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A Letter to My Mother That She Will Never Read

By Ocean Vuong
Review by Asha (English)

The poem “A letter to my mother that she will never read”, which I came across in The New Yorker, I found one of the most important pieces of reading I did pre-uni because it helped me get into different styles of poetry. It follows an autofictional narrator and his writings to his mother. It talks about translation, family, and home. Translation is something I was (and still am!) particularly interested in learning about, how translation is not just between languages but also between thought and word. Ocean Vuong’s use of both English and Vietnamese creates poems where translation, confusion and multiple meanings are part and parcel of the reading process. In one moment, the focus switches back and forth from his mother’s reaction to a decorative buck’s head, a migration of butterflies and a conversation on conventional grammar rules. This is the sort of thing that got me more interested in reading poetry that focused on the experiences of how growing up between worlds and between languages. I really enjoyed this poem, so I read the rest of his work and thoroughly enjoyed that. This helped me realise that reading around your subject is partly learning what you most enjoy about your subject and exploring these interests further. For English, I think this is especially important because much of your further thinking can come from the specific interests you have in the texts themselves. Like, for me, I think Vuong’s poetry is a great way to explore complex ideas such as cultural and Othered identities. Because of Vuong’s poetry, I became much more interested in other modern poets like Mary Oliver and Gabrielle Calvocoressi.

A Letter to My Mother That She Will Never Read by Ocean Vuong in The New Yorker

Read it at newyorker.com

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