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     behind the image, the imagination

                                                        --Mong-Lan

                                                     

 

Book Jacket: "Song of the Cicadas" by Mong-Lan

Song of the Cicadas

  • Winner of the 2000 Juniper Prize

  • Winner of the 2002 Great Lakes Colleges Association's New Writers Awards for Poetry.

  • Finalist for the Poetry Society of America's Norma Farber First Book Award

Summary of book:  click here

Published by the the University of

Massachusetts Press, USA, May 2001. 

Cover photo, cover design, & sketches

inside book by Mong-Lan.

Order it now at your local bookseller, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, UMASS Press.

ISBN: 1558493077

 

Read poems:

 

Listen to Mong-Lan read from Song of the Cicadas:

In this striking first collection of poems, the grainy strangeness of the modern world is transformed into a place at once knowable and enduring. Mông-Lan conveys the certainty that even when the world stops making sense, decency and beauty somehow survive. From Saigon to San Francisco, she combines the earthly and the ecstatic, the animal and the sublime, to create lyrics that tempt and haunt.

 

"Welcome to a poetic voice that represents no less than a manifestation of soul. In Mông-Lan’s debut book, she has taken on the daunting responsibility of representing the Vietnamese nation and culture, via imagery, consciousness, and memory. Hers is a stunning experiment and a historical imperative."   

--Jane Miller

 

"In Asian tradition, poetry and visual art go hand in hand, with the collaboration of work, image, and calligraphy. Mông-Lan’s first book renews this tradition for American poetry, and with a startling subject matter. Her poems and drawings dealing with Viet Nam reflect the awe, the anger, and the mourning of the expatriate who returns to the country of her birth. Brilliantly exact observation of people and places here is paradoxical evidence that this land is no longer entirely her own. We sense that she also values what she brings from her adoptive culture–a new language, a new aesthetic, and the conviction that a woman artist has special insights to offer on the subject of armed conflict and its aftermath. From visual beauty, human suffering, and verbal inventiveness, Mông-Lan stakes out a poetic territory that is completely her own." 

--Alfred Corn

 

"Mông-Lan is a remarkably accomplished poet. Always her poems are deft, extremely graceful in the way words move, and in the cadence that carries them. One is moved by the articulate character of ‘things seen,’ the subtle shifting of images, and the quiet intensity of their information. Clearly she is a master of the art." 

--Robert Creeley

 

Summary:  Mong-Lan, a visual artist as well as writer, weaves three cultures into her Song of the Cicadas:  American, Vietnamese and Mexican. She writes of the new Vietnam, after it opened its doors to the world in the ‘90s: Hanoi, the capital, and Saigon-Ho Chi Minh City; Vinh Long, the Mekong delta; Hue, and the Khe Sanh battlefield.  The costs of war in Vietnam, the costs of war to the human soul. She writes of the Mexico of Oaxaca, Guanajuato, and the Mayan ruins. She writes of  the American Southwest and California’s San Francisco bay area. Love poems  are sprinkled throughout the book. “Song of Cicadas,” the title poem of the book, is a crown of sonnets. There are tributes to Marguerite Duras, Hart Crane, and a Laotian aunt.

Throughout, Mong-Lan experiments with language, emotion, and experience.  She tests the range of emotion, through experimentation with line breaks,  syncopation, syntax, and punctuation. Her line breaks and scattered lines attest to the fragmentation of our lives, and call to our attention the very breath within us. For she believes that if we but listen to them, our hearts and breaths will save us from the terrors of war and from ourselves. Her beautiful drawings like breaths themselves are sprinkled throughout.

 

 

 

 


 

"Grotto" was originally published in The Kenyon Review.

 

Grotto

 

Vinh Ha Long  (Bay of the Landing Dragon), Tonkin Gulf

 

 

1

 

 

 

 

                                   The rower   gaunt as his oar   

                       lets us out   conscious

                                                of not getting his 5,000 dong

     he stands ankles in cool water

                                    holding onto the state-owned boat

                        for support        his skin  the same color

            as the mud                                   my eyes follow

                                    the morning tides ebbing

            from the dock

                                     (flash of residue

                        undulating)      turquoise solid

                               as the mountains       mold has blackened

                                        the boat's belly       

                     lapping at it   

                                      clear water runs over sky

 

 

            grotto of swimming bats    I do not swallow

the darkness        rocks under my feet

                                    are piranhas' mouths if I miss a step

 

        stalagmite meeting stalactites     coincidences

                         taking forever to form

 


 

 
 

 

 

 

 

                                                    2

 

                                 the eclipse's purple cast

               throws everyone

                                                off balance

            inside   she clutches onto the image 

                   of her lover   in case she falls

                                                her body  a black and white lily

                                                            against the gorge

               of sky         this morning she ate nothing

                                               but a banana to quell

                                        her upset stomach

a well drips its musical water

                                                       in the back  rock-kings play chess

                             a centuries-old tournament

                                                             neither wins

 

            dusky unbirth of pre-memory

                             she forgets to bring a flashlight

to disarm the rocks    stalagmites

                        a line of prayer to hook

                                                               her thoughts

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                   3

 

 

 

         bats swallow my shadow

                                when the ocean swallows us

               from these pages  what will the sky speak

                            of    the bat grottos?

