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"Hartford & the West: Vuong & His Re-Generation of Colt’s Western Environment" by Crista Fiala

Updated: Oct 22

Hartford & the West: Ocean Vuong and His Re-Generation of Samuel Colt’s Western Environmentof

Crista Fiala, University of Saint Joseph

Abstract: If we were to identify the most renowned Hartford writer – one whose stories span both eastern and Western American settings – most would likely name Mark Twain. As many of Twain’s novels such as Roughing It are situated in the West, he appears as the most conceivable “rhizomatic” connection between Hartford’s literature and the Western genre. But what if we considered Hartford as its own “weird Western” city where the stories about cowboys were created and told by the cowboys themselves? The nineteenth-century Yankee arms maker Samuel Colt and the contemporary poet Ocean Vuong are equally shapers of Western mythos as Cowboy Poets: “Westerners” as the crafters of their own tales who dwell somewhere between reality and fiction in our cultural consciousness. As his own storyteller, Colt invents the iconic revolver just as much as the revolver invents him as this mythic rugged individual. Vuong as a contemporary Cowboy Poet reframes the image of the cowboy and his revolver while challenging its associated masculinity and violence. In evaluating how these Hartford figures as Cowboy Poets generate and regenerate these iconographies of the West, I challenge where the “Western” takes place and unveil how violence – never an isolated incident – has become so deeply ingrained into our nation geographically, ideologically, and linguistically.

Because everyone knows yellow pain, pressed into American letters, turns to gold. / Our sorrow Midas-touched. Napalm with a rainbow afterglow.

- Ocean Vuong, “Not Even,” from the poetry collection Time is a Mother

Not now of the renown we speak / That gathers round his name, / For other climes beside our own / Bear witness to his fame; / … Nor the Midas-touch that turn’d / All enterprise to gold…

- Lydia H. Sigourney, from her death poem written for Samuel Colt

In Revolver (2020), Jim Rasenberger suggests that Hartford’s inventor of the revolver, Samuel Colt, had an uncharacteristically close relationship with today’s often forgotten poet, “The Sweet Singer of Hartford,” Lydia Sigourney (15). Sigourney was a teacher to several of Colt’s siblings, and the two remained in contact through written letters, so? in doing what she had been known best for, Sigourney wrote “sentimental death poetry” or eulogy poems for Colt and his children’s funerals. After introducing this relationship, Rasenberger speculatively asserts, “The truth is, Sam Colt never had much use for poetry” (20). With Sigourney as this sentimental female writer, Rasenberger seems to suggest that the individualistic, impulsive, and often violent Colt could never have had the inclination to take the time to write or appreciate a poem: something pathetic and feminine, not virile and masculine. Colt, as a gimmick, however, sometimes sold his revolvers in false books. On the spine of these “books” were titles such as Law for Self Defense, The Tourist Companion, or The Common Law of Texas (Rasenberger 155). Although not a literal poet himself, these books open to what might as well be Colt’s poetry: revolvers that encapsulate the stories of what it meant to be a self-made man like Colt and those venturing off to the Western frontier with his guns.

Mark Twain, who moved to Hartford in 1871 several years after Colt’s death, often praised the Colt factory. In reference to Colt, he had even once stated, “an inventor is a poet – a true poet – and nothing in any degree less than a high order of poet” (The Colt 16). As a connection himself between the Western region of the developing Frontier and Hartford, Twain was originally born in Missouri but only began to write his most popular novels, which often featured Western settings, after he moved to Hartford. In his novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889), which actually begins in Hartford rather than the West, the protagonist Hank becomes a superintendent of Colt’s factory, only to start a fight with a worker who knocks him out so severely that he ends up in King Arthur’s Camelot. Hank’s miraculous journey to this historical yet fictional England demonstrates how the Colt Factory functions as an instrument of time travel and mythmaking as much as an actual arms factory.

