Postcards from the End of [the] America[n Empire]

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Monday, July 17, 2017

I was just interviewed by Rob Seimetz and Bruce Wright.

The episode can be heard via this link.



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Sunday, July 16, 2017

On Nationalism

As published at OpEd News, Lew Rockwell, Unz Review and Intrepid Report, 7/16/17:





Imagine all the people living for today
Imagine there’s no countries.
It isn’t hard to do.
Nothing to kill or die for,
And no religion too.
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace.
You may say I’m a dreamer,
But I’m not the only one.
I hope some day you’ll join us,
And the world will be as one.

If you like these lyrics, you’re most likely to be young, progressive and/or a Westerner. A video of the song begins with John and Yoko walking through a misty woods towards an elegant mansion. Above the door, there’s a sign, “THERE IS NO HERE,” a clear reference to Thomas More’s Utopia, which literally means “no place.” Whereas More was being satirical, Lennon sang “Imagine” quite earnestly, and his admirers see it as an ideal. Considering how things are going in the West, they feel closer to this goal of having no countries than ever. Borders are bad, and nationalism is just another word for Fascism, they believe.

Ensconced in his sumptuous Tittenhurst Park estate, Lennon crooned, “Imagine no possessions. I wonder if you can.” No, I can’t, John. Mi casa es tu casa is just a figure of speech, amigo. Interviewed by National Public Radio in 2006, Jimmy Carter actually claimed, “And of course, as you know, in many countries around the world—my wife and I have visited about 125 countries—you hear John Lennon’s song ‘Imagine’ used almost equally with national anthems.”

There is a 2004 film, It’ll Never Last, that’s about three British women with foreign husbands. Aristocratic Alexandra Tolstoy fell in love with a Muslim horseman while on a ten-month trip along the Silk Road. After the wedding, she moved into his grim, Soviet-era apartment on the outskirts of Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Patricia from Belfast married Tiziano and moved to Rimini, Italy.

Oxford-graduate Gemma Burford married a Massai warrior and moved into a rural house without running water or electricity in Tanzania.

If differences between countries were merely cosmetic and trivial, for we’re all the same, after all, these women should have been able to adjust well enough to their new environments, but none of these marriages lasted, and the first one to call it quit, even before the film ended, was Patricia. One might think that this is rather surprisingly, for she didn’t move into that foreign a culture, but of course all societies are alien to any other, and that’s why we have 196 countries, with each subdivided even further. Just as Idaho is not Mississippi, your average Bavarian wouldn’t want to move to Saxony.

Language isn’t just communication but a shared heritage, so if you can’t quite master a new tongue, you don’t quite belong in that community. At her wedding, Patricia pronounced anello [ring] as agnello [lamb], which cracked up the entire church, then at home, Tiziano started to carp about her cooking, and after dinner, he would go to his mama’s house for coffee and only return around 11.

Patricia had become drawn to Italians through the movies, “If I watched a foreign film or something, I liked the tall, dark man with the dark eyes, like Italian people. I just liked someone who was different from myself.” After the breakup, she reflected, “When I look at my wedding video, I just think I was so stupid, so very stupid. So naive.”

Tolstoy could talk to her man in Russian, and she swooned over his boldness, fearlessness and how he rode, so erect and shirtless, on a mare. Shamil also knew Alexandra was destined for him, “For example, I can tell straight away if a horse is right for me.” Bucking the Uzbek just five years later, this perfect horse is now shacked up with Sergei Pugachev, a Russian tycoon. They spend most of their time on the French Riviera.

Tolstoy claims that Putin wants to kill both her and Pugachev, while the Russian government has charged the former banker and shipyard owner with embezzlement. Sheltering Pugachev, France won’t turn him over, however, just as Russia won’t let Uncle Sam snatch Edward Snowden. Countries will always disagree, of course. Nine men, ten opinions. Before the Chinese dissident Liu Xiabo died in custody, Germany had offered him asylum.

Gemma Burford and her Masai beau, Lesikar, fell in love without even a common language, and there were other obstacles, such as the Masai tradition of polygamy. Filmed with several flies buzzing or landing on his face, Lesikar’s dad explained, “I spoke with Gemma’s parents. I said to them I would only agree to the marriage if Gemma would accept the possibility of Lesikar taking another wife.”

