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I'm an infamous poem-not-understander but I thought these were beautiful and mostly managed to hit me. "Not Even" and "Amazon History of a Former Nail Salon Worker" is the definitive 1-2 punch of the collection for me. So much tenderness and great images here (love a garbage bag of anchovies).
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Time is a Mother by Ocean Vuong. I read this over the last few days, and I finished by borrowing the audiobook because I thought - and I was correct - that hearing Vuong’s intended cadence and intonation would add richness to many of my favourite pieces. I’m now all the more excited to finish On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. I’d describe Vuong as one of the best contemporary poetic storytellers. Audre Lorde has an essay in which she describes why Poetry is Not a Luxury, in this and her other works she explains how poetic communication has always come easier to her not due to a deficit in her understanding of traditional prose, rather, it is due to that format’s insufficiency in conveying the complexity of her own experience. You see exactly this in Vuong’s use of the poetic in both his poetry and prose to communicate his queer, immigrant, Vietnamese experience in America. The beautiful way he introduces us to his mother and family, he refuses to let us simplify her, demands that we look beyond the snapshot of a person it would be so easy to portray. You will, if you read or listen to this in its entirety, be comforted by how people, places, and experiences are offered in their entirety, rather than bite-sized reductions. You take it all or nothing at all.
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Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC. 

This is the first Ocean Vuong book I've read. I've had On Earth on my TBR for months and when I saw this was available, I was excited to start here. 

I absolutely adored this collection, It took me longer than anticipated to get through as I kept putting it down and returning as I needed to. I'm not sure if this is the most effective way of reading Vuong's work but it was such a delight to return to this book every week or so and engage with something new. I found myself scribbling notes all through this as I read it and highlighting liberally: 

‘How else do we return to ourselves but to fold
The page so it points to the good part.’

And from Dear Rose 
"reader I plagiarised my life to give you the best of me"

I was completely taken with this and have just purchased Night Sky to start this evening. I would highly recommend this melancholic and emotive collection.
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A stunning and honest collection of poetry that was prescient and comforting in this era of incredible loss.
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I liked this a bit less than the previous collection, Night Sky with Exit Wounds. I did still enjoy this quite a lot. Vuong does an amazing job at packing a tight punch into poetry that finds a way to hurt us, and yet, somehow, makes us feel more at home.
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Beautiful, but just too dark for me. Highly recommended for libraries with a strong poetry following, or for fans of Vuong's other work.
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Another moving exploration of grief, memory, sexuality, and identity that further demonstrates Vuong's command of language and form. 

Full review posted at BookBrowse:
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In "Time is a Mother", Vuong returns to subjects previously addressed throughout his oeuvre. In this collection he sidesteps any sort of repetitive pitfalls and brings a new perspective to recurring themes including grief, Vietnamese-American experience, family, intergenerational traumas, and the lingering effects of war. Writing in the wake of his mother’s death, Ocean wields a sharp personal voice while speaking to the universal experience of loss. Depending on the poem, the prose can be dense, narratively complex, and packed with nuance. I personally loved how there is a variety of forms used in these works too. As with any collection, some poems are stronger than others, but ultimately these are work that you can return to again and again. I also had the pleasure of attending a reading of these poems, and I found they gain new meaning when read aloud. Each time I re-read one myself, I notice new, intimate details that I may have overlooked before.
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This was a poetic masterpiece and each poem really spoke to me in its own way. The book is pure beauty, I really loved it.
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Ocean Vuong takes your heart and throws it into a million different pieces. Which is the emotional ride I was looking for. Time Is a Mother is his second potery collection after dealing with the loss of his mother. Though sometimes dark, the writing is still so tender and soft. You will not be able to make it through without a dry eye.
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"Enriching Vuong’s already sterling early career, this new collection feels abraded by both the weight of loss and of living, yet is cut with a profusion of affecting beauty and humor."

From my Library Journal review.
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I think this was an excellent poetry collection. Ocean knows how to write compelling and breathtaking lines that make you think about them for days and days after.
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It may have been that I was not in the right head space for this book because I really did not enjoy it.  I can't really pinpoint why I did not.
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Title: Time Is A Mother by Ocean Vuong
Pub Date: Available Now 
Written By: Elliot Eatinger


Ocean Vuong’s sophomore poetry collection–the stories of life lived by him, others around him, and those long gone–is crafted into a four-part series that travel right into one another. Deeply intimate and reflective, while maintaining a sense of sharp humor and awareness even through 
tragedy, Time is a Mother captures an impossible range of emotion that only a masterful writer such as Vuong himself can depict. 

