Literature Video

Would You Believe Us if We Said Acclaimed Poet Ocean Vuong Pulls His Inspiration From Cage Fighting?

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Writer and poet Ocean Vuong’s favorite cinematic image is of a mother and son watching their barn burning in the midst of a Siberian summer. This moment of destruction, from Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Mirror, is violent and poignant in equal measure. “Observing something is action,” reasons Vuong. “Survival is a creative force, and to watch something well is to then make something that’s worthwhile.”

It’s the kind of advice that the writer might offer his class of rapt New York University graduate students, whom he teaches about Modern Poetry. “One thing I get my students to center at the start of the term is their intentions,” he told CULTURED on set of his cover shoot for the magazine’s CULT 100 issue. “Go back to that moment when you first discovered the art. Who was I when I first started this? They know so much more than we do.”

For all of his wise words, a different side of the writer emerged in his conversation with cover story writer Catherine Lacey. “Not enough people talk about how irreverent Ocean Vuong is—how he once wrote a poem containing a measurement of his longest pubic hair, or that he smirks and laughs a lot more than most portraits have yet captured,” she wrote. 


For his installment of 5 Points of Culture, a deep dive into his creative touchpoints, Vuong revealed an unexpected love of cage fighting, which he interprets as a demonstration of “deep love for the human body.” There’s also his biggest inspiration, his little brother, of whom he says with a laugh, “He teaches me so much about care and tenderness, something I did not know I could learn from a straight man.” 

Lacey contends that there is much more to discover about Vuong than the “brooding, burdened monk” characterization typically put forward. As he barrels toward new chapters in his creative output—be it a photography series or film adaptation of his best-selling novels—the public will have to contend with these myriad manifestations of Vuong, one way or another.

Videography by Michael Morales 
Editing by Cami Dominguez