In-Depth Look: Hieu Minh Nguyen – “The Translation of Grief”

In-Depth Look: Hieu Minh Nguyen – “The Translation of Grief”

Appreciating poetry is often about patience: sitting with a poem, meditating on it, and re-reading it multiple times. With spoken word, we don’t always get a chance to do that. This series is about taking that chance, and diving a little deeper into some of the new poems going up on Button.

“I throw a fistful of sand in the air and pretend to weep.”

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Write-up by Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre


Get Guante’s Book Here
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I started writing down lines from this poem that could be used as a jumping-off point to begin to explore its central idea, but I ended up writing down just about the entire poem. And maybe that’s the lesson for aspiring poets– know what work the poem is trying to do, and make sure every line– every word– contributes in a meaningful way to that work.

A room has four walls (if that); it doesn’t need five or six or seven. That can take a lifetime to figure out, if it can be “figured out” at all, but this poem from Hieu Minh Nguyen is a brilliant example of what that kind of efficiency can look like. Note how every line is a complete thought, but how every thought also functions as a transition to the next thought. Take a closer look at the third quarter (or so) of the poem:

I anticipate this grief by exhausting it with music. I open the casket; I make her dance in the center. It is the habit of the artist to see a hole and fill it with imagination. It is the habit of the living to see everyone you love and imagine them dead. I can lick the dirt off of all of your faces. I can sing any dirge, in any key, but the translation of grief will always be flat. There will always be the contrasting light between what is expected, and what would change your bones.

The sound, the light, the taste, the movement in these lines– the sensory/concrete language is so full without being overwhelming. Each one of those lines could work on their own, as a shareable Instagram quote, or as a tattoo. But together, they flow elegantly into one another, a series of images building momentum and intensity, leading up to the poem’s final image of the single black strand of hair.

That’s all shop talk, poetry stuff. But this poem also pushes boundaries with regards to substance, exploring something profound, unsettling, and important about grief, about mortality, and about translation– both in terms of the “translating her life into English” line, and the deeper process of how we translate other people’s lives/deaths into our own grief– selfishly, imperfectly, inescapably.

Find more from Hieu Minh Nguyen (including info on his NEW book) here!

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While you’re here, head over to the Button store to check out our books and merch, including books by Neil Hilborn, Olivia Gatwood, Hanif Abdurraqib, Donte Collins, Sabrina Benaim, Melissa Lozada-Oliva, William Evans, Guante, Rachel Wiley, & our newest release from Neil Hilborn!

Toaster – “Tall People Privilege” (Button Live)


Performing at Button Poetry Live.

“It’s scientifically proven that tall people are more attractive or some shit.”

Don’t miss this phenomenal poem from Toaster, performing at Button Poetry Live.



While you’re here, head over to the Button store to check out our books and merch, including books by Neil Hilborn, Olivia Gatwood, Hanif Abdurraqib, Donte Collins, Sabrina Benaim, Melissa Lozada-Oliva, William Evans, Guante, Rachel Wiley, & our newest release from Neil Hilborn!

Amir Khadar – “Sensational” (Button Live)


Performing at Button Poetry Live.

“I hope the next time a Black person dies, their life is remembered more than their name.”

Don’t miss this remarkable poem from Amir Khadar, performing at Button Poetry Live.



While you’re here, head over to the Button store to check out our books and merch, including books by Neil Hilborn, Olivia Gatwood, Hanif Abdurraqib, Donte Collins, Sabrina Benaim, Melissa Lozada-Oliva, William Evans, Guante, Rachel Wiley, & our newest release from Neil Hilborn!

Olivia Gatwood – “Ode to My Lover’s Left Hand”


Performing at the 2017 Rustbelt Poetry Festival.

“What is the sky if not my body? A home for your open and boastful wing.”

Don’t miss this amazing poem from Olivia Gatwood, performing at the 2017 Rustbelt Poetry Festival.

Check out Olivia’s incredible book, NEW AMERICAN BEST FRIEND, Goodreads finalist for Best Poetry Books of 2017.



While you’re here, head over to the Button store to check out our books and merch, including books by Olivia Gatwood, Hanif Abdurraqib, Donte Collins, Sabrina Benaim, Melissa Lozada-Oliva, William Evans, Guante, Rachel Wiley, & our newest release from Neil Hilborn!

Talia Young – “Tinder”


Performing at Honey in Minneapolis.

“I could delete it. I could uninhabit this strange electronic city, but, it’s still made of people that inhabit my city. I still live here. I still watch the man on the bus drool over me, trapped in his screen, and Tinder is just his mouth.”

Don’t miss this remarkable poem from Talia Young, performing at Honey in Minneapolis.



While you’re here, head over to the Button store to check out our books and merch, including books by Neil Hilborn, Olivia Gatwood, Hanif Abdurraqib, Donte Collins, Sabrina Benaim, Melissa Lozada-Oliva, William Evans, Guante, Rachel Wiley, & our newest release from Neil Hilborn!

Dua Saleh – “A Peculiar Release” (Button Live)


Performing at Button Poetry Live.

