THE NEW YORKER
[Afterland] reminds us what a distinctive instrument the human imagination is, no matter what tune it plays. There is a story in this book, and an important one...Vang writes strikingly, often chillingly visual poems, their images projected one at a time, like slides in a lecture, or perhaps in a trial...The poems can feel like environments rather than narratives: they develop according to our wary movement through them, simultaneously registering both our outward point of view and our inner commentary...Afterland works its wonders with an intentionally rationed vocabulary, its counters combined and recombined in poem after poem: stars, water, hair, bones, fire...The style creates an atmosphere of impending marvels, and many of Vang’s poems perform, in words, the transformations that they describe...[Afterland] is among the most satisfying débuts by an American poet in some time.
★ LIBRARY JOURNAL
...From the first page, the writing is visceral and potent...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
...[S]inewy and unflinching debut...Vang explores the depths of her inherited trauma...and she shares the experience of the Hmong diaspora by chronicling the physical displacement of her people and a deep and reverberating spiritual disruption. Vang suffuses her poems with unnerving details of strife, which her attention to emotion and texture keep from feeling lifeless...(Apr.)
...Mai Der Vang’s the historian of her ancestors from a burned world. She translates herself into the shatter and emerges as a goddess of history — painful, yes, but how amazing that language can savor to make awful things beautiful. Nothing is engineered or manipulated — line after line flow like a satin ribbon burning at each end with terrible truths...This writer makes it happen now with powerful indictments and reprisals in language where, after reading, nothing will ever be the same. This is a blazing book with lyrics that aspire to Mai Der Vang as a major luminary.
Afterland’s voice seems to transmigrate, riding the trance of memory from one image to the next. . . . Vang’s work moves in the realms of ecstatic appeal where meaning is revealed cumulatively. Her ambient revelations read more like incantations. . . . [She] tumbles headlong into the realms of memory and dream, expertly crafting fine and elegant passages on her way.
—Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist, poet and fiction author
THE PARIS REVIEW
—Beth Sutton-Ramspeck and Doug Ramspeck
AVID BOOKSHOP | Athens, GA
Afterland is a storm; it is lightning illuminating the night ‘with the kind of light that can only/ Be found in the dark.’ Mai Der Vang’s poems are a reaching-out: to ancestors, to origins. She traces these origins from China, centuries past, to the Hmong exodus from Laos, to her family’s immigration to the U.S., in order to grasp onto a history that cries out with the ‘howls’ of the ‘clattering deceased.’ In this way her poems are a remembrance, but also a creation story of Hmong refugees in America. She meditates again and again upon people, especially the dead, as Story: ‘our/ bodies will be books...When the words burn, all that's left is ash.’ Vang’s poems are an important and timely evocation of so many dead, and so many still living, within a war-torn world, and within a nation that would deny their right to live peaceful lives.
...[T]hese are poems to sit with a while, and to return to dip into again...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...