The poetics of Western mythology have led to memorable and meaningful stories which have allowed Americans to construct an identity for themselves. At the same time, however, they have led to violent self-identifications and the erasure of minoritized groups. Even so, these poetics continue to lead the push and pull struggle revolving around who puts these myths in place. In a 2022 interview with Alok Vaid-Menon focused on the harms of western perspectives, the contemporary Vietnamese American novelist and poet who grew up in Hartford, Ocean Vuong, explained,

A truth in nineteenth-century America was that white settlers were predestined, ordained by God through Manifest Destiny, to settle the land where people had been thriving for thousands of years. That was considered truth. I have a lot of trouble surrendering the ground. When we surrender the ground, we have to assume that an objective truth is there to be seen. If we actually give up that ground, someone else is taking it over. (“Interview”)

In this statement, Vuong ponders the tensions that exist between destructive American Western myths and the persistent need for mythmaking. Ocean Vuong, a poet himself, has become a significant voice in the middle in this contentious battle for who is included in the process of mythmaking. “Poetry” as well as “poem” and “poet” are etymologically derived from the Greek word “poiesis,” meaning to make or create, and the American nation has been built upon the creation of myths which intentionally include the stories of a select few white men while systematically excluding the others (Rigby). The “Western” – whether genre, region, or likely somewhere in between as myth – of the collective American cultural consciousness pulls upon such “poets” and poetic contributions as Frederick Jackson Turner and his Frontier Thesis; Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Shows; John Wayne and his many reincarnations of the filmic cowboy. While Turner makes the claim that American men need that Western environment to shape their identities by putting them “in the hunting shirt and the moccasin,” Buffalo Bill and John Wayne as revolver wielding actors also perform that expectation of violent masculinity (Turner 33).

Western myths surrounding masculinity and violence, however, spread far beyond the American West and the nineteenth century in the poststructuralist and rhizomatic way in which Neil Campbell posits the West “as always already transnational,” or for this essay’s purposes, national (The Rhizomatic 4). As the city that manufactured the iconic Western image of the Colt revolver, Hartford is a significant battleground where Western mythology becomes told, retold, and reshaped. In this two-pronged essay, I first analyze how Samuel Colt’s actions and the stories told by him and about him relay how he upheld and further generated Western myths concerning masculinity and violence, not only through his guns but through the industrial violence he inflicted upon Hartford’s environment. In the second part, I contend that Vuong, as a part of another generation of mythmakers, engages in a re-generation of Colt’s Western images as well as other Western landscape images in Hartford in his novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (2019) to call attention to the persisting impact of such dangerous myths on the environment as well as on others often excluded from Western mythology. In the process, he inserts himself as a queer Asian American along with other queer individuals who respect and appreciate the landscape in order to re-build the nation-building narrative.

Richard Slotkin puts forth that the central myth that not only lies at the root of Western myth but all American myth is “regeneration through violence”: the concept which “represented the redemption of American spirit or fortune as something to be achieved by playing a scenario of separation, temporary regression to a primitive or ‘natural state’” (Gunfighter 12). Heavily tied to the concepts of violent masculinity and stereotyped Native American savagery, “regeneration through violence” strongly resembles how Michael K. Johnson, Sara L Spurgeon, and Rebecca M. Lush explain in Weird Westerns (2020) that the Western genre has specifically remained “obsessed with the violence necessary to police the borders of white American masculinity and those borders grind against gender and racial identities, cultural and social identities, Native American frontiers and national borderlands, and imaginary lines between civilization and savagery, freedom and conquest” (4). Many may imagine the white-rugged-cowboy West as fossilized at the turn of the 19th century with Turner’s proclamation that that the Frontier was no more. Clearly, however, these Western mythologies have never been contained to the West, let alone the nineteenth-century West. In Samuel Colt’s Hartford, there are, of course, revolvers but also an environment which had begun to vanish as a result of industrialization just like Turner’s image of the Frontier.

In Vuong’s semi-autobiographical novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (2019), Little Dog’s Hartford mirrors a mythological Western landscape; a landscape whose images have been generated both by Western and Eastern figures like Samuel Colt. In subverting the expectations around where the West(ern) takes place, where many of its concepts originate from, and where its environment can be encountered, I place Colt and Vuong in conversation together as mythmakers in order to engage in what Neil Campbell – extending upon Edward Said’s idea of worldliness – calls “Worlding the Western”: where “tropes and assumptions [about the Western genre] are indeed ‘overlapped and interfered with,’ opened up to different entangled visions of the region as a space of multiple relations with its outside and, in turn, its formations made, remade, and dismantled from diverse perspectives” (Worlding 4). The invocation of both Colt and Vuong interferes with where readers expect to find imagery of the Western environment; at the same time, it exposes how Western myths not only have reverberating effects outside of the West but often originate outside of the region altogether. Vuong specifically calls attention to these nation-building myths, which have continued to harm the land and non-white individuals as the United States continues to develop upon stolen ground today. To never surrender the ground, he inserts himself into the poetics of American mythmaking. In exploring the interconnectedness of violent masculinity, violence toward nature, and violence toward non-white individuals, this essay unveils how Colt’s generation, which perpetuated concepts similar to “regeneration through violence,” may be in the process of being overthrown by a generation which perpetuates Vuong’s declaration that “the language of creativity [can] be the language of regeneration” (On Earth 179). Vuong’s linguistic regeneration becomes a process of including, healing, and restoring systematically neglected narratives.

