An important review for Mai Der Vang

The New Yorker praises Fresno poet’s ‘Afterland,’ a piercing look at the Secret War in Laos

Let’s take a moment and revel with Fresno’s Mai Der Vang, whose poetry continues to get the kind of career-boosting national attention that could amplify her into a major voice. The latest pronouncement is a laudatory review in the New Yorker.

Critic Dan Chiasson makes Vang’s new book, the haunting and powerful “Afterland,” the leading item in a roundup of two “remarkable, virtuosic collections from young poets.” Vang’s book, published by Graywolf Press after she won the 2016 Walt Whitman Award, the nation’s most valuable first-book prize for a poet, is a complicated reflection on the “Secret War” in Laos during the Vietnam War era.

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A featured spread in The New Yorker. Photo / Shane Moreman

When I interviewed Vang in April when “Afterland” was released, I asked her if the title alludes to ancestors in the Hmong perception of life after death. Or does it have to do with refugees traveling to a new home?

Her reply:

I think “Afterland” can be any place, terrain or geography in the aftermath of a crisis or conflict. It can be an individual experience or a collective experience rooted in a people’s historical memory. It certainly has to do with the after-place of the refugee, but it also has to do with the after-place of that post-war country from which the refugee has just fled. And in the obvious sense, I found myself also exploring the after-place of the spirit.

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