poet

Mai Der Vang

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Mai Der Vang

Mai Der Vang was born on October 20, 1981, in California’s Central Valley. She earned her MFA in poetry from Columbia University where she was awarded the Corrente Poetry Fellowship. Vang received her BA in English from the University of California, Berkeley. 

Her debut poetry collection, Afterland, was selected by Carolyn Forché as the winner of the 2016 Walt Whitman Award, given by the Academy of American Poets, and was published by Graywolf Press in April 2017.

About Afterland Forché writes:

Afterland has haunted me. I keep returning to read these poems aloud, hearing in them a language at once atavistic, contemporary, and profoundly spiritual. Mai Der Vang confronts the Secret War in Laos, the flight of the Hmong people, and their survival as refugees. That a poet could absorb and transform these experiences in a single generation—incising the page with the personal and collective utterances of both the living and the dead, in luminous imagery and a surprising diction that turns both cathedral and widow into verbs, offering both land and body as swidden (slashed and burned)—is nothing short of astonishing. Here is deep attention, prismatic intelligence, and fearless truth.

Vang’s poems have appeared in Ninth Letter, The JournalThe Cincinnati ReviewThe Missouri Review OnlineRadarAsian American Literary ReviewThe Collagist, and elsewhere. Her essays have been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the San Francisco Chronicle, among others. As an editorial member of the Hmong American Writers’ Circle, she is coeditor of How Do I Begin: A Hmong American Literary Anthology (Heydey, 2011).

She has received residencies from Hedgebrook and is a Kundiman fellow. Vang lives in Fresno, California, where she works as a writing/creative consultant.

by this poet

poem

We cross under
the midnight shield
and learn that bullets

can curse the air.
A symposium
of endangered stars

evicts itself to
the water. Another
convoy leaves the kiln.

The crowded dead
turn into the earth’s
unfolded bed sheet.

We drift near banks,

poem

First, the sting
in your nose.

Then in your eyes,
a furnace flared

To hollow
your face.

Flies above
your empty sockets.

Maggots made
your split skin.

Another cow dies
from breathing

as you swallowed
from the same air.

How many days before

poem

Mid-1700s, Southwestern China

Lightning is the creature who carries a knife.

Two months now,
The rains hold watch.

Statues bury in teak
Smeared with old egret’s blood.

I feel the pulse of this inferno,
Tested by the hour to know

That even torches must not waver

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