Samuel Colt and the Generation of Hartford’s Western Environment

So, if we were to open one of Samuel Colt’s false books, what kind of stories would the revolver tell? One of the most synonymous stories with Samuel Colt and the revolver would be the story of how Colt first invented it. Colt as a young man once boarded a ship called the Corvo. Legend has it that either the ship’s wheel or its windlass inspired him to gather “a few pieces of scrap wood,” pull out a jackknife, and whittle away until he created his first model of the revolver (Rasenberger 48). Just as Slotkin explains how “the conception of America as a wide-open land of unlimited opportunity for the strong, ambitious, self-reliant individual to thrust his way to the top,” the origin story of the revolver relays how Colt becomes this masculine self-made man with the help of weapons as his tools (Regeneration 5).

Another famed Hartford native named Frederick Law Olmsted reported in A Journey Through Texas: Or a Saddle-Trip on the Southwestern Frontier (1857), “There are probably in Texas about as many [Colt] revolvers as male adults, and I doubt if there are one hundred in the state of any other make” (Olmsted 75). With revolvers following in the path of Westward Expansion, the popularity of Colt’s six-shooters among men allowed for an increase in effectiveness and violence against the threat of Native Americans. Although Olmsted was only a young journalist at the time and not yet one of America’s most renowned landscape architects, his survey lays out the design of a newly evolving Western landscape saturated with men who hold the violent yet industrial novel of the Colt revolver.

While the open seas and the expansive West may have been the perfect environments for Colt to dream up his iconic invention and later disseminate it, Slotkin’s The Fatal Environment (1985) asserts that significant American figures at the turn of the nineteenth-century revealed a newly evolving Western myth. In pulling upon Walt Whitman’s poem about Custer’s Last Stand titled “Fatal Environment,” Slotkin contends Whitman means something more by “fatal environment” than the Native Americans that circled around Custer and killed him:

The idea that Custer’s death completes a meaningful mytho-historical design, a grand fable of national redemption and Christian self-sacrifice…Custer’s Last Stand became part of a renewed and revised Myth of the Frontier…It is this industrial and imperial version of the Frontier Myth whose categories still inform our political and rhetoric of pioneering progress, world mission, and eternal strife with the forces of darkness and barbarism. It is this myth whose fictive fatalities lurk in the cultural environment we inhabit, whose significance can still be seen behind the silhouettes of skyscrapers, casinos, pipelines, gantries, and freeways. (11-12)

Slotkin, on one hand, determines that the nineteenth-century Western myth became the idea that to interact with and conquer the Western environment meant to ultimately annihilate it. Many virile American men like Colonel Custer would also have to die with it. On the other hand, Slotkin recognizes that instead of submitting to this end, the myth of “regeneration through violence” has continued on but with the desire to survive while continuously dominating and putting an end to that vast American environment. In short, America, particularly white American men, turned to industrialization. While revolvers may be the most blatantly violent part of Colt’s legacy, he, like many others in his generation, also took part in this Western myth in other ways. He capitalized upon industrializing, conquering, and suppressing Hartford’s environment, degenerated Hartford residents’ ability to access the city’s nature, and allowed for the paving over of histories that were not white.

