Ocean Vuong: “When I write, I feel larger than the limits of my body.” | Louisiana Channel

“When I write, I feel much larger than the limits of my body. There is a mystery you tap into that is much bigger. And the poem becomes just a glimpse into what you reveal to yourself”, says Ocean Vuong, one of the most celebrated poets to emerge in America.

Vuong began to study marketing without completing his first term. He dropped out of business school and enrolled at Brooklyn College, where he studied literature and where the American writer Ben Lerner was crucial for Vuong’s development as a young writer. Today Vuong serves as a tenured Professor in the Creative Writing MFA Program at NYU.

“I think being a teacher has been one of the most transformative experiences of my life. The idea of handing over knowledge in order to share and bond is something our species has done not only to sustain and bolster each other but to survive,” Vuong says. “I’m a better thinker because I teach, and I realize that my ideas are stronger when they are in service of other pieces of knowledge. I don’t see my career as a writer, but I see teaching as a career.”

“When you publish a book, it doesn’t mean that you should or even can write another book. What I can assume is that I can keep teaching until my brain doesn’t work anymore”.

“I do not believe in style as a static phenomenon. I do not believe style is even an ontological truth. I think we have modes in the same way we have modes of speech when we talk to our mother in different modes of speech. You’re not any more authentic with your mother than you are with your lover or your friend. You are who you are.”

“I think no one saves us in this world, but people give us the tools so that we can transform towards our own rescue. And I think that is true of poems. We write them, and they’re good enough, and then we let them go. Part of the act of writing is, is abandonment.”

“There’s so much that is still in debate, but for me, what’s most important is the alternative queerness demands of me, another route. It can’t just be ‘route 1’ or ‘route 2’. There has to be another path. And often, I have to make that path myself. And this goes to the rules of writing. There are so many writing rules. And I think for so many queer folks, after a while, you realize that this road was never made with me in mind. And I have to stop the car, get out of it and climb over this guardrail. And now I’m wandering far away from everything that I’ve known, so far away from anything that has a name or a sign or a road signal. And I’m in the middle of the forest or the meadow, and I’m terrified. I’m washed with confusion and fear. And it’s almost electric, an ecstatic terror that comes over me because I’m truly lost. But I’m also perhaps the most free I’ve ever been. In everything I feel, every step I take is something new to me. It is a discovery.”

“And I realize that I don’t really know what I’m doing. I’m just following the curiosity that the work of the writer is to not so much nail anything down, but to make space for the endeavor of curiosity, to widen the theater of wonder, and that to me is a very queer thing.”

Ocean Vuong was born in 1988 in Saigon, Vietnam, and raised in Hartford, Connecticut, in a working-class family of nail salon and factory laborers. He was educated at nearby Manchester Community College before transferring to Pace University to study International Marketing. Without completing his first term, he dropped out of Business school and enrolled at Brooklyn College, where he graduated with a BA in Nineteenth-Century American Literature. He subsequently received his MFA in Poetry from NYU. He currently lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, and serves as a tenured Professor in the Creative Writing MFA Program at NYU. He published the bestselling novel, ‘On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous’ in 2019, and it has been translated into 37 languages. His first collection of poetry, ‘Night Sky with Exit Wounds’ appeared in 2016. Vuong is a recipient of a 2019 MacArthur “Genius” Grant and the winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Whiting Award, the Thom Gunn Award, and the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. In 2022 Vuong published the collection of poetry’ Time is a Mother’

Ocean Vuong was interviewed by his Danish translator, the poet Caspar Eric, in connection with the Louisiana Literature festival, at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark, in August 2022.

Camera: Simon Weyhe
Edit: Jarl Therkelsen Kaldan
Produced by Christian Lund
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2022

Louisiana Channel is supported by Den A.P. Møllerske Støttefond, Ny Carlsbergfondet, C.L. Davids Fond og Samling and Fritz Hansen.

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