Book Review: I See a Garden in my Head (Poems by Phuong Huynh)

I received a free Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of this eBook via BookSirens in exchange for an honest review.

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I was initially interested in this book because the blurb highlighted some themes that spoke to me:

With heart-wrenching poems that touch on topics like cyberbullying, adulthood realizations, healing, facing collective trauma, and more, you’ll surely find your place here.

I See a Garden in My Head (Phuong Huynh)

The collection kicks off with reference to the pandemic, covering themes such as grief, loss, and isolation. I was immediately impressed by Huynh’s excellent use of imagery and strong focus on creating vivid sensory illustrations.

However, I found that the heavy use of repetition didn’t seem appropriate given the shortness of the poems. I think this was intentional – a way to encapsulate the way the world almost stood still as we locked down – but in poems such as Twists and Turns, I just don’t think it was long enough to warrant such a great deal of repetition. It came off as space-filling or “fluffing” to me.

Many of the poems read like song lyrics, with refrains and rhyming patterns. The use of “’bout” (meaning “about”) and parentheses at the end of lines enhanced this feeling of reading the lyrics to pop songs. I didn’t enjoy this, but that’s really a stylistic preference issue.

gave me your trust (nothing to lose)
gave you my care (hard to remove)

Memory Lane (page 10)
Source: Capital FM

Unfortunately, this pop-song style continued, and I began to feel like I was reading Taylor Swift lyrics. I’m not a Swiftie myself, but even I could pick out the similarities. Here are a few lines that stood out to me, followed by Taylor’s lyrics that came to my mind.

“baby, I’ve blanked out your name”
“I’ve got a blank space baby, and I’ll write your name”

“love’s a game I found hard to play”
“Love’s a game, wanna play?”

I thought I might be overthinking it, but then Huynh uses the word “evermore” on page 17, and I feel quite safe saying this is a thing.

I think there were some really great lines in this collection, but on the whole, I was disappointed. In my opinion, the poems are shallow and don’t live up to the lofty claims in the blurb.

I would love to see Huynh develop her craft, as she clearly has potential. My favourite line comes from Scar (page 9):

a friend indeed sees your true colours // some get the brush and paint you blue

Scar (page 9)

I rated this book two stars on Goodreads. It starts strong but quickly fizzles out, in my opinion.

However, I’d love to hear your thoughts if you pick up a copy. Maybe you noticed something that I missed? Or perhaps you have an opinion on my Taylor Swift theory? Let me know in the comments!

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