While Colt’s false books might open up to revolvers, Colt’s first biography, Henry Barnard’s Armsmear (1866), opens up to an image of the enormous Charter Oak. Barnard begins by telling the legend of the Charter Oak, which was used to hide Connecticut’s charter when King James wanted to join all the colonies together to form New England (17-19). Strategically, Barnard places Samuel Colt into Hartford legend by directly connecting where Samuel Colt held his property, on the grounds where the Charter Oak used to stand before a storm struck it down, with this legendary tree. This biographer, however, makes sure to point out that the Hartford legend full of figures like Thomas Hooker and Samuel Colt has no room for Native Americans. In fact, Colt’s legend appears to supplant and erase Native American stories associated with the tree altogether. In inserting Lydia Sigourney’s poem “Intercession of the Indians for the Charter Oak,” which tells of an incident with the Charter Oak where Native Americans pled for the tree not to be cut down, Barnard explains how “Although we are prepared to believe in the rude Indians’ veneration for our old oak, and even in their making an agricultural oracle of its young leaves, we doubt if their intercession was necessary to the salvation of a tree so old and majestic as this, with either Mr. Wyllys, or Mr. Gibbons, his manager, who had been brought up under the ancestral oaks of Fenny Compton…and who probably selected his ‘house-lot’ because of this and other noble forest-trees” (24). With these words, the poetics of Western myth are at play. While Barnard may find it easy to belittle Sigourney’s feminine and sympathetic perspective toward Native Americans as a “poetess,” he engages in these poetics by using language to dangerously exclude other perspectives that are not white and masculine. He further implies that Colt’s decision to settle himself and his enterprise in the same area of the Charter Oak was an act to elevate himself and other similar white masculine figures, not the histories of Native Americans.

Barnard continues to explain that the most significant part of where Colt decided to have his property was not only the history of the Charter Oak but rather how, the genius and enterprise of Samuel Colt rescued [his land but also the rest of Hartford] from the capricious and devastating dominion of the floods of Connecticut River, and made part and parcel of the residences, warehouses, and workshops of the city of Hartford…By constructing a dyke, seventy feet broad at the base, and with a top surface as broad as the average of the streets of the city, along the southern bank of Little River to its junction with Connecticut River. (19)

While Barnard later praises Colt’s decision to own land that lies in front of “the beautiful valley of the Connecticut,” he ironically also praises Colt’s decision to construct a massive dike in front of the river in order to combat spring floods (57). Colt's condemnation of the Little River to this prison likely arose from spring flooding but also from the inundation of neglect and exploitation that the Connecticut River already faced in the nineteenth-century. The Connecticut River and its tributary Park River, formerly the Little River, were often not revered for their beauty. Rather, Steve Grant explains in his Hartford Courant article “Hartford: A City on the River” (2014), how “In 1843, with the city population growing, the first sewer channeled untreated human waste into the Park River and on the short distance into the Connecticut River. By midcentury, wastes from new factories, like the Colt Firearms complex, poured into rivers like the Connecticut, polluting them”. As a result, people were often disgusted by the stench and appearance of the polluted Park River. As the owner of a massive industrial factory, Colt contributed to the abuse of the Connecticut River and the Park River by using them as dumping grounds rather than preserving their cleanliness as the integral parts of local agricultural practices that they once were. Since the beginning of the twentieth-century, Colt’s legacy of polluting and covering the Park River only continued to transpire. Frederick L. Ford’s East Side Flood Protection Report from 1909 outlines plans to install more dikes along the Park River, a plan which eventually evolved into more drastic ways to hide the river, such as placing a highway over the it. While the environmental movement of the 1960s did a lot to clean up the polluted the river, Colt represents an undeniably lasting connection between the destructive industrialization which closes the river off from the public and the persisting mentality that such an important environmental resource should be utilized as a sewer (“Hartford”). If these industrial fixtures were somehow dismantled as the mental and physical barriers they persist to be, Hartford residents would perhaps be able to better take care of the river, which has the potential to provide its scenery, fertile grounds, and fresh water in return. As part of the American generation from the nineteenth-century, Colt participated as a main arbiter in a push toward the end of nature in Hartford in the same way that industrialization led to the end of the Frontier in the West, thus creating the generation of Hartford’s “Western” landscape.