                                       twenty years     the ugliness

                  forgotten

 

   back to port:  bone sky

           mist bleeds over the mountain ridges

                                     over the water  barges snailing

 

   racket of diesel motors

              a huge stone head

                                   imagining us  

         two rocks    two cocks fighting

                            a vigilant rockdog stares in silence

 

                      my hand on the horizon

                                                 of its tail the scaly sieve

 

 

 

 

 


"Field" was originally published in The Kenyon Review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Field

 

 

 

 

                    Crows land like horses’ neighs

                                 rush of rocks

 

                 how many buffaloes

                        does it take to plow a disaster?

                                      how many women to clean

                               up the mess?

 

 

                     shoots of incense 

                                              hotly in her hands

             she bows towards the tombstones

                               face of her son

                 how many revolutions for us to realize?

 

 

                        her windless grey hair

  becomes her    she knows this

                                                          there is no reason

                       to dye what she’s earned

 

                                      rain quiet as wings

                         on her back

 

                           

 
     


 

"Sand, Flies & Fish" was originally published in Quarterly West.

   

   

From "Sand, Flies & Fish"  (Parts 1-3 of 9)

     

 

 

1

 

I take a glass of the expiring sun, sipping it.  Cambodia's terse mountains to my right.  the Gulf of Thailand in front of me.  the border police in their rumpled uniforms are still as backdrop characters.  the hot sun mats their hair down in neat sweat lines.  a white gull pecks at black sand.  the sand is so black you think you're close to hell.   I wait for the sun to come down on the sea.  nausea for it.  in the evenings the national Vietnamese news blares from loudspeakers.  world's slow motions.  fires' haze.  sky's blood draining over boneless ocean.

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

2

even if I described detail by detail to you, the whole would escape you.  how can you see the southern edge of the continent--   what would that matter?  or the black sand grading into the blueness of the sea, or the vigilant Cambodian mountains.  what would it matter if I told you ships dock in front of my window.  that when not in my room, I wander through villages eating dirt, whatever I can beg.   it happens to a woman.  these things happen.  these accidents.   I watch my stomach bloat with the seed of a man who was a shadow.   I pick at the salt crop gleaming in evening light, and steal whatever I can to sell in the markets.  the land's lungs are strong.  it fills my baby's ears with its tenor. 

 

 

  

   

 

3

this edge of the world is a knife.  the motorcycle taxi drivers wait humped, clocks on the dock, that dulled look for a customer.  everything an illusion of another.   

 

 

 

To finish reading this poem, please purchase the book:  Amazon.com.

   


   

 

"A New Viet Nam" was originally published in Five Fingers Review.

 

 

 

 

A New Viet Nam

 

 

 

 

1

 

 

                                                            sweat of bolts & nails

                               muscle like steel & metal

 

                architects’ work at a ripping pitch

                                                                pounding out a new capitol

 

                                                      around the lakes   

                                morning to evening     the ground explodes

                                                        liquid concrete

           mercury ambling down streets

                                            

                  you think you are the noise

 

         men pick at French-laid concrete like crows

 

                               shovels and picks at shoulders

                   they stand    knees in earth

 

                                                                 pain trots down the street  

 

 

 

          how life would’ve been       more than noise

 

                                                       how events should’ve happened

 

         


 

 

 

 

 

2

 

 

 

   Hue --  what do you make of chance

                                    life's but a dollar a day

 

                         what should you say when a person

dies each day in the Demilitarized Zone         scrounging for scrap metal

shrapnel     unexploded

                                  bullets & bombs on trays like shrimp

           before tourists?

 

the hills     now there    now disappearing

              white claws stream down     from dumped chemicals

                                                                               a fun house of horror

 

 

still after decades the Khe Sanh Combat Base

                  is nearly flat; the Ho Chi Minh trail winds

thirty minutes to Laos, & National Highway 1 threading

                          the country in one

 

 

is it chance that the Hue dialect is a giddy

                                                                          fish never to be hooked?

 

 

the language is imagined by the land's vapors

                                  fluctuating hills

                                              the mirage of white sand

 by dreams of the brood

                           of cows walking through white mountains

 

 

               a woman fries her smoky meal

                                                       next to a moon crater

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

3

 

 

 

   honey-moon light swoops over the valleys

                                                                      upon the Da Lat mountains

                                                      like squadrons

 

 

 a man buys two bunches of bananas in half a second

             I linger    & face the remark

                                              of the vendor       "chui nao cung nhu vay het

co hien qua      di vao buon ban di"

    (“the bananas are all the same   you’re too naive   go into business”)

 

 

I pass the Nuclear Research Center    

                                                   prop from an old movie

                   on a deserted mountain   

 

  toward the Domaine de Marie Convent        a pink

church   “once house to 300 nuns”                    someone waves

 

 

 then past the cemetery   a mountain of crosses

                                                                            which doesn’t stop rising


 

 


 

Links to other poems on the web
   

From Jacket 13, a co-production with New American Writing, "Three-Auricled Heart"

 

From Jacket 19 — October 2002, in collaboration with Verse Magazine:  "Coyote"

 

 

 


   

Copyright © 2001-2010  by Mong-Lan. All rights reserved.  Website created by Mong-Lan. Please respect the fact that all artwork and writing (except where indicated) and poetry on this website are copyrighted by Mong-Lan. It may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced, without her written permission.