“This is only a medical fact for about half of us, but that’s half too many.”

Don’t miss this astonishing poem from Dua Saleh, performing at Button Poetry Live.



While you’re here, head over to the Button store to check out our books and merch, including books by Neil Hilborn, Olivia Gatwood, Hanif Abdurraqib, Donte Collins, Sabrina Benaim, Melissa Lozada-Oliva, William Evans, Guante, Rachel Wiley, & our newest release from Neil Hilborn!

In-Depth Look: Rudy Francisco – “The Heart and The Fist”

In-Depth Look: Rudy Francisco – “The Heart and The Fist”

Appreciating poetry is often about patience: sitting with a poem, meditating on it, and re-reading it multiple times. With spoken word, we don’t always get a chance to do that. This series is about taking that chance, and diving a little deeper into some of the new poems going up on Button.

“A weapon will always be a weapon, but we choose how we fight the war.”

———

Write-up by Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre


Get Guante’s Book Here
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This is a longer entry than usual, but there’s so much good to say about this poem.

In the spoken word and poetry slam community, I think a lot of us (especially those of us who have been part of the community for a long time) tend to get really excited about weirdness, experimentation, and pushing the boundaries of form and delivery. And that’s cool; challenging ourselves and our audiences is a healthy thing. But it’s not the only thing. As this poem demonstrates, you can still create magic within the confines of a more traditional format.

Let’s break down what I mean by “traditional format,” because the tradition that I’m referring to is relatively young. I’m thinking about poems that are around three minutes long, poems that begin with some kind of fact, anecdote, or statistic, poems that introduce an image at the beginning and then loop back around to re-contextualize that same image at the end, poems that have a clear, specific thesis statement supported by a structural arc in which every new idea relates back to that thesis, poems that start softly and then build in intensity as they move (only to end back in a softer place), poems that use personal narrative to support some larger idea– all of these techniques are present here, as they are in so many spoken word poems (including my own), yet this poem doesn’t feel stale, or “samey,” which is the common critique of so much spoken word.

It feels electric– partly because it does all of those “traditional format” things so perfectly (as though this were the platonic ideal of a slam poem) and partly because of its message, which is vital and incredibly timely. We need to be making the connections between gun violence and masculinity. This poem doesn’t just make that connection, though; it challenges us to see both why that connection exists and why it doesn’t have to. It makes a critique, and it also offers hope, all through the lens of individual experience (as opposed to finger-pointing or abstract intellectualizing).

As readers of this series may notice, we’re not just analyzing poems here; we’re exploring the tools that these these poets use that might be relevant or useful for aspiring poets. That “traditional format” discussed above could also be called a formula. And there is always danger in simply plugging into a formula– as so many of us do when we’re just getting started as poets and writers. But as this poem demonstrates, the formula itself is just a tool; what matters is what substance, perspective, heart, specificity, and meaning we take the time and effort to put into it.

Get Rudy Francisco’s new book here!

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While you’re here, head over to the Button store to check out our books and merch, including books by Neil Hilborn, Olivia Gatwood, Hanif Abdurraqib, Donte Collins, Sabrina Benaim, Melissa Lozada-Oliva, William Evans, Guante, Rachel Wiley, & our newest release from Neil Hilborn!!

Emi Mahmoud – “Head Over Heels” (Button Live)


Featuring at Button Poetry Live.

“Do I mention the sorrow? How it’s never as simple as what you see on TV, how there are weeks worth of fear before they turn the camera on.”

Don’t miss this phenomenal poem from Emi Mahmoud, featuring at Button Poetry Live.



While you’re here, head over to the Button store to check out our books and merch, including books by Neil Hilborn, Olivia Gatwood, Hanif Abdurraqib, Donte Collins, Sabrina Benaim, Melissa Lozada-Oliva, William Evans, Guante, Rachel Wiley, & our newest release from Neil Hilborn!

Joseph Capehart – “I Write About the Black Boy” (Button Live)


Performing at Button Poetry Live.

“I write about the Black boy, because aren’t you still asking about his father? Don’t you still wanna know if he stole those cigarettes? Don’t you sleep better with a reason? Aren’t you still sleeping? Aren’t you still sleeping?”

Don’t miss this powerful poem from Joseph Capehart, performing at Button Poetry Live.



While you’re here, head over to the Button store to check out our books and merch, including books by Neil Hilborn, Olivia Gatwood, Hanif Abdurraqib, Donte Collins, Sabrina Benaim, Melissa Lozada-Oliva, William Evans, Guante, Rachel Wiley, & our newest release from Neil Hilborn!

Neil Hilborn – “You Can’t Be Depressed”


Performing at Honey in Minneapolis.
“My last birthday, I was surrounded by people who loved me, and the loudest thought in my head was still, ‘They wouldn’t even be sad if you died.’”

Don’t miss this incredible new poem from Neil Hilborn, performing at Honey in Minneapolis.

Get your hands on Neil’s newest book, THE FUTURE, NOW AVAILABLE!