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Read an Excerpt from Precedented Parroting by Acclaimed Poet Barbara Tran

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Pushcart Prize winner Barbara Tran has seen her poetry published in some of the most formidable literary journals in the world, including The New YorkerThe Paris Review, and Ploughshares, and we're excited to share an excerpt from her new book of poems, Precedented Parroting (Palimpsest Press).

It is a collection full of rhythmic virtuosic writing that truly stands apart, with poems that draw upon the author's personal archives and explore the natural world in a singular voice. Tran challenges assumptions and stereotypes, and her words are a graceful as they are keen. 

Here's an excerpt from Precedented Parroting, which we're delighted to share with our readers. 


Excerpt from Precedented Parroting by Barbara Tran


Blue from a Distance


filoplume semiplume
        an empty


calamus Feathers receive
     no nourishment They are


structures On a bird
     feather each barb
        holds smaller


barbs On us
     each loss
        encompasses smaller


losses Feathers soften
     the lines
        where different parts


of the body meet They sculpt
     the body
        into a teardrop


shape There is a phrase
     in Vietnamese chia buồn
        sharing sadness


In my family’s case
     it’s like Jesus
        with his two


fish and five
     loaves of bread A


supply Except
     in our case it’s salt
        on salt


     layered atop sorrow
        The calamus lies


beneath the skin
     The rachis holds
        two vanes A layer


of keratin
     allows space
        for light


to play Large
     tail feathers can act
        as a rudder help


with braking There is no
     blue pigment in bird
        feathers Blue feathers


are a result
     of structure reflection


bouncing In Vietnamese
     there is no
        specific word


for blue It shares
     the same name
        as green To distinguish


you might say
     the xanh
        of leaves or xanh


as the sky
     which today
        is the furthest thing

          from blue


Excerpt taken from Precedented Parroting by Barbara Tran, published by Palimpsest Press. Copyright 2024, Barbara Tran. Reprinted with permission.

Barbara Tran’s poetry has been published in ConjunctionsThe New YorkerThe Paris ReviewPloughshares, and Poetry. Her chapbook, In the Mynah Bird’s Own Words, was the winner of the inaugural Tupelo Press chapbook award. Barbara is also the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, Bread Loaf Scholarship, and MacDowell Freund Fellowship. She is a co-editor of Watermark: Vietnamese American Poetry and Prose, 25th Anniversary Edition and a co-writer of the short XR film Madame Pirate: Becoming a Legend, which was an Official Selection of SXSW and the Melbourne International Film Festival and in competition at the Cannes Film Festival. Barbara’s writing is made possible through the supportive company of former shelter and rescue dogs.

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Precedented Parroting

Opening with an exit, the poems in Precedented Parroting accept no assumptions. With the determination and curiosity of a problem-solving crow, this expansive debut plumbs personal archives and traverses the natural world, endeavouring to shake the tight cage of stereotypes, Asian and avian. Praised as “lively and intelligent” and “lyrically delicious,” Barbara Tran’s poetry offers us both the keen eye and grace of a hawk, “red-tailed gliding / on time.”

Praise for Precedented Parroting:

Each poem in Precedented Parroting is a singular, sublime murmuration, their words swooping, shape-shifting, and thrumming with life.—Monique Truong, author of The Book of Salt, Bitter in the Mouth, and The Sweetest Fruits

The rhythms and soundscapes in Precedented Parroting are virtuosic. They make me think of waves or air currents that memory, narrative, relationship, and emotion are set loose on. Feathers are composed of barbs, as loss is, observes Tran in the early pages of this book, one implication being that, like feathers, loss can both enable and necessitate flight. An immensely powerful, clear-eyed account of harm, dislocation, and survival through generations.—River Halen, author of Dream Rooms