The Secret of Hoa Sen

"Que Mai takes us deep into the earth with 'earthworms who know how to sing the eternal song of emerald grass.' She brings forth the music in each rice plant blossoming in the lullaby of her grandma who died during the Great Famine. Through the suffering of war and greed and the celebration of life, these poems originate in the depths of mud and rise, like the lotus flower whose petals magically take flight, bringing us its truth and freedom." - Teresa Mei Chuc, author of Red Thread: Poems

"These penetrating poems, published in bilingual English and Vietnamese, build new bridges between two cultures bound together by war and destruction. The Secret of Hoa Sen, Que Mai's first full-length U.S. publication, shines with craft, art, and deeply felt humanity." - BOA Editions, New York

 "These straightforward, personal poems lament and celebrate with the landscape—the smells, colors, and people of her country—that is their touchstone ... But Nguyen also sings for the alienated orphans of the Vietnam War; for garment workers in Bangladesh; for the victims of Typhoon Bopha in the Philippines; and for mothers across the globe in perilous circumstances ... Mai writes with a nostalgic yet detail-oriented eye." - Publishers Weekly. Read more

"Nguyen Phan Que Mai’s poetry collection is firmly rooted in the Vietnamese tradition, though her poems—or, rather, full-blown songs—also travel to Bhutan, Bangladesh, and other locales. The Secret of Hoa Sen is a collection about the earth-born: family, feeding, sustenance, and how these are intimately connected to the earth. This is what makes the poems stand out from the recent trend in writing about the urban familial settings, but this is not to say that the poems are limited to pastoral settings. Nguyen’s co-translator Bruce Weigl rightly describes the collection in the introduction as 'a global poetry, necessary for our troubled times.' ... Ms. Nguyen’s voice is simple, but full of compassion, and there is both the quality of the earth and the wind in her poetry, an embracing lushness." —Asymptote. Read more

"The author writes eloquently about family, femaleness and the sensual beauty of her country. When she writes of place, I feel that I am walking past the rice shoots in a long ago world." —Omaha World-Herald. Read more

"While there are dark, gritty elements at play, Que Mai’s work does not lose itself to despair. She crafts subtleties in sentiment without being overly sentimental." —Los Angeles Review of Books. Read more

"Nguyen’s poetic attention is diverse and wide in scope, but never far from her country and family... Reading this collection by Nguyen, one cannot help but feel that each poem is written into the Vietnamese landscape of the poet’s imagination. Not carved, but delicately inscribed; so as to preserve the beauty of a country whose wounds must not define it."  —Poetry International Review. Read more

Poetry is an effective and beautiful way to deal with the horrific aspects of war that have marked all of us. Those who have been avoiding Vietnam War poetry should try this book (the Secret of Hoa Sen). You might find it surprisingly affecting. --Vietnam Veterans of America. Read more

"This poet, in her earthy tenderness and vivid imagery, conveys the experience of women who work the earth with their hands, and who know the deep emotional suffering of war: pregnant women who survive bombings, or women who call out for their dead children or husbands. Through the rendering of these lyrical narratives and through a careful reconstruction of her own lineage, Nguyen Phan Que Mai creates a portrait of woman that is both fractured and resilient. Perhaps through her unrelenting lullabies she finally sings the ancestors to sleep." Poetry Foundation. Read more.


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US Book Tour – The Secret of Hoa Sen:

Nguyen Phan Que Mai is honored to be invited to the US for the tour of her new book:

  • February 26, 2015: Poetry Reading at Georgia Tech University (Poetry@Tech - Atlanta)
  • March 1, 2015: Poetry Sunday Event (Lannan Foundation - New Mexico)
  • March 5, 2015: Vietnamese Poetry & Poetry Workshop (Writers & Books Literary Center - Rochester)
  • March 6, 2015: Vietnamese Poetry & Poetry Workshop (Writers & Books Literary Center - Rochester)
  • March 6, 2015 (Evening): Poetry Reading (Writers & Books Literary Center - Rochester)
  • March 9 &10, 2015: Distinguished Visiting Faculty and Poetry Reading at Poets House (New York City).