Review: ‘Night Sky with Exit Wounds’

A recap of one of the best poetry books published in 2016



In the past year of poetry, there have been multitudes of well-crafted poems coming from a diverse background of poets, more so than in previous years. Poetry as an art form has evolved and progressed. One poet this past year who has made a voice for himself is Ocean Vuong of Vietnam. He was first published in chapbooks, magazines and journals in his early twenties.

While reading the book myself, I discovered that Ocean Vuong’s “Night Sky with Exit Wounds” is a beautiful, intense and powerful collection of poetry. It explains Vuong’s lifelong history of family, past loves and insecurities. I admit this an intense book to read, but it is quite extraordinary that the poet can portray so many emotions and feelings.

Ocean Vuong was born in Vietnam. He grew up with his mother and grandmother, who played prominent roles in his life and were his major inspirations. Eventually, Vuong chose to write their stories down into a collection of poems which detail his family’s involvement in historical events and everyday moments, while weaving in the memories of his ancestors.

In an interview with NPR Books, Vuong said his mother named him Ocean because it is a body of water that touches both America and Vietnam. Vuong expanded more on his book’s themes, saying it mostly deals with the preservation of his Vietnamese culture, his parents’ lives and the war that changed them.

“Aubade with Burning City” is a poem about his grandmother’s escape during the fall of Saigon. “Headfirst” is written from his mother’s point of view as she talks to Vuong about his heritage. In “Headfirst,” she tells Vuong “when they ask you/where you’re from/tell them your name.”

Vuong also investigates what it means to be an “American body born out of violence, [and] making sense out of violence.” Many of his poems explore unique emotions and images that cast a horrifying, yet beautiful, light onto his identity.

Such examples rest in the chaotic lines of his poems, like “Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong” or “To My Father/To My Future Son.” These poems list his insecurities and vulnerabilities, and how he comes to terms with them. These poems were relatable because every one of us could insert our names into the title “Someday I’ll Love…” in order to come to terms with our own self-acceptance.

Vuong’s recurring images are dark and light colors, petals, dresses, the sky, hurting animals, bombs, guns, body parts and, like his name, water. His poems are touching and easily readable.


“Night Sky With Exit Wounds” by Ocean Vuong

Copper Canyon Press, 2016.