Mong-Lan, poet, writer, painter, photographer, and Argentine tango dancer, left her native Vietnam on the last day of the evacuation of Saigon in 1975.
Mong-Lan's first book of poems, Song of the Cicadas, won the 2000 Juniper Prize, the 2002 Great Lakes Colleges Association's New Writers Awards for Poetry and was a finalist for the Poetry Society of America's Norma Farber First Book Award.
Her other books of poetry include Why is the Edge Always Windy?; Love Poem to Tofu and Other Poems and Tango: a Seismology (forthcoming) .
She received her Master of Fine Arts from the University of Arizona, was the recipient of a Wallace E. Stegner Fellowship in poetry for two years at Stanford University, and was a Fulbright Fellow in Vietnam.
Her poetry has been frequently anthologized, and she has read her poetry, lectured and/or given academic presentations in Argentina, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Switzerland, United States, Thailand and Vietnam.
Her paintings and photographs have been exhibited for one year at the Capitol House in Washington D.C., in galleries in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, for six months at the Dallas Museum of Art, in public exhibitions in Tokyo, Bali, Bangkok and Seoul.
The following interview was conducted in 2005:
AAP: Congratulations on getting Why is the Edge Always Windy? out! How long did it take for you to write it?
Thanks. I first finished it in 2000, with a different title. Then finished it again in 2001, with yet a different title. Then in 2003, I finished it again, with yet another different title. Every year I’ve been looking at it and seeing something that needed to be revised. During those years, I was working on a different book of poems on the Argentine tango, which was finished, yet needed to be revised.
AAP: When did you know it was complete?
I worked on it until I thought it was right.
AAP: Has your family been supportive of you as a writer?
They would’ve preferred that I become a medical doctor, like the rest of the family. Though, I do think that at this point in my life, I think they are supportive of me.
AAP: It looks like you've been all over. Do you feel your experiences in these different geographical locations has had a specific bearing on your work?
I think so. Traveling and living in many places informs my experiential reservoir, and this is what I draw from when writing.
AAP: The official blurb text describes Why Is the Edge Always Windy as a stunning book of revelations, nightmares, and love poems, cross-cultural and historically compelling, and talks about your "being" in many cities, among other things.
But going deeper than that, what conclusions, if any, does Why Is the Edge Always Windy propose? What ties these themes all together for you?
The work is a collection of poems written during a period of time, during these awful times. Perhaps one conclusion of many would be that going to war is ultimately a mistake, and that peaceful measures should be taken at all costs before going to war.
I think that the basic theme would be that we are all connected, all nations, all peoples, and that before creating violence and havoc in the world, we should realize this connectedness within ourselves and outside of ourselves, and try to live in peace. This is the gloss.
But the poems are basically all love poems, because in the end, all poems are love poems..
AAP: Is there a particular poem that you think would serve as a good introduction to your work?
The prose poem “Sand, Flies and Fish” from my first collection, Song of the Cicadas, would be good to start out.
AAP: How has response from the Vietnamese community been to your work?
Positive, I think. Some of my poems have been translated into Vietnamese, and I have been formally “introduced” to the Vietnamese public in various Vietnamese literary journals and newspapers. The Vietnamese-American community, likewise, has been equally positive, if not more so.
AAP: What’s been the most difficult thing for you as a writer?
Finding publishers for my writing. There is less and less funding now for literary works of art, less funding for university presses.
AAP: What’s next for you?
More writing. As mentioned earlier, I finished a book of poems on the Argentine tango, called Milonga: A Seismology. I’m looking for a publisher for this right now. Also, I’m working on a multimedia art project that would include dance and video. As you might know, I am also a visual artist.
AAP: Who have some of your favorite writers been?
Adrienne Rich, Hart Crane, Pablo Neruda, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Marcel Proust, Camus are just a few.
AAP: How do you find time to balance your personal life, your professional life and writing?
It’s difficult, and perhaps I’m not balanced, but I just try my best. What I can’t do, I just accept and try not to regret.
AAP: What attracts you to poetry more than, say, the short story form, or play writing or the novel?
Well, I’m writing short stories now, have tried to write plays, and have flirted with the novel form. All of these genres are attractive to me, and perhaps some day, if I live long enough, I would write something of value in each of these genres.
AAP: Do you have any advice for younger writers?
Of course, read as much as you can of good writing and work hard at your craft. There are no other substitutes; nothing comes easy. Even Mozart worked hard day and night.