For his part, Lesikar was convinced he had found a right mate, “Finding a good wife is as hard as finding good cattle. It’s a matter of luck.”

Gemma’s affable dad recounted his first visit to Tanzania, “That trip was an eye opener. Up to the village, it was horrific, to be honest.” Then, “Most countries, you can talk about things, and people will know what you’re talking about, but there, of course, there was very little you could talk about that you had a common knowledge of, let alone a common interest.”

Still, Mr. Burford came round to embracing his son-in-law, thanks in part to Lesikar’s visit to England, “When he came over, he came dressed as a Masai warrior, with his blankets and his shoes, which are made out of rubber tires, and he also had his great, big 14-inch knife that he had at his side.

“Once he settled in at home, he was fine. The problem comes in trying to feed him. He only eats beef and lamb or goat. They don’t eat anything else. They eat vegetables. They don’t eat any sweet things. They don’t have cakes or anything.

“We were quite surprised at how quickly he picked up things, how bright he was. The thing that strikes you with Lesikar is his smile. The room lights up when Lesikar smiles. Everyone falls for that. He really is a very nice chap, but also very intelligent, we’re beginning to find.”

Lesikar, “The things I missed most were my cows and my family. I didn’t like the food. Although my mother-in-law tried very, very hard to make it tasty, the meat tasted like paper.”

Lesikar was glad to return to his Masai ways, with Gemma joining him. Without resolving the polygamy issue, they wedded after she got pregnant. There is a scene of her doing laundry outside, using a plastic tub, “Yeah, I do feel at home here. I don’t feel as at home here as I want to. I think the more I live here, the more I will feel at home here [...] A lot of people say it all the time, and even here, they say, ‘Ah, you’ll never cope, you’ll never cope.’ Just watch me. OK, I’ll put you on the guest list for our silver wedding, God willing.”

Gemma’s dad had a concern, “I think the one thing with the difference in culture is the worry that the women are regarded, not inferior, but they have their jobs, and the men have their jobs, and the women’s jobs are all the manual work, and the men’s job is thinking and drinking, and I can’t see Gemma settling for that.”

After giving birth to a daughter, Gemma had to confront the issue of female circumcision, “At the moment, there is no other way... for a girl to become a woman. They believe you can’t have a healthy child if you haven’t been circumcised.”

They moved to Arusha, a city of 400,000, and founded a safari business, but the marriage collapsed in 2010, with Lesikar returning to his family and cows. Gemma wrote in 2017, “Lesikar has moved on and had more children, although he hasn’t quite equalled his father’s record yet.” In the film, Lesikar stated, “I am one of nineteen children. Sorry, I mean seventeen.”

Each of us is already a nationalist via our infinity of affinities. Just as Lesikar belongs to the Masai nation, Gemma has reverted to being an English woman, for she has moved back to the UK with her two daughters.

By marrying and moving into another culture, the women of It’ll Never Last tried their best to join another nation, and their failure to do so illustrates, rather gloriously, that mankind is still diverse. Our differences don’t just reflect our ideals but define our autonomy.

Far from promising peace, those who sing of no countries are really threatening us all with unspeakable violence, psychic and physical.

An empire, by nature, must trample on nationhood, even its own, for it presents the empire’s ambitions as the nation’s necessities, for how else can you get Americans, for example, to kill and die in Afghanistan or Iraq? Though citing love of nation constantly, our Washington rulers are essentially anti-American, and that’s why a genuine nationalist like Edward Snowden must flee to Russia.

Nationalism is simply the love of one’s language, culture, history and heritage, one’s very identity in short, but as wielded by an empire, nationalism becomes a murderous tool to violate one nation after another. The American empire is destroying the American nation.






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Friday, July 14, 2017

An email from South Africa

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I am from the Republic of South Africa. Today on YouTube I stumbled upon an RT interview, 'On Contact' with Chris Hedges, wherein you appeared as guest. This was concerning your book 'Postcards from the end of America'. I have not read any of your own work, so I am basing my opinion and perceptions on the way in which you were presented in the interview (That being said, I am making attempts in obtaining your book).

