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Come Clean

Winner of the Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry, selected by Carmen Giménez Smith

“I am so deeply moved by the subdued lyric force of this collection, if only subdued could capture the elegant control Nguyen exerts on his line. Sensuously constructed, in Come Clean he looks at the vast landscape of history through the desire for Marie Kondo’s order and a cure for imposter’s syndrome, in a book that’s as current as it is timeless.”
—Carmen Giménez Smith

Joshua Nguyen’s sharp, songlike, and often experimental collection compartmentalizes past trauma—sexual and generational—through the quotidian. Poems aim to confront the speaker’s past by physically, and mentally, cleaning up. Here, the Asian-American masculine interrogates the domestic space through the sensual and finds healing through family and in everyday rhythms: rinsing rice until the water runs clear, folding clean shirts, and attempts at re-creating an unwritten family recipe. Yet past wounds remain present like permanent marker under layers of paint or spilled fish sauce set into car upholstery. Infused with the Shinto-inspired organizing practices of KonMari and the catchy nihilism of Mitski’s songs, the poems in Come Clean unpack, organize, and tidy up life’s messy joys and hurtful chaos with intimacy, grace, and vulnerability.

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American Lục Bát For My Mother

In American Lục Bát for My Mother, Joshua Nguyen reimagines the lục bát, a traditional Vietnamese form, to bridge past and present, east and west, tradition and innovation. The poems sizzle with garlic and fish sauce as the speaker tries (and fails) to recreate one of his mother’s recipes—but beneath these tender love letters from a son to his mother simmers a crackly interrogation of American imperialism, whiteness, assimilation, and survival. How can we honor and preserve the histories, languages, songs, and recipes that are carried across borders and filtered through generations, while still holding space for expansion and connection, gratitude and honesty, salt and sugar?

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