Cover Image: 36 Ways of Writing a Vietnamese Poem

36 Ways of Writing a Vietnamese Poem

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Member Reviews

Inventive and fresh use of poetic language throughout. Captivating read. Would recommend to other poets and writers, may be inaccessible to non-poetry readers.

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When I read the title, I thought it was kind of a self help book about.writing poetry. I think I was wrong about that. The book itself was good and new to me. Different poetry to read and I liked it. A little bit weird for me but still good. Confusing for me but I.worked around that. To read this book I had to really read it to understand it. But like I said, I liked it just need a different kind d of mindset.

I received a free copy of the book and it voluntarily writing a review

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36 Ways of Writing A Vietnamese Poem is almost what it advertises—there are actually 37 ways here. The poems are biting, irreverent, accusatory. They play on common stereotypes and tropes about Vietnamese art and people, especially as they relate to the war and its aftermath. “It was Your violence dumbed me,” Le writes in the first poem. The poems frequently address an ungenerous reader, an aggressor. The poems vary formally—one is a taxonomy, another with “slam declension.”

Many of the poems meditate on different kinds of violence. Poem 8 lists in its title so many kinds of violence—“Territorial / Socio-political / Ideological … Settler Nativist / Scholastic” that the poem is “[Uncomposed].” This collection is preoccupied with themes, but also with grammar and form, and how violence may not be separate from structure.

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Le’s 36 Ways made me want to slow down and revisit my college years and literary criticism class in the best way! I picked it up because I wanted to revel in the beauty and power of language and to hear more from an immigrant, BIPOC perspective. I found what I was looking for.

In this poetry collection, Le explores what it means/looks/sounds/feels like to be a Vietnamese immigrant in the West. It is a complex experience illustrated by a beautifully complex array of poems. I know there were things I missed, both due to it being just a first read and due to the difference of my own life experience, but this is a collection I would absolutely revisit to dig deeper.

If you enjoy poetry, want to hear from all voices, and want to feel smart and literary, explore Nam Le’s poetry. Thank you to Knopf and NetGalley for the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest review!

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I stopped at about 50%. I felt that the writing was heavy and not clear....I liked the poems that were more direct in dealing with a strained relationship between writing in English and being Vietnamese.

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Experimental and profound. It was a great honor to follow poet Nam Le as he reckoned with his identity in 36 iterations. Some poems felt seismic, others tectonic, others volcanic. I am not as fluent in geological jargon as Le, but really appreciated having my world shaken, expanded, and erupted in this way. As the granddaughter of immigrants from Colombia (who fled the violence happening there), it had me reflecting on my own roots in ways I never thought to consider. For that I am endlessly grateful. I was especially moved by the poems that tackled intergenerational trauma and the many insidious ways violence can shapeshift in a land torn by colonialism and war. Sure, the situations in Colombia and Vietnam are vastly different, and to inherit the legacies and languages and fragments of these places vastly different experiences, but I feel a sort of siblinghood could be forged here. So cool to feel that through a book of poetry. The power of words!!

It was also incredibly refreshing to have the book end the way it did. (I dont wanna spoil it! Could one spoil a poetry collection though? Idk. I’m new here). But, yes. Nam Le really went out of his way to make sure people would walk away from his collection knowing, no matter the difficulties of one’s ancestral inheritance…you are not the sum of those difficulties. Those need not be your outline. The people or the descendents of people who survived difficult, idiosyncratic, racialized, often misunderstood circumstances have access to the universal, too. We have access to the infinite world beyond our (sometimes) tropical roots. There are limitless ways we can transform, imagine, and be. And recognizing this, Le opens a door in a way that only his words can—allowing the reader an axis-tilting freedom in which we could experience this limitlessness.

Thank you to Nam Le, Netgalley, and the publisher!

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hey. hey poetry lovers. come over here. I have something for you. it’s Nam Le’s 36 WAYS OF WRITING A VIETNAMESE POEM. it’s the good stuff. it is the best stuff. come here and read it.

seriously: my poetry reviews are often on the less-coherent side, because poetry is so much about feeling, and so when I talk about the poetry I love I want to talk about how it feels, rather than things like “who I recommend it to” and “what I liked and didn’t like about it.” it’s about the experience! it’s about the emotions; when do you laugh, when do you cry, when do you feel punched in the stomach? it’s about letting the language and the craft and the rhythm sink into your ears or your eyes, repeating a line and feeling the taste and texture of it in your mouth. it’s about the experience: and Nam Le crafts such an incredible experience in his debut book of poetry, and I simply can’t recommend it highly enough.

36 WAYS OF WRITING A VIETNAMESE POEM is about diaspora, and language, and violence, and the way those things intersect and overlap with each other. each poem in it is carefully crafted and beautifully written, though I’m not sure I can choose favorites — in part because every poem was so utterly excellent, and in part because it works so well as a unified whole, and to break it up into its constituent parts feels like it does a disservice to a central thesis of the collection. the language of the poetry is gorgeous and startling and has a wonderful rhythm underlying it. it is, in short, absolutely excellent.

poetry enthusiasts, please keep this one on your radar; it released 3/5/2024, and it’s worth your time! thank you so very much to Knopf and Netgalley for the advance copies.