Poverty has always been a part of the social fabric of South African society. Yet it seems like our structure and infrastructure may very well soon be reduced to a state whereby poverty becomes the referable standard. So I am not too uninformed and inexperienced when it comes to recognizing and processing the effects and transitions of poverty. This has lead many friends and family seeking alternative options to a country that is fast collapsing under a spiral of corruption and poverty.

I have to point out that I am a white South African. And as you may know this placed me in a very (historically and collectively framed) privileged material position in a society that was very unfair and unequal (Despite my father coming to South Africa with basically nothing from Rhodesia, and my mother who was from a working-class background). I myself am currently sort of in a in-between class: working-class and whatever warped historical class I find myself in that is neither that of poverty nor abundance, and yet not middle-class. The point I am trying to make is that I have not suffered direct poverty myself and yet that 'whiteness', even from a country that blatantly discriminated in favour of my race, does not mean that one is immune to socio-economic hardships. South Africa is fantastically warped. And so too, it seems, the United States.

What almost every person tells me upon returning from a visit to the United States (with my sister and brother-in-law currently working as legal immigrants in Los Angeles), is the disproportionate levels of poverty when compared to the media we get depicting the US. For someone from the third world your functioning public and civil infrastructure may be impressive and utopianesque. Even your display of grandeur (everything is BIG in the US) and overabundance become pleasantly overbearing to someone not accustomed to this intensity of materialism, (and who yearns this material comfort for his or herself). But for someone from a country considered both first and third world I am able to see past the showroom Hollywood and McDonald's exterior. The US is indeed far away from being a third world country, but you are also far away from being "America".

I have never visited the US, yet I will take your word and the testimony of my friends and family: 'Something is very wrong'.

As an outsider in my own country I am also able to see things others may not be able to see so clearly. We are also paying a price whereby we sell our cultural and communal trust for the illusional promise of material comfort, only to get a devastating and disenfranchising alienation of self and community in the process. However, what makes the reality more terrifying is that the bastion of material abundance and capitalism, the symbol that tells the rest of the world that it is a viable and possible reality (we only need to survive the birth pains of our capitalism), is itself rotting at the core. And by this I am not referring to the good and honest people of the United States. I am referring to the macro-economic ideology and systems that is eating away at human decency, at values that at one stage did justify the 'American Dream'.

Thank you for trying to give a voice to the average people of the United States. Thank you for taking on the deafening noise that is the popular and economic media attempting to brainwash the rest of the world. We are slowly becoming aware that behind your polished and unabashed exterior there lies a tired and desperate people with their own stories to tell. They are not as different from us, and this should dispel the undeserved hatred or ill informed praise we as foreigners may have of them. Your effort illustrates that we should not give up on a people devoured by brutal systems in silence, no matter how 'privileged' we may assume they are.

I do not have much hope for the America we have come to know through the idealism of the media, but I have hope in the humanity of the people of America. Maybe soon we may be able to see each other again as people and not ideologies. And as a good people, I hope that Americans survive this era of greed and manipulation so that they may once more become an inspiration and example for humanity that this world so desperately requires.




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Thursday, July 13, 2017

A live interview at the Heartland Cafe in Chicago,

from 2012 yet never posted here:








Frans Mark 1 month ago
Powerful poet.


Stephanie Blake 4 months ago
Jesus. Another example of how lame our "intellectual class" is, they didn't respond to anything he said.



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Sunday, July 9, 2017

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Banjo player in Friendly Lounge--Italian Market








[Friendly Lounge]



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Old Philadelphia Bar regulars--Kensington








Old Philadelphia Bar and Jack's, both in Kensington, are being bought by an "Asian buyer." Regulars are worried that their favorite drinking spot, and social hub, will be altered.

Six weeks ago, I went with a Philadelphia Inquirer writer, Samantha Melamed, to Jack's, then she wrote "Is Kensington fixture Jack's Famous Bar on its way out?" At the end of the article, there's a photo by me.



