Truong Tran, a poet and visual artist, was born in Saigon in 1969. He is the author of five books of poetry and a children’s book, and has had numerous shows as a visual artist. He lives in San Francisco and teaches at San Francisco State University and at Mills College.
Truong's work embodies our struggles with language, identity, and culture. The title of placing the accents refers to Truong's mother's help in the placing of accents in Vietnamese, and identifies him as a man from two diverse cultures. As the book proceeds, free-verse poems become unpunctuated prose blocks, representing a surrender by Truong, an offering up of the gift of the interpretation of language to the reader, perhaps in an attempt to meet the reader as an individual rather than as a representative of any culture – as if that were possible.
Truong's relationship with language – and therefore with culture – begins troubled and becomes frankly hostile. In Truong's most recent book, four letter words, the poet is clearly at war with himself:
—it's all too obscene if you ask me
—i'm not really asking but ok i'm asking
—this place this poem there's just no decency
—at least porn is honest it's fake but it's honest
—how's this for a concept the
poem as porn the porn is true
The collection begins and ends with coded poems, and experiments with a variety of forms. At the heart of the book there is a secret, which, like our own secrets, is never revealed. Truong invites the reader to collaborate with him, to attempt the impossible task of understanding his work outside conventional language and culture.
Truong's work is full of generosity, honesty, passion, experimentation, excitement – everything that keeps poetry alive.
The Book of Perceptions, Kearny Street Press, San Francisco, 1999
placing the accents, Apogee Press, Berkeley, 1999
dust and conscience, Apogee Press, Berkeley, 2000
Going Home Coming Home, Children's Book Press, 2003
within the margins, Apogee Press, Berkeley, 2004
four letter words, Apogee Press, Berkeley, 2008
1998 Kiriyama Book Prize (finalist)
1999 Western States Book Center Prize in Poetry (finalist)
2002 San Francisco State University Poetry Center Award (winner for dust and conscience)
gnourtnart.com/, the authors website.
Truong Tran interviewed by Samuel Vriezen during the 2011 Poetry International Festival