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Afterland
Cover of Afterland
Afterland
Poems
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The 2016 winner of the Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets, selected by Carolyn Forché

When I make the crossing, you must not be taken no matter what
the current gives. When we reach the camp,

there will be thousands like us.
If I make it onto the plane, you must follow me to the roads
and waiting pastures of America.

We will not ride the water today on the shoulders of buffalo
as we used to many years ago, nor will we forage
for the sweetest mangoes.

I am refugee. You are too. Cry, but do not weep.

—from "Transmigration"

Afterland is a powerful, essential collection of poetry that recounts with devastating detail the Hmong exodus from Laos and the fate of thousands of refugees seeking asylum. Mai Der Vang is telling the story of her own family, and by doing so, she also provides an essential history of the Hmong culture's ongoing resilience in exile. Many of these poems are written in the voices of those fleeing unbearable violence after U.S. forces recruited Hmong fighters in Laos in the Secret War against communism, only to abandon them after that war went awry. That history is little known or understood, but the three hundred thousand Hmong now living in the United States are living proof of its aftermath. With poems of extraordinary force and grace, Afterland holds an original place in American poetry and lands with a sense of humanity saved, of outrage, of a deep tradition broken by war and ocean but still intact, remembered, and lived.

The 2016 winner of the Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets, selected by Carolyn Forché

When I make the crossing, you must not be taken no matter what
the current gives. When we reach the camp,

there will be thousands like us.
If I make it onto the plane, you must follow me to the roads
and waiting pastures of America.

We will not ride the water today on the shoulders of buffalo
as we used to many years ago, nor will we forage
for the sweetest mangoes.

I am refugee. You are too. Cry, but do not weep.

—from "Transmigration"

Afterland is a powerful, essential collection of poetry that recounts with devastating detail the Hmong exodus from Laos and the fate of thousands of refugees seeking asylum. Mai Der Vang is telling the story of her own family, and by doing so, she also provides an essential history of the Hmong culture's ongoing resilience in exile. Many of these poems are written in the voices of those fleeing unbearable violence after U.S. forces recruited Hmong fighters in Laos in the Secret War against communism, only to abandon them after that war went awry. That history is little known or understood, but the three hundred thousand Hmong now living in the United States are living proof of its aftermath. With poems of extraordinary force and grace, Afterland holds an original place in American poetry and lands with a sense of humanity saved, of outrage, of a deep tradition broken by war and ocean but still intact, remembered, and lived.

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About the Author-
  • Mai Der Vang is an editorial member of the Hmong American Writers' Circle and coeditor of How Do I Begin: A Hmong American Literary Anthology. Her essays have appeared in The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and The Washington Post.
Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    Starred review from January 1, 2017

    Poets such as Quan Barry and Ocean Voung have brought us face to face with the Vietnam War, and now Vang, an editorial member of the Hmong American Writers' Circle, reminds us that the war in Laos--the largest CIA paramilitary operation ever--was equally horrific. From the first page, the writing is visceral and potent; in 1975, when "your Hmong village is a graveyard," a son's head lies "in the rice/ pounder, shell-crumbled," and a brother's tongue is cut out, boiled, and "forced down your throat," an American returning home says casually, "Sorry about your mountains." The reader staggers as the next poem says, "I am a skin of sagging curtain.../ I am locked in the ash oven of a forest." Vang then moves on the refugee experience, as her parents leave Laos, "a herd of horses never/ To reclaim their steppes," and live amid "Rusted sedan, wire zipline/ to stapled roof//," bringing the bitter proclamation, "My parents fled for this." Throughout, Vang keeps the energy ratcheted up to the tightest turn of the wrench. VERDICT An especially accomplished debut--it won the 2016 Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets, a first-book publication prize--this is important reading.--Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

    Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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Poems
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