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IF ASSHOLES COULD FLY at Old Philadelphia Bar--Kensington











IF ASSHOLES COULD FLY at Old Philadelphia Bar--Kensington (detail)








[Old Philadelphia Bar]



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Felix at Old Philadelphia Bar--Kensington








70-year-old Felix Giordano sketching at Old Philadelphia Bar. Notice his cap light, bought at the Dollar Store. I said to Felix he could use that the next time he eats pussy, but we agreed it's not likely to happen in this lifetime. Felix has a story about pleasuring a lady with a yeast infection. Very funny. A classic.

Felix' shirt says, "ABC BAIL BONDS."



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PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN SINCE 1776 at Old Philadelphia Bar--Kensington








[Old Philadelphia Bar in Lower Kensington]



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Saturday, July 8, 2017

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Young man with PLEASE HELP ME HOMELESS HUNGRY sign on 7-8-27--Delaware Avnue










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Thanks for a $50 contribution from a long time supporter in Frankfurt, Germany!




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Friday, July 7, 2017

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IN THIS HOUSE WE BELIEVE--Italian Market










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Thursday, July 6, 2017

I have two poems in the current issue of Poetry Magazine

Here's one:



To Flee Conjugation


Lugging my exploded home
And trampling on my own name,
I trek to a yearned deformation.

Imperial chaos hacks flesh,
Sends the unmeshed toward a
Capsized horizon. They dream
Of clean graphic design, houses
That don’t collapse onto cribs.

Invaded, the invaded invade
The invaders’ kitchens and,
Soon enough, bedrooms. Look,
They’re invading each other.

Shut up, smug face, you know
Nothing of ugliness, even that
Which you’ve long bankrolled.





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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

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NECESITAMOS TRABAJADORES sign on 7-4-17--Italian Market








My neighborhood.

"WE NEED WORKERS. GOOD JOBS. NEAR WASHINGTON AVENUE. CALL MRS. GINA."



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Saturday, July 1, 2017

Linh Dinh’s “Postcards from the End of America”, with Jeff J Brown on China Rising Radio Sinoland – CHINA RISING

Jeff J. Brown can’t think of a better way to come back to visit the United States, than to read Linh Dinh’s Postcards from the End of America, and interview him on China Rising Radio Sinoland. It is hard to find someone who can really capture the zeitgeist of America’s capitalist underbelly, as Linh Dinh does.

In writing his gritty, realist chronicles, Linh skips Main Street, to plumb the depths of Skid Row and America’s hidden tent cities; he bypasses Barbie and Ken for Mr. and Mrs. Hard-Luck-Down-and-Out, and thumbs his nose at connoisseurs of Chivas Regal and mood enhancing prescription drugs, to fathom the souls of those who can only cop a cheap Colt 45 Malt Liquor and little packets of dirty white powder. They are out of livable jobs, money, dignity and hope for the long lost, mythical American dream.

Join Jeff in a fascinating interview with a gifted and talented observer of the real human condition – the one you never see in the fake news mainstream media. We all have something to learn and appreciate from Linh Dinh.






Click here for the interview on YouTube.





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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Doped Up Nation

As published at Unz Review, OpEd News and Intrepid Report, 6/30/17:






All over America, I’ve seen posters warning against drug addictions. In Cheyenne, it’s “METHAMPHETAMINE / Don’t live this tragic story.” A few blocks away, I stepped over used needles on the sidewalk. In Buffalo, it’s an image of a beer bottle and a pill bottle, with “HEROIN addiction starts here...” Appended to it was a homemade sign, “SHOOT YOUR LOCAL HEROIN DEALER.” Also in Buffalo, it’s a photo of a seemingly dead man on the floor, with “Learn how to recognize OPIOID OVERDOSE and SAVE A LIFE!” In Cleveland, it’s a tagged toe in a morgue, with “DEATH BY HEROIN OVERDOSE IN CUYAHOGA COUNTY HAS QUADRUPLED,” and this was in 2014, before the prevalence of fentanyl.

In 2016, Philly had 277 murders and 907 fatal drug overdoses. For 2017, murders are up 21% and drug deaths, 33%. What’s your town’s drug toll?

