Within the work of Paul Tran, the articulation of history is the act of nourishing the shark. Here in the world this poet draws for us we see the poem as primary source, as evidence, as thick and sharp with life as any good tide. Tran’s poems that carry us, delicately probing the poet’s own wounds, with a precision descended directly from Tran’s guide Natasha Trethewey; we are bearing witness to the construction of a biography, a history. These are poems that testify, that exist and by extension “This is our protest: / a bad bitch and her protégé cruising through Hillcrest” Tran writes and so engages a poetics of small rebellions, little occupations to counter larger occupations of empire and bodily violation, where the speaker of these poems is most free with the “joy of being it.”
Unequivocally, Paul Tran is It in these poems, lyric holds us close while assuring us and the ever elusive birds “Birds, / I envied you precisely because of that part / of me never wanting to be touched again” And how could this not be History? The poet’s voice both the tide and the boat, a lyric shelter in a landscape that stands against redemption, an insistent and cloying “despite”, here triumph knows little music “I suppose / that’s survival: to appropriate what annihilates us, to make use” but still, these poems “become wind, and it feels like flying.” And so I ask again, how this could not be History, embodied and pulsing like any mother’s child? The “grief of geography” not merely the property of oceans but reverberating from Eden to Broad street. These are the ways Paul Tran brings us what it means to be “it”, to be a history, to be in effect an everything dating back to Genesis, and then the effective Re-Genesis of a refugee narrative.
“I know this despite what it took / to know it” writes Tran and this is history. There, as Tran’s enjambments, like a journey that braves one tide and then the next, bridge and testify to a lineage of resilience. We know that in reading these poems we are watching the onset of a new history alternately trudging and sprinting with us towards somewhere better. And sure, as Tran writes, “Heaven’s a lot of waiting.” But to wait with this poet and these poems? I would only ever choose this history to wait in.