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Between the Covers Podcast

Nam Le : 36 Ways of Writing a Vietnamese Poem

Over the past fifteen years, Nam Le has published a book in each genre. Best known for his phenomenal 2009 debut story collection The Boat, he followed it with his 2019 debut nonfiction On David Malouf, and now, this year, his debut poetry collection 36 Ways of Writing a Vietnamese Poem. What is remarkable about these three books, is how, in a way, they are three different strategies aimed at the same goal—how to avoid the flatness and fixity of representation of identity, how to create enough elbow room, to push back against the assumptions, presumptions and expectations that come with one’s identity, and assert one’s sovereignty as a writer. Nam has suggested that 36 Ways of Writing a Vietnamese Poem could be viewed as one long poem, one poem that consists of many stand-alone poems, but where each individual poem, through your encounter with it, affects, changes, and deforms all the others, and the longer poem as a whole. We look at his three books in a similar spirit, looking at each through the vantage point of the others, to see what we discover about questions of identity, representation and art-making as we do.

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