Time Is a Mother

Ocean Vuong

Time Is a Mother
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Time Is a Mother

Ocean Vuong

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

In this deeply intimate second poetry collection, Ocean Vuong searches for life among the aftershocks of his mother’s death, embodying the paradox of sitting within grief while being determined to survive beyond it. Shifting through memory, and in concert with the themes of his novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Vuong contends with personal loss, the meaning of family, and the cost of being the product of an American war in America. At once vivid, brave, and propulsive, Vuong’s poems circle fragmented lives to find both restoration as well as the epicentre of the break.

The author of the critically acclaimed poetry collection Night Sky With Exit Wounds, winner of the 2016 Whiting Award, the 2017 T.S. Eliot Prize, and a 2019 MacArthur fellow, Vuong writes directly to our humanity without losing sight of the current moment. These poems represent a more innovative and daring experimentation with language and form, illuminating how the themes we perennially live in and question are truly inexhaustible. Bold and prescient, and a testament to tenderness in the face of violence, Time Is a Mother is a return and a forging-forth all at once.


Time Is a Mother is Ocean Vuong’s highly anticipated second collection of poetry, centred around the loss and grief he felt following his mother’s death and the effects of war on him and his family. As you read through this collection, Vuong’s poems tear through layers of emotions, at once breathtaking, devastatingly beautiful and heartbreaking.

Several of the poems intimately weave around issues of racial identity and sexuality, giving voice to many in marginalised communities who often find their experiences painful and difficult to share. Raw and uncompromising, Vuong’s words paint a haunting image of what it means, and how it feels, to survive. Through the pain of loss, discrimination, and trauma, Vuong writes courageously about deeply personal issues with great tenderness.

‘Once, at a party set on a rooftop in Brooklyn for an “artsy vibe”, a young woman said, sipping her drink, You’re so lucky. You’re gay plus you get to write about war and stuff.’ This line from the poem ‘Not Even’ lingered in my thoughts and made me feel extremely uncomfortable. It is telling of how, in our seemingly progressive time, the inappropriateness and insensitivity of discrimination still exists among us. It is a disheartening yet true observation. Vuong’s insights elicit questions about humanity, leaving in readers a desire to seek out more writing of this kind, writing that will keep you questioning after you close the book.

This magnificent poetry collection holds great meaning and feeling. I do not know if it is the comfort or discomfort of Vuong’s words that make Time Is a Mother a masterpiece. But I believe it is worth finding out for yourself.

Luc Yong is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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