Root Fractures

Books

In Root Fractures, Diana Khoi Nguyen’s second collection of poems, the speaker is haunted by echoes of the past that reverberate into the present, and by generational, individual and collective traumas. In deft and surprising ways, the forms of the poems interact with their content, both shaping and breaking it.

The poems center on the speaker’s interrogation of her memory, which is inherently tied to a pattern of displacement and disappearance in her family history, through her parents’ emigration from Vietnam, Vietnam’s reform movement (Dổi Mới) and her childhood in California. Root Fractures begins in Vietnamese, and, as a non-speaker or reader of the language, I found myself drawn in, curious to see what I would discover even in moments where I was not the intended audience. The poems are deeply affecting. There’s a balance between fragmentation—both at the level of individual lines and of whole poems—and accumulative moments where the fragments coalesce. Some poems are layered over photographs, some are cut and rearranged, recalling how the speaker’s brother cut himself out of family photographs before eventually taking his own life. The spaces left on the page provide pauses that make the words sing in new ways, while the repeated formal motifs create patterns for reading and meaning-making that mirror the speaker’s experience of a desire for wholeness and understanding that can’t be fully realized.

These are poems worth returning to; each reading brings discoveries of new pathways of tension and connection.

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