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3.95  ·  Rating details ·  296 ratings  ·  50 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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Jon(athan) Nakapalau
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.
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.
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.
Elizabeth Willis
Feb 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, small-press, arc
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
My review of this book appears on The Rumpus:
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
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: 2018, poetry
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
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
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

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
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
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
Kerstin Tuttle
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
Andy Oram
Oct 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literature
A very accomplished master of English and of poetry, Mai Der Vang cannot shake (or does not want to shake) her connection to the Laos of her grandparents. Over and over, she returns to that country in this book. She cannot have experienced the war of the US in Laos, having been born here long after that war, but she believably revisits the war in disturbing imagery. As she says, "Sometimes your eyes hide apparitions." Other poems are focused not on the violence of that time, but of the uneasy ad ...more
Sarah Lain
Nov 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Gorgeous, devastating work. Mai der Vang seems to carry whole histories in her poems, and this sense of prophesy—

I’m moving on
To what the world needs me to know.

I am the angel trapped inside the bullet.
I am the exit wound trapped inside the angel.

Am I the scarecrow
Perched at the end of the human trail.

(from Last Body)

I found myself digging into war in Laos (which I knew nothing about), and became totally devastated by the poems, knowing this author’s connection to the history, and imagini
American Andriod
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
Apr 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: would-read-again
A review of Afterland: Poems by Mai Der Vang.
Afterland is non-fiction poetry book filled poems telling a heartbreaking story. The poems follow the history of the authors culture and family This is a read that even though is short page number wise, is long emotionally. This book describes in detail all the hardships the authors family endured, the disappointment of the outcome of all those hardships and the tragedy that swallowed their lifestyle quicker than a tsunami. This is a book that could b
Aug 13, 2018 rated it it was ok
I am not a confident poetry reader/reviewer, but I struggled to get into most of this. You can tell the poet intensely feels the dislocation of herself, her family, and her culture, which made me want to like this collection. Unfortunately, many poems reminded me of refrigerator magnet poetry. They created one strange image after another, but they were so disconnected (or I couldn't see the connections) that they felt incomplete and I couldn't glean much meaning. I liked a few though (favorites ...more
Aug 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Oh my goodness! This is one of the best poetry collections I've read in a while. Mai Der Vang uses her poetry as a vessel for storytelling for her Hmong heritage and the refugee crisis from Laos. She opens the collection with stories of terror and follows people's journeys from refugees to new citizens. Her imagery is absolutely stunning. One of my favorite examples is, "I'll count the weeks, months,/Unfurling each numbered day in my hair./ Frost ribbons inside my brain,/ Canals push up my leg." ...more
Oct 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Vang writes hauntingly personal, historic, and transcendent poems. She writes with striking language that left me gasping for air on my commute. Her poems take effort to read (I often whispered them out loud to myself) but the work pays off, leaving the reader with gorgeous verse describing her life, the history of Hmong people in the United States, and the pain that can exist in quotidian life. Many poems stood out to me but I found the concluding long poem also titled "Afterland" to be particu ...more
Feb 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Taking her family's refugee narrative to the realm of incredibly precise language. Making sure her contemporary voice doesn't overshadow the past but enhances it. A concision of voice that often surprises, needs to be read again. The only reason I didn't give it five stars is because, at times, I felt like the poet was trying, somehow, too hard, to be "poetic" and maybe slightly too reserved. Some of the poems were nuts too hard to crack.
Jan 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Best way to learn about the world is through the eyes of a poet. Mai Der Vang is a Hmong American writer, daughter of Laotian refugees. These poems tell the story of her people, the Secret War with Ho Chi Min during the Vietnam era, the flight of her people, the refugee experience, their heritage. The language is economical and evocative.

Thsi book won the 2016 Walt Whitman prize and was long-listed for the National Book Award for poetry in 2017.
Patti K
Sep 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
A first book of poetry came out last year about
the struggles of the Hmong people who helped the US
in their secret war in Laos during the Vietnam War.
Her family were neglected and left behind with no
support. They had to emigrate to the US, but still find
bias and suspicion everywhere they go. Poignant, powerful
work that teaches us some more of the secret pains of war.
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