17 pages 34 minutes read

Ocean Vuong

Kissing in Vietnamese

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 2014

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Literary Devices

Form and Meter

The poem “Kissing in Vietnamese” is written in free-verse, which is a form of poetry that modern poets typically use to more closely mimic the rhythms of modern speech. Vuong’s poem has irregular line lengths, with each line ranging between six and eleven syllables, for a total of twenty-one lines. The beginning line and last two lines are the shortest of these, drawing attention to the significance of the short statement which opens the poem “My grandmother kisses / as if bombs are bursting in the backyard” (Lines 1-2) and again,

My grandmother kisses as if history
never ended, as if somewhere
a body is still
falling apart (Lines 18-21).

Ending a poem with the same line that begins the poem is called a “circular structure.” The poet uses this structure to highlight that the grandmother’s feelings are continuous and ongoing. Though things have changed around her, her feelings have not. Emotionally speaking, nothing has changed.

Line Breaks

Poets break lines to draw attention to certain words in a sentence. Many of Vuong’s line-breaks are used to emphasize body parts, occurring after words like “back” (Line 6), “thigh” (Line 7), “torso” (Line 8), “wounds” (Line 9), “breath” (Line 12), “cheek” (Line 13), and “wrist” (Line 17).