Afterland: Poems

Afterland: Poems

You might not immediately consider that the American War in Laos and the Hmong refugee experience form natural subjects for poems. But Afterland by Mai Der Vang is an extraordinary collection of powerful poems that excavate the humanity of those swept up in the war and the subsequent exodus of some 300,000 Hmong refugees to the United States.

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The Hmong fought on the side of the United States during the war years there. When the Americans lost, their community was left extremely vulnerable to the new Communist regime, forcing many to seek asylum in America. These poems are the tales of life during the war and of new lives etched out in a foreign country. The subjects they traverse are at once universal–war, death, exile, love-and specific to the Hmong experience in Laos and the United States, afterwards.

Don’t take our word for it: These poems have been widely hailed, and were the 2016 winner of the Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets. Sometimes immediately decipherable, other times lyrical to the point of leaving the reader not quite certain of the meaning, at least initially, these are poems to sit with a while, and to return to dip into again.

We loved “Matriarch”, the story of a woman sifting through her own experience of carnage to understand the Rambo and Rocky she sees on her TV screen, and “Beyond the Backyard”, when the author describes the bleak industrial view from her backyard:

“Rusted sedan, wire zipline
to stapled roof, retired
shopping cart missing wheel.

   My parents fled for this”.

We suspected “Grand Mal” may have been about Lia Lee, who is the subject of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, and indeed in the endnotes the author confirms it was for her.

In the final piece, “Afterland”, we get a sense of what it is like for a refugee to return:

“To meet the end is to go back
through every dwelling,
return my footballs
to yesterday’s land.

Fresno, California.

Merced, California.

Lansing, Michigan.

St Paul, Minnesota.

Ban Vinai refugee camp, Thailand

Long Cheng, Laos

Sayaboury, Laos

Once, I lived in the valley.
   Then I moved to the tent of ghosts.

Next came partitions of ice.
   Metallic roads.
Once, I was born in a bowl.”

These are poems to work your way through slowly. They are, in fact, perfect for travel: Read one or two on a long bus journey through Laos and let your imagination roam into the lives of those most devastated by the war here, those killed, injured, or forced to leave their homeland in the aftermath. If you are not a usual poetry reader (we confess we are not) but are heading to Laos, we cannot recommend sinking into this collection strongly enough. Not only will you be discovering a new country underfoot, but you’ll be discovering a new voice in a new-for-you genre; and isn’t literary travel just as important as travel in the real world?

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108 results found

Burma (Myanmar)

Burmese Days
Burmese Days

By George Orwell

Finding George Orwell
Finding George Orwell

By Emma Larkin

Miss Burma
Miss Burma

By Charmaine Craig

The Glass Palace
The Glass Palace

By Amitav Ghosh

The Trouser People
The Trouser People

By Andrew Marshall

Cambodia

Dogs at the Perimeter
Dogs at the Perimeter

By Madeleine Thien

Holiday in Cambodia
Holiday in Cambodia

By Laura Jean McKay

Hun Sen’s Cambodia
Hun Sen’s Cambodia

By Sebastian Strangio

Hunters in the Dark
Hunters in the Dark

By Lawrence Osborne

King Norodom's Head
King Norodom's Head

By Steven W. Boswell

River of Time
River of Time

By Jon Swain

The Gate
The Gate

By Francoise Bizot

Indonesia

A House in Bali
A House in Bali

By Colin McPhee

Beauty is a Wound
Beauty is a Wound

By Eka Kurniawan

Black Water
Black Water

By Louise Doughty

Home
Home

By Leila S. Chudori

In the Time of Madness
In the Time of Madness

By Richard Lloyd Parry

Indonesia Etc.
Indonesia Etc.

By Elizabeth Pisani

On the Java Ridge
On the Java Ridge

By Jock Serong

Ring of Fire
Ring of Fire

By Lawrence Blair

The Malay Archipelago
The Malay Archipelago

By Alfred Russel Wallace

The Rainbow Troops
The Rainbow Troops

By Andrea Hirata

The Year of Living Dangerously
The Year of Living Dangerously

By Christopher J. Koch

This Earth of Mankind
This Earth of Mankind

By Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Under the Volcano
Under the Volcano

By Cameron Forbes

Laos

Malaysia

Singapore

Crazy Rich Asians
Crazy Rich Asians

By Kevin Kwan

From Third World to First
From Third World to First

By Lee Kuan Yew

If I Could Tell You
If I Could Tell You

By Jing-Jing Lee

In Transit: An Anthology
In Transit: An Anthology

By Zhang Ruihe and Yu-Mei Balasingamchow

Sarong Party Girls
Sarong Party Girls

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Singapore Noir
Singapore Noir

By Cheryl Lu-Tien Tan

State of Emergency
State of Emergency

By Jeremy Tiang

Sugarbread
Sugarbread

By Balli Kaur Jaswal

The Tower
The Tower

By Isa Kamari (translated by Alfian Sa'at)

Thailand

A Tiger in Eden
A Tiger in Eden

By Chris Flynn

Bangkok Found
Bangkok Found

By Alex Kerr

Hothouse Flower
Hothouse Flower

By Lucinda Riley

Jasmine Nights
Jasmine Nights

By S.P. Somtow

Mai Pen Rai Means Never Mind
Mai Pen Rai Means Never Mind

By Carol Hollinger

Many Lives
Many Lives

By M.R Kukrit Pramoj

Sightseeing
Sightseeing

By Rattawut Lapcharoensap

Thai Street Food
Thai Street Food

By David Thompson

The Beach
The Beach

By Alex Garland

The Drinking Food of Thailand
The Drinking Food of Thailand

By Andy Ricker with JJ Goode

The Narrow Road to the Deep North
The Narrow Road to the Deep North

By Richard Flanagan

The Sad Part Was
The Sad Part Was

By Prabda Yoon

The Windup Girl
The Windup Girl

By Paolo Bacigalupi

Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture
Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture

By Philip Cornwel-Smith

Vietnam

Bright Shining Lie
Bright Shining Lie

By Neil Sheehan

Destination Saigon
Destination Saigon

By Walter Mason

Dragon Apparent
Dragon Apparent

By Norman Lewis

Fishing for Tigers
Fishing for Tigers

By Emily Maguire

The Lover
The Lover

By Marguerite Duras

The Quiet American
The Quiet American

By Graham Greene

The Refugees
The Refugees

By Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Sorrow of War
The Sorrow of War

By Bao Ninh

The Sympathizer
The Sympathizer

By Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Things They Carried
The Things They Carried

By Tim O’Brien

When the War Was Over
When the War Was Over

By Elizabeth Becker

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