Vuong returns with a triumph of craft that feels as if you are walking backwards and forwards with him through the poetic narrative, chasing down a deeply personal story forever in-progress.


I am back to talking about Ocean Vuong. It’s no secret how much I’ve come to adore his work since I read quite a lot of it during the pandemic and I even recently reviewed his novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. To me, it’s more than just anticipating a loved author’s work – it’s the exhilaration of setting off on an emotional journey and getting something new out of it each read. 

In Time Is A Mother, the reader is dared to consider the paradox of life. Vuong shares stories of being molded by war, of gut-wrenching realities of queer identity, of loss that makes one look further inward until there might be nothing left to dig for. He shares just how brilliant it might feel to live in the chaos, to not turn a blind eye away from the pain but to take it all together – because neither life nor death exist in a vacuum. That is where we begin.

The four parts of the collection – titled by their respective Roman numerals – feel almost theatrical in their movement, leading threads through each and every page to keep you tied in. The prelude piece, titled “The Bull,” sets up the prevalent theme of watching one’s own journey and having nowhere to go but forward despite all that pulls you back. The bull in the poem is revered with fear and curiosity in equal measure, and as he reaches into the depths for answers, our story begins.

This structure helps to follow the conversations of thought. Starring in all four parts are mentions of Peter, whom the book is dedicated to; his family and closest friends, with a special tribute to Rose, his mother; the “bullet” that travels in and out of time, both literal and metaphorical; the concrete and abstract of parentage and the bearing it has on one’s existence.

But of course, there is the significance of time and that is perhaps the greatest unifier of the piece: “Time is a mother,” “time is a muhfucker,” time is a guardian and a villain and the most unchangeable force that we live around. Vuong’s discussion of time takes a different shape in each piece, offering the backdrops of a hundred different stories that we are taken through. 

The cruelty of human history is familiar and prevalent, given in specific examples such as “Toy Boat,”, “The Punctum,” and “Not Even”; so is love, however, and preservation for the self and for others – “Dear Peter” and “Beautiful Short Loser” and “Woodworking at the End of the World.” That is to say, the collection is best kept together in this complexly-layered gift.

Vuong has never shied away from this complex confrontation in language, using cutthroat honest confessions intermingled with breathtaking metaphor. Some of the most provoking imagery came from the simplest of confessions, such as in the Part III piece, “Reasons for Staying”:

  Because my uncle never killed himself—but simply died, on purpose.
  Because I made a promise.
  That the McDonald’s arch, glimpsed from the 2 am rehab window off Chestnut, was enough.
  That mercy is small but the earth is smaller.
  Summer rain hitting Peter’s bare shoulders.
  The ptptptptptptpt of it.
  Because I stopped apologizing into visibility.
  Because this body is my last address.

What we can garner from each and every reason – a promise – reveals almost what feels like a mirror and our own reflection staring back. The collection does not demand of its reader to search where their heart might lie in our continually chaotic world, but presents it to consider and sets off on its way.

There is no room to question where the heart of Time Is A Mother might be; it’s everywhere. “Dear Peter” and “Dear Rose” almost bookending the piece feels like two halves of a heart coming together, shaping the poetic labyrinth in which Vuong allows us to traverse. One speaks of the longing for a loved one during a difficult time away; the other recounts a son reaching out to his mother one last time. The parallel with these letters draws to the element of time once more – of memory and how precious it is:

Dear Peter:


	   I'm wearing your sea-green socks

     to stay close I swear

	   I'll learn to swim
     when I’m out once
     & for all

Dear Rose:
  stop writing
  about your mother they said
  but I can never take out
  the rose it blooms back as my own
  pink mouth how
  can I tell you this when you’re always
  to the right of meaning

The structure of each piece is just as bountiful as the content itself – ranging from epistolary-style runthrough pieces that swallow the ideas whole, to provocative free verse that earns the attention it asks for on every page, and beyond. Vuong knows the form more than well enough to break it, to recreate it, to give a mouthpiece to feelings often lost to our own instincts. Grief, love, the complex mourning and celebration of being human – where do we find the right words or the right time for any of it? 

Time Is A Mother allows the reader insight into that answer. It may not be a clear-cut answer. It may be an answer that takes you back through the book a dozen times in search of what Vuong means, amidst your own Künstlerroman. 

Time is a mother, and there is no going back from the comfort of her arms – only forward.
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A beautiful, moving book of poetry by the masterful Ocean Vuong.  These poems are filled with intensity and deep emotion, and will be a strong purchase for any poetry collection.
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