Year of the Dog by Deborah Paredez

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The poet, scholar, and critic Deborah Paredez, a Professor of Creative Writing and Ethnic Studies at Columbia University, is the daughter of a Vietnam War veteran. The title of her new book, Year of the Dog (BOA Editions, 128 pp. $17, paper; $9.99, e book), refers to 1970, the year Paredez was born and the year that her father, a Mexican immigrant, deployed to the war zone.

Paredez divides the book into three sections: The first (53 pages) contains personal poems such as a self-portrait in flesh and stone and hearts and minds. The second is about Kim Phuc and the famous photograph of her being burned by napalm. The third deals with subjects along the lines of those explored in Trinh T. Min-ha’s 1989 documentary Surname Viet, Given Name Nam, which looks at the lives of Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American women.

Some of the poems, including those about Kim Phuc, are difficult to read because of the painful subject, but they must be read. Dozens of photographs are distributed throughout the book, which add greatly the power of Paredez’s words.

Here are a couple of stanzas from “Mother Tongue” that give the flavor of what the book holds in store:

If I could bite my tongue

And have it split into two

Whole daughters that split

Again in endless fission

-ing splitting the very thing

Keeping their whole line

Going—If I could I would

Watch my tongue and its

Tongue-set wagging

Their tails, some silver-

Tongued some wicked—I’d hold my tongue

Out like an offering or a battalion

This is a book of powerful poems about pain and politics and war.

–David Willson