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Reading “Torso of Air” by Ocean Vuong



Poetry Lunch S2E4

Reading “Torso of Air” by Ocean Vuong from Night Sky with Exit Wounds, published by Copper Canyon Press.


And wow do the weeks wing on with their changes.

I can’t recommend enough the whole book that this poem comes from; it was a rare reading experience for me the first time through, all at once and punctuated by several sudden bursts of uncontrollable sobs. There is so much feeling beyond language, isn’t there? Poetry helps us get there.

I just looked it up and indeed, the Rilke poem I referenced, that this one speaks too, is called “Archaic Torso of Apollo.” It ends with this:

“You must change your life.”

How deftly Ocean picks up the thread and continues the conversation.


Related prints

letterpress broadside of Ocean Vuong poem "Torso of Air"

I first made this print as a special project for Copper Canyon, a giveaway for the press and a surprise gift to Ocean at a reading he gave in Seattle. At which he sung spontaneously, fill the big nondescript room with a haunting sweetness that still fills me with a sense of wonder. He read from his then-forthcoming novel On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous after reading many poems for Night Sky with Exit Wounds. His voice is soft and at once commanding; when he speaks you have the distinct feeling of not wanting to miss a word he's saying. It makes a cavernously quiet feeling across a crowd.

I've had the good fortune to work with Ocean's words a number of times, including a commission from Penguin Press to honor independent booksellers, a postcard for Copper Canyon just after Trump was inaugurated as a gift to readers and writers at a conference in DC, and last but not least an excerpt from the poem “Someday I'll Love Ocean Vuong.”

letterpress broadside of an excerpt from Ocean Vuong poem "Someday I'll Love Ocean Vuong"


The most beautiful part of your body
is where it's headed. & remember,
loneliness is still time spent
with the world.

Ocean Vuong

I can't tell you how many times I've needed to remember that. Nor guess how many more times I will. & remember was part of a series of three prints that I made for Kickstarter rewards for CCP back when Ocean was still an "emerging poet." That project was the predecessor to the Broken Broadside series I worked on for two years with ten different poets.

Typical. Every time I sit down to write about one thing, it brings up three others. Sometimes all my work feels inextricable, like I am actually just making one thing with a thousand faces.


Links to purchase

Get the book here: Night Sky with Exit Wounds and the prints here: Torso of Air and & remember.