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I found many parts of this needlessly obtuse and inscrutable. There are some poems in here that felt like reading a nonsensical redaction of article headlines and academic bibliographies, and others that were inaccessibly experimental.

So exhausting and pretentious was the read that it took away from the emotional impact of the few poems that did carry the weight of diasporic expression and reflection. While I appreciated those few for beautifully capturing themes of resilience, sacrifice, love, and legacy, the overall experience was not enjoyable. I won't be posting my review to social or Goodreads, but I do appreciate the opportunity from NetGalley and the publisher to read this ARC.

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Nam Le's collection presents multiple facets on being Vietnamese or having Vietnamese heritage; each poem or section of poem (they read like one book-length series of folds made in the same piece of paper) has a title or mode like "Transfusive" or "Logographic" There are multiple angles of episetomological modes ("Eastern-epistemological" and "Standpoint-epistemological") and even more categories of violence ("Violence: Anglo-linguistic" and "Violence: Taxonomic" for example), which are indicative of what is happening to the country and languages Nam Le writes about. It is a method of furious description and furious play, documenting the various acts of violence and linguistic manipulation, and a dizzying but fruitful experience for the reader.

Thanks to the publisher, the author, and Netgalley for my free earc. My opinions are all my own.

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I loved this poetry collection. I’ve been reading a ton more poetry lately and have been reminded how exquisite it is when a collection hits just right.

I typically don’t give a star rating for poetry because it feels so much more personal and full of feeling but this was incredible. It is technically delightful while also brimming with powerful imagery and emotion. That said I definitely gave this collection 5 ⭐️

What particularly interested me in this collection was Le’s reflections on language, translation, and the volatility of them both. He is doing a lot of technically complex writing as well, yet it feels accessible while still keeping the tension of understanding and wanting to know more and go deeper. The experience of reading this collection was surprisingly fun for the weight of the subject matter. I had a hard time going slow because the act of reading (I also recommend reading aloud) was just so engaging.

It’s hard to pick out favorites from this collection because each one felt special in its own way. Aegic/All-Encompassing, Elliptical/Tangential, Violence: Anglo-Linguistic, Eastern-Epistemological, and Violence: Translative, to name a few.

There aren’t many collections I seek out to own but this will be one of them for sure. This collection is out this week, March 5th. Highly recommend seeking it out!

Thank you @netgalley and @aaknopf for my e-galley in exchange for an honest review! #36WaysofWritingaVietnamesePoem #netgalley #namle

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This poetry collection, scheduled for release in 2024, marks 16 years since the author's first book, a short story collection. The time between the two publications may spark curiosity. However, this particular collection caught the reader's attention among other upcoming ones due to its distinct theme and limited knowledge about the author's background. The poems explore the complexities of living between different cultures and their diverse perspectives. The language in these poems showcases evolution and experimentation, offering layers of meaning for readers to interpret and discuss. The reader acknowledges the potential for deeper understanding through group discussions and appreciates the opportunity provided by NetGalley and Knopf to preview the collection.

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What a gorgeous gut-punch of a collection.

In this debut collection from Nam Le, the reader is invited to witness violence: of immigration; assimilation; translation; oppression; decades of war and generational trauma. Through a variety of forms and modes (and sometimes, poetic gimmicks), Le masterfully blends passion, heartbreak, and fury.

As a Western reader, reading this collection is an immersive experience. I don't pretend to understand every reference or metaphor. But I think overall that's rather unimportant, because a) why should I be the intended reader here and b) the flow of emotions and images weaving through these poems is powerful and worth attention. And we all benefit from stepping into something more expansive than our own lived experiences and histories—from being quiet and listening, for a change. How else can we get closer to true understanding?

"I say: the mouth is the true / soul's window / seeing, taking in, disintegrating / in the eye of it all / the teeth of it all / cavity roiled by enzymes, acids, / keening spices betel blacking / enamel, the fatted lips — / shaping sloping meaning." - [19. Oral-metaphorical]

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This was a really interesting look at Vietnamese culture through the lens of generational trauma. Assimilation and culture erasure were a major theme of the collection, which I was very intrigued by.
Poetry collections are always hard to rate because not every poem will be perfect. Unfortunately, I found it very difficult to understand a lot of these poems (both vocabulary-wise and thematically). As a white woman, I couldn’t relate to a lot of the stories within the collection because they revolved so heavily around Vietnamese language and culture.
While I did love what I learned about Vietnamese culture, it was still very hard to understand without prior knowledge of the topics. I also don’t have much knowledge of Vietnamese poetry, so I can’t speak to the forms within the book.
However, the poems did have some very nice variety. Le used different rhythms and structures, which made it more interesting to read. I definitely highlighted some lines because they were really good.

CW: sexual assault, Vietnam War, racism/xenophobia

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The Diverse Baseline

January Prompt A: A collection of poetry by a BIPOC author

Poetry remains a difficult genre for me, however, I find I connect with most immigrant stories, especially those of the Vietnamese diaspora. Obviously, some of these hold more meaning for me than others, especially the one with lines such as "weird names," "slant or chink or nip or ching chong," "hide your dogs," and "exoticised, the girls." There is much more, but this one stood out to me the most.

