"Must-Read Poetry: February 2019," The Millions
In Reenactments, Hai-Dang Phan grapples with the history, memory, and legacy of the Vietnam War from his vantage point as the son of Vietnamese refugees. Through a kaleidoscope of poetic forms, the past and present, the remembered and imagined, all intersect at shifting angles providing urgent perspectives on conflicts both private and public. Phan weaves throughout the collection stories of his family’s exodus from Vietnam, thoughtfully reenacting an American experience of immigration, dislocation, inheritance, and hope. And, in a fresh move, Phan widens the lens, incorporating translations of several Vietnamese poets. This moving debut marks a vital addition to the literature of immigration and a distinctive contribution to contemporary poetry.
Hai-Dang Phan was born in Vietnam in 1980 and grew up in Wisconsin. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, Best American Poetry 2016, and the chapbook, Small Wars. He is the recipient of an NEA Literature Fellowship, the Frederick Bock Prize from Poetry, and the New England Review Award for Emerging Writers. He currently teaches at Grinnell College and lives in Iowa City, Iowa. Reeanactments is his first book.
PRAISE FOR REENACTMENTS:
“'To make things worse, they are extremely supportive of my choices' is such a strange and quintessentially immigrant utterance. . . .What to do with the guilt we feel that our lives are often so much easier than the lives of our parents? How can any of our fears, anxieties, lonelinesses be worth mentioning when theirs have been so great? For you (and often, for myself), I prescribe Hai-Dang Phan’s “My Father’s ‘Norton Introduction to Literature,’ Third Edition (1981).”
—Kaveh Akbar, The Paris Review
"Phan's debut unflinchingly presents the trauma inherited through cultural memory as a kind of endless war reenactment. In these poems, even the most mundane setting is haunted by living ghosts. . . . These poems are unadorned and ominous in their vision of memory, a clarion that never ceases to alarm or awe."
"Phan’s mixture of original and translated work creates a unique debut that is both singular and anthological."
—Nick Ripatrazone, The Millions
“Hai-Dang Phan is a poet of fearless vision. With brutal and exquisite precision, he reveals that the effort to make art out of the real world—history, memory, and experience—often intensifies a feeling of irresolution. The brilliance of his first book Reenactments: Poems and Translations lies in a deft interrogation of mimesis and, in particular, how representing the history of war and migration for Vietnamese Americans can reify silences, erasures, and cultural dislocations. But Phan also builds a powerful stay against despair through translations that spotlight contemporary Vietnamese poetry while slyly suggesting that no language or history is isolate and every poem may very well be a translation. Such remarkable insights accumulate, and by book’s end I was struck by the immense beauty and feeling of Reenactments and had to read it again.”