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3.94  ·  Rating details ·  507 ratings  ·  89 reviews
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 sho
Paperback, 96 pages
Published April 4th 2017 by Graywolf Press
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Average rating 3.94  · 
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Jon Nakapalau
Aug 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Never have I read such a powerful work that humanizes the Hmong experience so personally. Mai Der Vang takes you by the hand and leads you to very emotional and disturbing places; yet she never leaves you there to dwell on the negativity. Highly recommended.
May 13, 2022 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Favorite lines:

"Folio of roads on a hand-woven cape"

"Hem whose pleats are foothills in exile"

"Rain was the old funeral choir that keened of a hemisphere"

"Turn me into starlight lace, riding mud winds at post-thunder."

Favorite poem: Afterland
Apr 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
I'll say upfront that I have a complicated relationship with "poetry as witness" (not my expression but one that applies here). I learn so much from those poems as testimony, as information I need to have, as outrage, but I don't always think the poetic aspects are as prominent as the story.

Afterland falls somewhere in the middle of this. Certainly it is a powerful document about the fate of the Hmong people, their country (Laos) destroyed by the United States and our wars. The pain and sufferin
Jun 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
From Laos to Minnesota, Minnesota to the Central Valley of California, Mai Der Vang chronicles the Hmong refugee experience. From the 18th century to the war that led to their migration, to the varied experiences in the Afterland, America. Loved these immense poems.
Jan 06, 2018 rated it liked it
Perhaps I’m not in the right mindset to have read these poems. To be honest I knew nothing about the Hmong people before starting to read this book, and have since done a little bit of research and intend on reading more about the history of the Hmong.

That being said, there were only a handful of these poems that resonated with me. For the most part, Mai Der Vang writes intensely dense poetry, impenetrable lines that don’t give up their meaning easily. To me they read as stiff and academic. Oft
James Huynh
May 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Incredibly breathtaking. Mai Der's landscape metaphors evoke deeply provoking thoughts regarding the Hmong peoples. ...more
Elizabeth Willis
Feb 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: arc, poetry, small-press
Many thanks to Graywolf for the ARC.

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 cr
Pamela Laskin
Apr 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Just finished reading the most evocative, powerful poetry collection ever, AFTERLAND by Mai Der Vang. She writes about the Hmong population-the lament of her people and the songs of loss and grief that come with war. Each poem sliced through my skin in its silent, grotesque and powerful imagery as these resilient refugees struggled to escape and survive. Every image is staggering. In the poem "Light from a Burning Citadel she begins:

"now I am a Siamese rosewood on fire.
I am a skin of sagging c
Ronnie Jackson
Feb 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
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 comm ...more
250420: quarantine buddy read #3 with keagan! 3.5 stars, but taken as a whole this book is very interesting formally (even if some poems are much better than others).
My review of this book appears on The Rumpus: http://therumpus.net/2017/07/afterlan... ...more
Jul 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
I love poetry and this poet is AMAZING. Every single poem was like watching a dream unfold (or nightmare). Her writing is visual. I adore it. I checked this book out of the library, but I am definitely going to buy a copy. These poems I will read again and again. Mai Der Vang was the winner of the Walt Whitman Award, and she deserves it.
My favorites from this book were: Diadem on Lined Paper, Final Dispatch from Laos

Aug 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Breathless from the beauty of this collection.
Avery Guess
Jan 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, 2018
Mai Der Vang’s debut collection Afterland is composed of gorgeous imagery juxtaposed against the horrors of war and what it means to be in exile. It is also a testament to the power of the written word to protect what is under constant threat of erasure. The aftermath of the war in Laos is explored not just in the cost to people who had to flee, but in the cost to the land—“It’s been forty years of debris / turning stale, and submunitions / still hunt inside the patina of my mud.” Afterland is f ...more
Craig Werner
Afterland will be a lasting touchstone for the Hmong American literary tradition, but you don't need to bring identity issues into play to recognize it as a significant debut, rightfully chosen by Carolyn Forche for the Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets. Vang's poems draw effectively on the still mostly-unknown story of the Hmong diaspora, which plunges into some of the uglier aspects of the Vietnam war, specifically the betrayal of the Hmong (in both Laos and Vietnam) who coop ...more
Apr 13, 2020 rated it liked it
3.5/3.75 stars

I am not sure that "enjoyed" is the right word for a book that challenges the reader like this, but I will say that I enjoyed this collection.

I am torn how to rate it because I felt like there were times that I was struggling up against the poems, against lines that just seemed impenetrable/abstract in a way I wasn't expecting. I often felt stupid because I just could not "get" what the poet was trying to describe.

