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Black Stars: Poems

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“Peace arrives with these beautiful poems.” —MAXINE HONG KINGSTON

A beautifully rendered translation by acclaimed American poet Martha Collins, Black Stars introduces Vietnamese poet Ngo Tu Lap, who is both attached to his war-haunted childhood home and deeply conversant with contemporary global life.

Simultaneously occupying past, present, and future, Black Stars escapes the confines of time and space, suffusing image with memory, abstraction with meaning, and darkness with abundant light. In these masterful translations—printed alongside the original Vietnamese—the poems sing out with the kind of wisdom that comes to those who have lived through war, traveled far, and seen a great deal. While the past may evoke village life and the present a postmodern urban world, the poems often exhibit a dual consciousness that allows the poet to reside in both at once. From the universe to the self, we see Lap’s landscapes grow wider before they focus: black stars receding to dark stairways, infinity giving way to now. Lap’s universe is boundless, but also “just big enough / To have four directions / With just enough wind, rain, and trouble to last.”

ISBN-13: 9781571314598

Media Type: Paperback(Bilingual edition)

Publisher: Milkweed Editions

Publication Date: 11-12-2013

Pages: 104

Product Dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.40(d)

Ngo Tu Lap has published three collections of poetry in Vietnam, as well as five books of fiction, five books of essays, and many translations from Russian, French and English. He has won seven prizes for his writing, which has been translated into English, French, German, Swedish, Czech, and Thai. A fellow of the Korea Foundation for Advanced Studies at Korea University in Seoul in 2010-2011, he is currently Dean of the Department of Social Sciences, Humanities and Economics at the International School (Vietnam National University, Hanoi). Martha Collins is the author of six collections of poetry, most recently Blue Front and White Papers. She has also published two books of co-translations from the Vietnamese. Collins founded the Creative Writing Program at UMass-Boston, and for ten years was Pauline Delaney Professor of Creative Writing at Oberlin College. Editor-at-large for FIELD and an editor for Oberlin College Press, Collins currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her seventh poetry collection, Day Unto Day, is forthcoming from Milkweed Editions in 2014.

Read an Excerpt


The universe and I
Two illusory lands—
Were both born in 1962?

Perhaps the past and future have joined together
Perhaps I’m not even a speck of dust
But sometimes I believe the lies
Of a scar left by the war
Of noble or base desires
Of my hair falling like trees in a rotten forest

Every instant brings proof of sand and dust—
In silent dreams, I start to fly
With the universe, through that forest


Many months have passed, drenched in sweat
But I have returned
To boldly place on the table
Two hands, two five-pointed stars

Stories of war and shipwreck don’t entice me
When I close my eyes, two stars fly into the darkness

To fly is to see how lofty the sky is, how wide the sea
There, in the village, a rooster is crowing
In the scent of burning ricefields, dew is sparkling
Over there is my mother
There, my country

On guns and plows, millions of diligent stars
Are flying in silence
Black stars, black stars

One life might have drifted away
But one has returned
When I open my eyes, two stars alight
Before me
Pulsing, breathing