Ocean Vuong: Re-generation of Hartford’s Western Environment

In the epistolary novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Vuong’s semi-autobiographical protagonist Little Dog asks his mother, “Do you remember that one night, after we had gathered around Lan to hear a story after dinner, and the gunshots started firing off across the street? Although gunshots were not uncommon in Hartford, I was never prepared for the sound” (21). Through his narrator, Vuong makes clear that rapid gunfire has become no longer reserved for the image of the Colt revolver gone West in the nineteenthcentury. In twenty-first-century Hartford, Little Dog, as a representation of Vuong, is especially threatened by national gun violence as a queer Vietnamese American. In a conversation with Trevor, with whom Little Dog had his first gay relationship, Little Dog recalls that they talked about “how the Colt factory in Windsor might be hiring again now that the latest shooting spree was three months done and already old news” (On Earth 98). With Vuong’s illustration of not only modern-day Hartford, but the United States, Slotkin’s term “Fatal Environment” begins to take on a new meaning. The Colt factory that can still be found in Little Dog’s Hartford remains as a symbol of Colt’s legacy and as a reminder of the persistence of gun violence and the nation’s desensitization toward it. When recalling how he first came out to his mother, Little Dog remembers how during the previous summer, Florida native Omar Mateen murdered forty-nine people with an automatic rifle at an Orlando gay club (On Earth 137). With the image of an automatic rifle, a gun which fires even more rapidly than the Colt revolver, this Western myth of industrialization persists to violently harm the environment. At the same time, however, it also specifically harms those who do not fit the white, masculine, and heterosexual mold.

In an entry in Keywords for Environmental Studies (2016) titled “Queer Ecology,” Catriona Sandilands relays how,

In The History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault lays the groundwork for much contemporary queer ecological scholarship… [Foucault’s] establishment of sex as a matter of biopolitical truth could not help but be connected to ideas of nature, and especially to racialized, sexualized, and other anxieties over hygiene and degeneracy. In this context, the figure of the homosexual came to haunt the margins of emerging discourses in urban development, environmental health, and even wilderness preservation: the effeminate homosexual and the lesbian gender invert were…seen increasingly as against nature. (169)

Sandilands describes how writers and other mythmaking contributors have manufactured an association between the industrial and corrupt urban landscape with those that are queer persons of color. In Re-Dressing America’s Frontier Past (2011), Peter Boag illustrates how this manufactured association was especially relevant in the West, where “the public imagination by the end of the nineteenth century came to associate male-to-female cross-dressing and male effeminacy more generally with nonwhite/non-Anglo races. Accomplishing this stripped the male-to-female cross-dresser from America’s history along with its Asians, Mexicans, Indians, and other nonwhite/non-Anglo peoples. This rendered America’s frontier past not only a white place and time, but a heterosexual one as well” (Boag 7). When white settlers decided that those who were homosexual, or possibly gender queer from today’s perspective, were the antithesis of what the virile West represented, they created an association between individuals of color and homosexuality in order to further dominate the region. In this part of the essay, I argue that Vuong subverts these Western expectations surrounding the naturalness of a heterosexual white America and the urban abnormality of queer persons. He specifically exposes how Hartford’s industrialized “Western” environment, where violent masculinity prevails and there is barely any living nature to be found, is truly what is against nature.

In order to confront this dangerous yet prevalent mythology, Vuong frequently re-generates an image that was also very familiar to Samuel Colt: the Connecticut River. In one scene, Little Dog describes how he would ride alongside the river on a bike while on his way to work at the tobacco farm (On Earth 87). In another, he relates how when he took a train back to Hartford after Trevor passed away from an overdose, the river appeared as “the brightest thing in the afternoon’s overcast” (On Earth 166). The Connecticut River in modern-day Hartford appears to always be an ominous travel companion alongside Little Dog. Although a river with its own currents, the way Little Dog never actually uses the river for travel translates to how the entire city of Hartford has continued resort to other industrial ways of travel, such as trains or highways. Rarely can people visit or even see the Connecticut River unless they are on industrialized railways or roads. If these structures which support travel are not covering up the river, they at least outcompete the river’s usefulness in the eyes of the public.

In another instance, Little Dog describes how he and Trevor “rode along the Connecticut River as night broke into itself, the moon freshly high above the oaks, its edges hazed by an unseasonably warm autumn. The current churned with white froth to our right. Once in a while, after two or three weeks without rain, a body would float up from its depths” (144). With the Colt factory’s pollution of the Connecticut River and Colt’s decision to install dikes on the Park River in mind, a disconnect between the public and the river has continued to fester in modern-day Hartford. Although a more extreme example of how the Connecticut River continues to function as a sewer or dumping ground, live humans are often not what interact with the river. Instead, the body of water intermingles with dead human corpses. The Connecticut River continues to exemplify how Colt’s decision to suppress and hide the river away still has a major influence on Hartford residents and their relationship with the river today. These persisting attitudes of neglect toward the river normalize environmental violence as if it were a dead body hidden below the river’s surface.

