Author Eric Tran discusses his collection Mouth, Sugar, and Smoke.
Mouth, Sugar, and Smoke howls and hungers. This collection grieves a lover lost to addiction and swims in the intoxication of desire. While the poems in Mouth, Sugar, and Smoke portray a yearning for intimacy, they create spaces to experience the duality of pleasure and mourning. Even when Tran writes under formal constraint, like the crown of sonnets, these poems struggle and break and, in doing so, explore queer and transformative ways of wanting and being wanted.
This book is your second full-length collection of poetry. How does it respond to or inform your work as a whole?
Thematically, my work fixates on desire: from the attainment of it, the experience of it, the grief of its loss, and even the shame of wanting. This branches into mental health, queerness, love, relationships, loss, and grief. In earlier collections, I’ve explored the seemingly inevitable tragedy of being a queer man (leading to deaths of despair) and this new collection integrates my career and understanding of healing (and becoming a physician) in the context of these threats and pursuits. Mouth, Sugar, and Smoke—particularly in the final act of the book—sees holding grief and desire together as a means of obtaining true pleasure.
Technically, I’ve leant more towards narrative poetry, in the vein of Ada Limón. And while I’ve continued that direct speaking, voice-driven work in Mouth, Sugar, and Smoke, the poems demanded disembodied, language-driven work that eludes and resists straight-forward understanding. I’ve also always been a disciple of the sonnet and in this collection I’ve tried to understand the sonnet crown, which took me months and months of almost single-minded thinking to arrange and revise!
You call at crisis hour,
crevice between crying
and quiet hours, to say I’m stupid
to ask if you’re safe. My stupid
heartbeat like it could keep us
both alive. Stupid bed of vessels.
Stupid sweat-soaked sheets,
extra stash in the box spring.
Stupid night, slow
on its splinted leg.
Stupid sleepless son of a bitch—swears
at the suffering as hot and clean as a pistol’s mouth.
My lips around a pistol
like petals. Beat —
how the sun on your body
is also a kiss. How wanting
enough spins shock
into flushing. One burns
to ghost, the other an impatient
mouth. How dirt starved for seed
holds a grave warm and welcome
as a bed for another man
to leave stains and flower.
My tongue will empty itself
of demands, burn tender
into time. Sugar into smoke.
From Mouth, Sugar, and Smoke. "Nocturne" was first published in Tupelo Quarterly. "Burnout" was first published in Bayou.
ISBN: 9781939728531 ; full-length poetry collection, 6x9" paperback
Cover Artwork: Mazahir @girthofvenus on Instagram
Publication Date: July 1, 2022
Author: Eric Tran
Location: Doha, Qatar and Richmond, Virginia
Distribution: Distributed by Diode Editions
Eric Tran is a queer Vietnamese poet and the author of Mouth, Sugar, and Smoke (Diode Editions) and The Gutter Spread Guide to Prayer (Autumn House Press). He serves as an associate editor for Orison Books and a poetry reader for the Los Angeles Review. He has received awards and recognition from Prairie Schooner, New Delta Review, Best of the Net, and others. His work appears in RHINO, 32 Poems, the Missouri Review and elsewhere. He is a physician completing his fellowship in Addiction Psychiatry in Portland, Oregon.