At other points, I was swallowed whole. The rhythms, the narrative
Aug 19, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Quick, I thought, I’ve gotta read this book before her new one comes out in September. Hah. The first three lines asked something else of me. I am a deep lover of surrealism, and I love thinking about what mind-space different applications of it bring us. In this collection, the ancestors’/family’s past lived in the poet’s bones is a place I’ve needed to come. I needed this surrealism to feel the intensity of this experience. I’m glad my first read of this book was during the Sealey challenge so ...more
Liz Mc2
Apr 28, 2018 added it
Shelves: poetry
Mai Der Vang’s Afterland is a collection of poems “about” Hmong history and experience, destruction and resilience, survival in a new land, after war. Sometimes there are recognizable stories here, but I found these poems strange reading, the images often deliberately—abstract? Oxymoronic isn’t the right word, but she creates strange juxtapositions. Here’s one example: “Today’s bees have swallowed / the last milk of lanterns.” Deliberately estranging and alienating, perhaps, to convey something ...more
Sep 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 comm ...more
Michael Morris
Jul 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Two of the three well-known poets (at least in poetry circles) whose remarks grace the back of this book (including the judge of the contest the author won) called this volume "groundbreaking." It may be, but I am not sure. I do like the poems here very much. Mai Der Vang's imagery and turn of phrase is, most often, fresh and engaging. Her command of voice is astounding; the characters haunt the reader.

However, there a handful of moments where a whiff of the academy comes out. Sometimes it is an
David Anthony Sam
Jul 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Mai der Vang's "Afterland" manages to make surrealistic and visionary poetry accessible. She writes from biography and family history but speaks the universal. Images collide and morph into each other and language and syntax warp away and back into common tongue. I particularly liked:

- Another Heaven
- Original Bones
- After All Have Gone
- Gray Vestige
- This Heft upon YOur Leaving
- Three

Sometimes a poem stretches too far and fails from the surrealism and the warped syntax. But the collection as a
Mary Caliendo
Jun 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Afterland Poems by Mai Der Vang
Gray Wolf Press
Minneapolis, Minnesota
IBSN 978-1-55597-770-2

This poetry collection comes as the winner of The Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets as selected by Carolyn Forche’. MS Forche’ describes this book of poetry as having “deep attention, prismatic intelligence, and fearless truth.
MS Mai Der Vang treats us to deep heartfelt imagery of the Hmong people and its ravage of war. Her poems speak for loss and mourning of her ancestors. She brin
John Madera
Sep 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The poems in Mai Der Vang's Afterland are as engagingly allusive, as imbued with loss, residue, and residual memory as its neologistic title. Highly recommended. ...more
Oct 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Beautiful, lyrical. Occasionally surreal.
Jul 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
A real wreckage of a poetry collection, Afterland is a devastatingly intense experience with little to no let up in its 100 pages. Straight away "Dear Soldier of a Secret War" sets the tone; "Now they've ended the war / The Americans have gone home / Your Hmong village is a graveyard". These are poems of the aftermath, of masacres and limb strewn battlefields, of mess and debris, of the dust barely settled. Yet they are told with only a cold anger and a resigned mourning. They are poems on the a ...more
Jessie (Zombie_likes_cake)
How often does Poetry collection blow your socks off? For me that's not the norm, but to be honest I seem to be getting better at fine tuning into my taste and have had some really bright moments within my poetry reading the last few years. "Afterland" is another shining success for me, I thought this was amazing.

A collection about the Hmong, people without a nation or home country, and a topic I didn't know much about. But I thought these poems in themselves grant a window into the culture and
Cindy Leighton
Apr 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"In mines. Concerning last night's
Attack, seven dead, five injured, four
Gone missing, three arms. Concerning
a forest in combat, alliance of trees,
Countercoup to the coup, concerning
Dominos. They'll arrive to collect
Our eyes, but the vines will have eaten
Us up. As for our feet, we left them behind."

This achingly powerful collection of poems based on Mai Der Vang's experience during the Secret War in Laos, the fleeing to refugee camps in Thailand, the eventual airlift to the US and attempts to mak
Luke Hillier
Dec 31, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
Afterland is my final book of 2019, and I will confess I chose it as one of the slimmer poetry collections I own in order to meet my goal under the wire. I may have appreciated the book more if I'd given myself more time to really marinate in the language and travel more slowly through its pages, however I'm not sure how much of a difference it would make. I think the writer is a tremendously talented poet, but simply not the kind I'm most appreciative of. She weaves a thick web of evocative ima ...more
Kerstin T
Jan 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Winner of the Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets, Mai Der Vang’s Afterland holds us captive in the frighteningly surreal, ravaged landscape of war-torn Laos. With concrete images and specters of fear, each poem details the Hmong people’s loss of both world and ability to exist in a place to which they belong. Especially poignant in today’s “Build That Wall!” political climate, Afterland brings to the flesh the ghosts of the Secret War. Dedicated to “the Ancestors,” the collectio ...more
Artin T
Jun 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
In the book of poems Afterland, the author Mai Der Vang uses descriptive imagery extremely well to tell her story through each poem what it is like being a refugee during a time of war. Mai Der Vang does this by using descriptive imagery such as metaphors and similes that make her poems seem beautiful talking about the Hmong people however, in reality it is a dark documentation of how their land was destroyed by wars. It is no surprise that Mai Der Vangs collection of poems won the 2016 Walt Whi ...more
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