Introductions: Ocean Vuong
June 14, 2021
By Rebecca Hoogs, SAL Interim Executive Director
Two years ago, right before Christmas, my Dad had a heart attack. A few days later, we flew home to visit with him as he recovered at his home in Western Massachusetts, not far from where Ocean Vuong lives, not far from the landscape of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.
When we landed that evening in Hartford, we landed in a snowstorm. We weren’t driving anywhere—not that evening, anyhow, so we headed to the airport hotel, a place that could hold us—my unmasked sadness, my carry-on of fear—for the night.
I had spent most of the flight reading On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous and I remember pulling back the airport hotel curtains, looking out onto the snowbound orange-lit landscape, which was both beautiful and harsh in its emptiness, in its going-nowhereness, and feeling that it was entirely appropriate that I had landed in the landscape of the book.
I felt both located and dislocated, like a shoulder. You can pop it back in, but the socket is loose. In both poetry and prose, Ocean’s writing torques us between sudden pain and sudden pleasure, family and the self, silence and speech, grief, the body, melancholia.
Tonight, Ocean Vuong will talk and then be in conversation with the musician and artist Perfume Genius. The two are fans of each other’s work and Ocean described why Perfume Genius’s music resonates with him: “He recast what we understand as music into a weather of feeling and thinking, one where the body (queer, healing, troubled, wounded, possible, and gorgeous) sings itself into its future.”
How lucky we are to get to witness Ocean Vuong and Perfume Genius speak us into their futures tonight, during a month that celebrates the power of queer visionaries and queer visibility. How lucky we are to get to step into the weather of Ocean Vuong, to land in another time zone, place zone—heart sick and heart swell. His writing drops a pin in you—you are here. You remember it; it remembers you.
Please join me in welcoming the meteorologist of sun-breaks and line breaks, the disrupter and rememberer of hearts, the brilliant Ocean Vuong.
Ocean Vuong gave a talk on Wednesday, June 9, 2021, as part of our 2020/21 Literary Arts Series; SAL Interim Executive Director Rebecca Hoogs delivered this introduction.