Thursday, December 13, 2012


rob mclennan Reviews

As Long As Trees Last by Hoa Nguyen
(Wave Books, Seattle and New York, 2012)


You can sample cord blood
                   find rocket fuel there
Find rocket fuel in breast milk

            also lettuce

I wear a SpongeBob SquarePants Band-Aid
hear the running toilet

Money goes     tied to the subprime
                        we go
“month to month”

Good dog with its ears up
Unless it hunts                     it goes

The poems in American poet Hoa Nguyen’s third trade collection, As Long As Trees Last (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2012), stretch across a rather large canvas, packing fragments into such small spaces, but all part of a singular, long line of conversation and observation on the domestic, the mundane and the political, and the fantastic hidden within. In her writing, the poem as unit of composition accumulates into a much larger shape, perhaps one that even extends beyond the border of single collections, whether this current one, or her previous two: Your Ancient See Through (Subpress, 2002) and Hecate Lochia (Hot Whiskey Press, 2009). In an interview posted to Bookslut in January 2008 and conducted by the poet Joshua Marie Wilkinson, she spoke of shaping her second poetry collection, Hecate Lochia, which at that point was neither named nor fully assembled:

I tend toward the singular poem. That is, I’m a pretty poem-y poet and do not work toward sustained projects, as such. So I probably do the typical thing and print out all the poems and sit and sift through the pieces trying to find a poem to introduce the work, construct some kind of flow, involve the temporal in some way. I’ve been writing towards this manuscript for awhile. If it includes poems that appeared in the chapbook Red Juice, then it will collect poems from 2003 until the present. I don’t have a working title. I actually feel like I haven’t finished writing the poems.

The threads that work through the poems in this collection are complex, and connect, even if in the most tangential way, and I admire the way she allows her rage to express itself in the writing, calling it out and naming it, even in such a contained shape as the sonnet:


Rage on the grinding spot
Independence Day    Rag laundry day
My boy wears shark pajamas
Mother ran large food trays   sore

shoulders     Lobster surf & turf
It’s Independence Day 2011
We may have been poisoned
by Operation Ranch Hand

I am not dead yet
Ezra Pound in my D.C.
Charles Olson dream “It is
so much harder to be a pot now”

they say to me   Lack of rain and the #30
bus may run now all the way to downtown

There is something about her poetry that suggests how her entire output so far might fit into a single, lengthy project. Hers is a poetic of individual poems that respond to the immediate world around her, whether the movement and concepts of other poets she encounters, social upheavals, politics, childbirth and children, and the day-to-day of domestic life. In an interview with Carol Mirakove, posted at, she expands on her statement on the singular poem:

My poems have never been terrifically long. I tend toward certain clotty beats (stress patterns) and prefer non-Latinate or monosyllabic words. I’m inclined toward words rooted in Old and Middle English—am pulled there because I write in English and, for me, that’s where the language throbs. Small and, hopefully, packed (as opposed to sense) suits my song maybe?


Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of more than twenty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2011, and his most recent titles are the poetry collections Songs for little sleep, (Obvious Epiphanies, 2012), grief notes: (BlazeVOX [books], 2012), A (short) history of l. (BuschekBooks, 2011), Glengarry (Talonbooks, 2011) and kate street (Moira, 2011), and a second novel, missing persons (2009). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Jennifer Mulligan), The Garneau Review (, seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics ( and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater ( He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at

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