Poetry News

Writing These Tracings Down: Minh Nguyen & Stacey Tran in Conversation

By Harriet Staff
Stacey Tran, Soap for the Dogs, cover

On the occasion of the publication of her first book of poems, Soap for the Dogs (Gramma Press, 2018), Stacey Tran talks with writer and curator Minh Nguyen about national identity, "exceedingly ordinary" things in Vietnam, who she may be writing for, a possibly transportive relationship with food, and more. From "Saferacks for Memory":

[Minh Nguyen:] When I last went to Vietnam, I took photos of exceedingly ordinary things from my exceedingly ordinary life there. A metal coffee filter and a serving of condensed milk. A kaffir lime leaf. It’s like if I were in America and took a photo of a stainless steel thermos. But these unfamiliar things felt significant, felt useful for understanding. I also felt ridiculous, like who was this for?

Writing these intimate scenes of your home life in your new book, did you question for who you were giving a tour? Do you ever feel a sense of “self-tourism”?

[Stacey Tran:] Take me with you!

When I worked at a Vietnamese dental office, the dental hygienist made nước rău má (pennywort juice) and when she gave it to me all she said was “It’s good for you!” Growing up my mother would say this about bitter melon, aloe vera, chrysanthemum tea. I didn’t recognize pennywort, and felt a whole world open up when I received concoctions made by Vietnamese women who weren’t my mother or even my auntie. I immediately called my mother and asked her what pennywort is. “It’s good for you!”

Who’s reading my book? I want to connect with Vietnamese contemporaries and share my version of Vietnamese, my time capsule, and exchange ingredients. My mother often trades plant clippings with her friends. Her garden is full. Her jacuzzi is a controlled climate for chili plants in the winter. Perhaps my equivalent of her jacuzzi is my writing, a rolodex of memories? Unlike my parents or anyone in my family, as a first generation Vietnamese born in the US, I actually have the luxury of writing these tracings down, reflecting upon what I’m carrying with me, learning how to excavate whole worlds and document these histories in my own words.

Find the full conversation at Gramma Weekly!

Originally Published: February 21st, 2018