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This is not a how-to as the title suggests, but rather a deeply emotional collection of poems written by author Nam Le. That said, although I did not understand much of what he was describing, the cynicism and wry humor came through and made me wonder about life as he understood it. So different from mine.

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Major thanks to NetGalley and Knopf for offering me an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest thoughts.


A clever collection that grapples with the echoes of the the Vietnamese experience by using breaks and water-ripple word play to find tree ring permanence in emotional distance, enough space to allow us to insert ourselves in places, to be enough people in a place so full of hurt.

People is
place is
puddle is
purpose in
a mirror with so much
light and reflection in
asking for understanding.

I understand now, Nam. Language is landscape, and to find homes in these landscapes, we must move with it, break it down, feel it.

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This poetry collection comes out in 2024, 16 years after Nam Le's first book, a short story collection, was published. I don't know what was going on during those years, but I always find those long publishing breaks fascinating.

Anyhow, although I read poetry somewhat randomly to begin with, compared to how I read novels, I doubt this one would have crossed my path had NetGalley and Knopf not sent out an email inviting me to choose from upcoming collections. It wasn't an easy choice, because none of the five really stood out to me on the surface, but I chose Nam Le's collection because it was different and I don't know much about the Vietnamese experience. I had assumed he lived in the US, because that's the kind of assumption I make as an American, but he grew up in Australia, where his parents emigrated to when he was one.

These poems, which are sometimes light and sometimes very heavy, address the experiences of living somewhat between two cultures, one of which doesn't respect, or even acknowledge, the ways of the other. These poems touch on a lot of topics I don't give much thought to, such as numerology (there's an entire poem about numerology that has stuck with me). The sense of being once removed (literally removed) from Vietnam comes through, with all kinds of complicated feelings that go along with that.

There is a lot of wordplay, new words, new uses of words, words poking at themselves questioningly, bringing new layers of meaning and developing the existing meanings. I love to see language evolving. These would be good poems to study with others - I would benefit from talking about these with people more knowledgeable than myself, but at the same time, I feel like I got plenty out of them on my own, enough to make it worthwhile, but it's a good thing when there's still more to get.

Thanks to NetGalley & Knopf for the ARC!

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Great poetry collection that focuses on identity, translation as an act of violence to some degree, language, and does some neat stuff with erasure poetry as well. Highly recommended.

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My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher Knopf, Pantheon, Vintage, and Anchor, Knopf Poetry for an advance copy of this work about growing up and growing older in a world that looks at you as an outsider, no matter the accomplishments and time that passes

As a person who loved music, I came to poetry late in my educational career. My parents with their Irish blood loved poems, and with their Catholic school education could recite poems and odes with the best of them. I liked song lyrics, had my songs that made me feel things, and rage songs too, but poetry had so many rules, so many, this was this and this guy wrote that. Education has a habit of taking the fun out of anything. Years after school, years of working in bookstores gave me a slight appreciation, but more the fantastic weird stuff. One night at an open mike, a friend gave a reading of a few poems that meant much to her, and one that she wrote herself. Her work told me me more about her, her life and struggles than I had ever picked up, understood, or was just too immature to get than any conversation in the six(?) years I knew her. The ones she choose to read filled in the blanks I was too blind to see. Poems, ballads, sonnets, whatever one calls them, come from the soul. No matter how long they take to be made perfect these words, their order, their shape, and form tell much about the person sharing it, and the listener who is receiving it. Nam Le in 36 Ways of Writing a Vietnamese Poem shares his life experiences, highs, lows, indifferences, culture shocks, war trauma and colonial indifference, in a work that is strong, and revealing for both Poet and reader.

Though "36" appears in the title there are actually thirty-seven poems in this work. One could call it a collection, but collection always sounds like a greatest hits album, though many of these have been printed before. These works all seem to be presented in an order that makes sense, where the form of the poems, along with its messages carries the reader along, as if down a river. The poems deal with the poet leaving his country the stories of relatives losing everything, sailing away, and finding themselves almost at the bottom of the world, in a new culture. One that does not seem to accept, or if it does, with its own rules that are unclear to the people who live under it.

The book ranges across a variety of forms, and feelings. There is some humour, some really funny, some more the ughh that's bad kind of humor. I enjoyed the word play, breaking down a word and making new meanings and new ideas. I am sure I missed a bit, and somethings I might have fixated on were probably just in my mind. Quite a few of the lines stay with the reader, a few in bad ways. I also loved the drive this book had, one couldn't stop reading at a point, as I was unsure were this could go. I knew it wasn't going off the rails, but the power of the words, the way things were flowing made for a propulsive reading experience. This was my first introduction of Nam Le, I have not read his fiction collection, though I think I might have too now.

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Thank you NetGalley for the chance to read 36 Ways of Writing a Vietnamese Poem.
I think I'm not smart enough to understand this book of poems.
Not for me, sorry.

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