A Plucked Zither is Phuong T. Vuong’s sophomore poetry collection. Vuong’s poems draw upon her experience as a 1.5 generation Vietnamese American raised in Oakland, California, and echo the familiar themes of diasporic Vietnamese literature, including a meditation on nước as water and nation; watching an immigrant father’s labor and guilt from a distance; and the shame of losing the mother tongue. Vuong’s collection opens with epigraphs from Sara Ahmed and Jodi Byrd about the act of returning, of being in transit and in relation, and how a person can move between space and time from a memory. Throughout the collection, Vuong’s poems flit from one location to another, where preoccupations of the speaker “I” oscillate from that of an immigrant’s, then of a mother’s daughter, a father’s daughter, a granddaughter, a lover, and a poet.
Multiple poems of A Plucked Zither wrestle with what it means to come into English as a second language and to become bilingual. The poem “Fifth Grade English” takes a turn on the school attendance roll call dreaded by immigrant kids by describing a formative moment when Vuong’s name is spoken correctly in her American elementary school: