This book of theories, songs, mantras, and more—threaded through with flourishes of compassion for a father finding himself and maybe pathos for a mother who served as tether post for a speaker dizzied by colonizing language and the god it claimed to represent—it impels us to think hard about the word made flesh, or our existential fear made music, or the cultural alienation that doesn't transmute into anything and persists as a foreign object lodged in the tongue. 'Life is a series/ of extinctions'—excisions. Each time I read this collection, I think it pierced me for a different reason. In that way, all those edges, these lyrics are scalpels Kien Lam wields with an awareness that when one has something so sharp, they need not to press heavily to slice deep.
—Kyle Dargan, author of Honest Engine: Poems
Kien Lam’s poems are live wires, coursing with currents of feverish sonic play and bracing truths. Poem after poem, Extinction Theory tears out the root of the single origin story—and along with it, any overriding theory on love, masculinity, assimilation, disappearing fathers, exile—to find origins and the dense threads of meaning scattered everywhere. Across mesmeric pages, we have an insistence on the freedoms of multiplicity, that which morphs appetite into ache, rendering the subjects of these poems 'the kind of shape that changes when touched.' Lam’s unmatched powers of associative leaping and wild invention lead us, insight after insight, into life's most tragicomic moments. This is an extraordinary collection on the marvels of shape-shifting and strange new origins.
—Jenny Xie, author of Eye Level: Poems
Kien Lam’s Extinction Theory
is a beautiful, probing collection that develops its own creation stories that end in the grieving of one kind of life in favor of another. It asks existential questions about what it means to be the child of Vietnamese immigrants, wondering about love and belonging, place, and passage. It asks questions of God. Deft with word play and pathos and a biting wit, Lam's writing is capacious and masterful. This is an extraordinary collection of poems: deeply intelligent and full of inquiry.
—Cathy Linh Che, author of Split
Every once in a while, a poet changes the game up and writes a book that goes past narrative or lyric and into a realm of immaculate extravagance and wonder. Kien Lam’s stunning debut, Extinction Theory
, is one of those books. His is a singular voice, one that is telling us we better stand up and pay attention.
—Adrian Matejka, author of Somebody Else Sold the World
Kien Lam’s beautiful, perplexed, shit-talking, heartbroken, chatty, weird, veering, wonderful (i.e., full of wonder), insolently syntaxed poems in Extinction Theory
are like missives—sometimes speculative or fantastical; sometimes close as cigarette smoke—tethering loss and love, mourning and rebirth, regret and dream, rage and unadorned sorrow. This book is a true feat of the loving, yearning, capacious imagination. This is a book you will not soon forget.
—Ross Gay, author of The Book of Delights
The poems in this collection establish Lam as one of the Asian-American literary voices to stay tuned for. Like Su Cho’s The Symmetry of Fish
and Stephanie Niu’s She Has Dreamt Again of Water
, Extinction Theory
carefully dissects assimilation, family interactions, and origins. Its language and forms are immediate and insistent, as are the series of historical and personal events it conscientiously outlines.
—Nicole Yurcaba, Colorado Review