AFTERLAND

REVIEWS

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.
—Dan Chiasson

★ 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

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
...[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.)
 
...Vang deftly probes the tumultuous history of the Hmong, from the melodic myths of the ancients and the long-hushed horrors of war to the excruciating expense of exile...Vang’s collection interweaves profoundly personal recollections with unflinching glimpses into the circumstances of refugees past...Yet, amid bullets and bees, cyanide and stars, humpbacks and harvests, Vang imbues her imagery not only with loss but also with the remarkable resilience and crystalline spirituality of Hmong lore and language. “Ask me to build our temples / So rooted, so stone, we won’t ever die out,” Vang writes. With this luminous, indelible volume, she’s already built one. 
—Briana Shemroske
 
WASHINGTON INDEPENDENT REVIEW OF BOOKS
...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.
—Grace Cavalieri
 
LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS
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.
—Mark Trecka
 
...Vang digs beneath the chaos of war, searching the very conception of home for any familiar dimensions...her lines blaze with a distinct and vivid imagism...While many of her images ring clear in direct, simplistic tones, Vang is not scared of the murkiness of the experimental. In several poems, the language leaps with surrealist impressions that at once deepen and obscure the poet's searching tenor...These semantic fireworks color the collection's cooler, more settled truths. But it is the latter, the more subtle denouements of Afterland that linger in the mind like smoke, what Vang describes as "the sense/ of an answer."
—Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist, poet and fiction author

THE PARIS REVIEW
In her poems, specters follow refugees like heirlooms, as painful and haunting as they are cherished; mourning and memory are the watchwords for dispossession …she writes about prehistory, loss, and the importance found in remembering it…Vang…succeeds in capsulizing her ancestors’ war-torn identity and consequent diaspora. We now know that traumas are genetically heritable—they’re not isolated instances but cascades of generational grief. What can’t be erased can be overwritten, but only if the pen is bold enough. Vang’s certainly is.
—Jeffery Gleaves
...Vang bears witness to the Secret War in Laos...Perhaps in the literature of witness the intent is psychological and political and historical simultaneously, the desire to grieve and to heal and to protest and to honor. And in these moving and deft poems by Mai Der Vang, the intertwined landscapes of time, place, and self are dreamlike and discursive, evolving and devolving, imbued with memory.
—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.
Elizabeth Willis

TRAVELFISH
...[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...