Poor Anima

Year of Award


Document Type

Professional Paper - Campus Access Only

Degree Type

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)

Degree Name

Creative Writing (Poetry)

Department or School/College

Department of English

Committee Chair

Elizabeth Robinson

Commitee Members

Ed Skoog, Kathryn Shanley


Negotiations, Compression, Hauntology


University of Montana


At the root of this project is the struggle of my bicultural identity—the practice of composing in a non-native language and the act of speaking one’s native language that possesses no written form (though captured in the synthetic Romanized Popular Alphabet, initially for religious conversion, and now, for study, for something). As a second-generation Hmong-American, I am constantly haunted by the Hmong narrative, a story that is “inherently” my own as it is unbelonging to me, elements of my core being stemming from that of the Secret War in Vietnam, diaspora, and cultural brokenness. The poems presented here exhaustively meditate on such chaos, both internal and external, (the humility of) the Hmong life, a life of exile. More intimately, these poems examine speech locked inside the body, violence inflicted upon the self (and onto others), the weight of worthlessness despite “Hmong” meaning “one who is free”—one who is free of worthlessness. The “use” of language (particularly writtenness) is an integral part of my inquiry into said identity, making the writing experience an ultimate, ritualistic paradox of praying, seeing, and meditating. Like many tribal groups, the Hmong’s orally based culture emphasizes the function of the ear—the ability to listen, a super sense to be exercised for awareness—and the mouth for the ability to converse and tell stories. A hybrid of listening and telling stories can be found in the art of "hais kwv txhiaj," or sung poetry, an important practice for every Hmong man or woman. These songs or poems are essentially spoken, improvisational ballads that touch on life experiences or themes of said experiences—being a young adult, an orphan, and or a widow to name a few—each song revealing complex landscapes of both body and mind, and their relationship to the world. While I never successfully learned how to sing my own “life stories,” I chose the foreign art of writing as a form of channeling my own songs, letting the page face my pain, my hunger for belonging and truth, internalizing the inscapes of my fears, those songs that continue to haunt.

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