As Long as Trees Last

by Hoa Nguyen,
Wave Books, 2012,
69 pages, paper,
ISBN: 978-1933517612.
Buy the Book

Next time I’ll crack

more pepper also knead

more cheese in there

(insert an involuntary

psychic activity)

— “Bread”

In her third full-length collection, As Long as Trees Last, Hoa Nguyen is still challenging expectations of the lyric voice in poetry.  This last phrase, offset as parenthetical, provides a distinction between the initial voice and the aside, a kind of internal monologue or stage direction, adding another layer and complicating the speaker(s) therein.

In these poems, Nguyen prefers multiplicity over a single authority, the demotic over the omniscient, and incorporates an uncensored world, clunky and inelegant as it can be.  With an unorthodox syntax, Nguyen creates her own space.  Often, she arranges a poem on the page as a beautifully set pillar, using minute and irregular spacing.  In her poem “Unused Baby” she writes:

I tried to glue the ripped

paper back to the religious

art but it doesn’t work

Making a mess of it

Here, the mystery is more provoking and perhaps more central than any answer.  Her sound at times is dreamy, timeless, while she still appropriates today’s diction: phrases such as “asspatched jeans,” “SpongeBob SquarePants Band-Aid” and “Charlie Sheen” appear in this collection.  The zip and immediacy of this public

and often commercial language adds levity to her serious, theoretical meditations.  In the poem “Stimulus Drive

Bulge,” Nguyen writes:

2001: Three point three trillion

2009: Seventeen point three trillion

“It’s simpler now to retire

you just die in the office”

This last phrase closing the poem is offset as a quotation, making it, perhaps, a phrase overheard, one that cannot be unheard or forgotten.  This quote’s placement, separate from but following corporate language, is striking; it addresses the reader directly and with resonance.

Nguyen, engaged with the world, is interested in poetry of warning.  Her ecopoetics begin with language; though she writes of contemporary events and the concerns of a consumer society, her style challenges ownership and authorship, and makes the reader question who, exactly, is the voice?  In the poem “Intimate,” she writes:

(intimate) I know where the meat comes form

my blah blah boring day         blah

Blunt my appetites for today

In these poems, questions and thoughts self-interrupt.  What’s omitted, what’s confusing, and what remains silent are just as important as what is present.  Nguyen’s poetry is not closed, nor does it explain itself away and thus lose itself to meaning.  At times, the poem is in the leap between stanzas, as in “The Soul They Say”:

The soul they say has no



estimated at 20%


This leap is another way to make meaning.  Charles Olson wrote in his essay “Projective Verse,” 63 years ago, of poetry’s capacity for invention, and of poetic forms’ openness and availability to the writer.  In his words: “There it is, brothers, sitting there, for USE.”  Here, form is indeed explored in experimental ways.  In “Words You Should Know,” the reader is presented with what seems an erasure of an abecedarian poem.  The poem “Us” (or “US”) is a palindrome.  The poem “I’m Stuck” reads as notes from a to-do list:

What it means to be

out of work:

Write a crime novel

Work at a food bank

In As Long as Trees Last, these short poems manage to be multi-tonal, commanding, strange, full of verve.  They force the reader to listen, to question, and to pay attention.

Lauren Hilger