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.”
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Praise and Prizes
“Reading Ngo Tu Lap’s poems, terrible nostalgia wells up in me—nostalgia for a lost time and a far-gone country, nostalgia for people I’ve loved, and for creatures of forests and rivers. The French called PTSD nostalgie. I feel gratitude too. War is over. Peace arrives with these beautiful poems.”
“Underlying tensions animate these arresting poems by Ngo Tu Lap, movingly translated by Martha Collins and the author. Coinhabiting past and present, the speaker conflates absence and presence so that ‘On the finger of a woman who died young / A ring still sparkles / In the depths of the black earth.’ Inside this dual perspective, we, as readers, are enriched.”
“A light flickers in and among the shadows and darkness we find in Ngo Tu Lap’s poetry. This light is ineffable, and yet utterly present. As Lap writes, it is like ‘the whispered call of a star at the edge of the sky.’ In these vivid and moving translations, Lap’s poems come to us with the light of his own whispered calls from afar.”
“Through this book, Ngo Tu Lap takes flight from his youth with a narrative flow that bears the imprint of our greatest ancient poets. We can only rejoice that Lap’s lifelong horrors are transformed into dream-like images, becoming elegant amendments to a disgraceful time in history. All that is ugly is redeemed by his descriptive writing, poetic restraint, and ennobling experience.”