May Huang reviews a stunning debut collection of poems.
Hai-Dang Phan, Reenactments: Poems and Translations (Sarabande Books, 2019), 88pp.
To “reenact” is to repeat an event that took place in the past, often through performance. Reenactments, Hai-Dang Phan’s stunning debut collection of poems and translations, is a platform for a series of reenactments that explore the legacy of the Vietnam War. Like a stage production, the poems often blur the boundary between truth and fiction as they retell different versions of the past. The poem that begins the collection, “Small Wars,” starts with a line that may appear harmless when lifted out of context: “it was my turn to play dead.” And yet, over the course of the poem, the speaker’s pretend death begins to feel too real: “black smoke seeped into my eyes and blood rushed to my head.” Throughout the collection, Phan shows how the trauma of…
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