Little Dog’s partner Trevor also often finds himself combatting the suppression of his environment, having to deal with expectations of masculinity thrust upon him by his alcoholic father. Trevor’s struggle to perform masculinity leaves him with a deep sense of internalized homophobia. The poetic voice of Little Dog encapsulates this internal struggle with several verses:

Trevor Burger King over McDonald’s ’cause the smell of smoke on the beef makes it real. /…Trevor I like sunflowers best. They go so high. / Trevor with the scar like a comma on his neck, syntax of what next what next what next. / Imagine going so high and still opening that big. Trevor loading the shotgun two red shells at a time. (On Earth 154)

This poem juxtaposes Trevor’s inner and more vulnerable feelings about a sunflower with his tougher exterior which likes meat and knows how to load a shotgun. Just like Colt and his concealment of the Park River, the placement of these verses expresses how Trevor suppresses and conceals his compassionate yet more effeminate feelings about nature with more violent activities. While Vuong and his protagonist Little Dog might be literal poets, Trevor engages in Western poetics and challenges the idea of tough and invulnerable masculinity as well. Trevor’s poetic declarations of appreciation and amazement for nature re-generate the work of cowboy poets whose “poems often express a spiritual connection to the land, a respect for nature, a love of animals, a reverence for the weather, a love of freedom and an admiration for people of integrity” (Blasingame 5). While filmic cowboys often appear stoic with little need for words, cowboy poets engage in ranch work at the same time they entertain themselves with these poetic verses full of the nature imagery that surrounds them in their everyday lives. The character of Trevor not only brings queer voices into the nation building narrative but brings to the surface a history of cowboys who appreciate nature rather than harm it. Trevor further expresses how Western myth need not only be a story about the struggle to perform masculinity. It can also be a story about the desire to respect the nature that Western myth so greatly relies upon.

Beyond sunflowers, Trevor also finds a fascination with one of the most iconic landscape images to come from Western novels and films: sunsets. In a conversation with Little Dog, Trevor romantically ponders how “Cleopatra saw the same sunset. Ain’t that crazy? Like every-body who was ever alive only seen one sun…No wonder people used to think it was god himself…Sometimes I wanna just go that way forever” (On Earth 99). Just as the cowboys of Westerns go off toward sunsets in order to leave town and move onto their next adventure, Trevor finds himself encapsulated by the beauty of sunsets as a form of escapism. In contrast, Little Dog who also finds himself suppressed by his environment – whether he be working to support his family at the nail salon or facing hateful slurs about his sexuality – writes how he “can’t tell the difference between a sunset and a sunrise. The world, reddening, appears the same to me – and I lose track of east and west” (On Earth 238). Since Little Dog cannot tell the difference between a sunrise and a sunset and feels the pull of neither, he also lacks the desire to escape into the American myth of escaping away into a place like the Frontier. He continues to recall a sunset he had once seen with Trevor and how, “Because the sunset, like survival exists only on the verge of its own disappearing. To be gorgeous, you must first be seen, but to be seen allows you to be hunted” (On Earth 238). While Trevor has continued to hunt after that gorgeous sunset of escape, Little Dog instead turns inwardly to where his identity lies in that liminal space between sunset and sunrise to accept himself as gorgeous. Trevor, as a young queer white man, tells the story of one Western myth where performing masculinity and appreciating the environment collide. Little Dog, as a young queer Vietnamese American man excluded from the myth of white heteronormative masculinity, provides hope for another Western myth where the environment can be appreciated without the need to bear the weight of masculine expectations.

While poetry and the use of language might be written off by some as feminine and reserved for certain sentimental women writers of the nineteenth century, the poetics of Western mythology exemplify how violent the use of language can really be. In the poem “Old Glory,” Vuong exemplifies how deeply violence is infused within the English language: “Knock’em dead, big guy. Go in there / guns blazing, buddy. You crushed / at the show. No, it was a blowout. No, / a massacre” (Time 18). This language has the potential to destroy lives, land, and even legends held long before European settlement in the Americas. Yet, Vuong maps out in Hartford how this language of violence can be taken, dismantled, and reinfused with the stories of those who have had their identities excluded. In his re-generation of the language which has illustrated such “Western” and violent imagery as the Colt revolver or the polluted Connecticut River, he undergoes a regeneration, a healing of himself as a queer Vietnamese American; at the same time, he provides hope for a new Western myth which calls for the regeneration of America’s relationship with nature.

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