A 33-year-old friend admits to popping street-bought Xanax every now and then to help her sleep. I suspect she’s on various pills, if not heroin, for she’s always broke and borrowing money. She has a spotty memory, sporadic hygiene and pinpoint pupils.

At Friendly, I sat next to my buddy Jeff, who’s in his late 40’s and a HIV positive. Each day, Jeff pops a dozen pills, including Klonopin, a benzodiazepine that can trigger paranoid or suicidal thoughts, as well as degrade your memory, judgment and coordination. Mixed with other substances, particularly alcohol, it can slow your breathing or even kill you. Jeff is always drinking.

“Jeff, man, you’re always so outgoing, so gregarious, I can’t imagine you having anxieties!”

“That’s because of the Klonopin, dude. Without it, I’d be a mess. Without it, I’d be up all night pissed off, you know, about some stupid argument I had 15 years ago, some fight with a hot dog vendor who gave me ketchup instead of mustard!”

“That’s serious.”

“Here’s what it looks like,” Jeff showed me some innocent white pills in a yellow bottle. “You want one?”

“No, thanks.”

Jeff took one out anyway and gave it to the bartender, 42-years-old Lisa. She stashed it away for later.

Lisa is prescribed Buspar, also for anxiety, but it’s weaker than Klonopin and slower to kick in. Lisa justified, “After eight or nine hours here, sometimes you’re, like, whoaaa, so the Buspar helps, but I don’t take it often.” She’s also swallowing pain-killers for a foot.

Down the bar was a new guy, Dominic. It turned out he’s a writer, with a book of stories coming out in 2018. “Congratulations, man!” I shouted. “It’s not easy to get fiction published these days.”

Dominic said he had a story online, “And it has pills in it, too.”

Millions of people ingest pills unnecessarily, but Dominic's character is a bonafide walking hell. From his “Sick Little Man”:

That’s the core of psychosis, really: sickness. And since your knowledge of the world is filtered through that sickness, the whole world begins to look as grotesque and spoiled as you. And when there’s no good left to spoil, your sickness turns on you, it becomes you, and you the sickness turn on yourself, a black hole for which all things rot and disappear, like light lost in shadow. There’s nothing in this world that doesn’t sicken you to your bones, sad and dank and putrid animals that reek of death and stupidity, a stupidity so hopeless and consuming that you buckle over nauseated, sick to your stomach, sick to your sickness.

In my 20’s and 30’s, I had manic bouts where I thought God spoke to me, and everyone and everything just adored me. Finally, I was in the House of Light, and everything in the world was eager to help me. Unmolestable, at last, I had no anxieties.

As I walked across a bridge, all these hovering pigeons surrounded me and flapped their wings most vigorously. Fanning my face, they just wanted to bring me comfort and joy, you see, but you can’t be that batshit and not pay a price, thus the comedowns were infernal. Still, I visited no doctors, so took no pills. I don’t even like aspirins.

Once in Oakland, though, I bought a homeless woman a beer and a cup of coffee, so she reciprocated with a green pill. As she popped one, I did the same. It’s impolite to not eat or drink what’s offered.

Twenty-seven-years old, Loudmouth Mike was addicted to just about every drug for eight years. In rehab for the last two, he takes Methadone. “It’s also a drug, man, so when I’m walking down the street, it’s like I’m watching TV. Nothing is real.” A maintenance guy for an apartment building, Loudmouth is getting married soon. He’s straightening his life out.

After working eight years for a doctor, 32-year-old June became so depressed over always giving opioids to patients, she had to quit. She now toils in a kitchen.

Twelve years ago, Linda got sick so the doctor gave her pain killers, which increased in quantity and intensity until she was prescribed time-release morphine. Sedated, she became ever more reclusive, to the point of being confined, nearly all day, inside her dark room. She won’t even sit on the porch, much less leave the house.

Five years ago, her husband, Ted, got an inheritance of $120,000, so he suggested, five months later, that they and their two boys take a much needed vacation. Nothing fancy, just a trip to the Jersey Shore for a few days. Working a dirty, physical job, Ted was exhausted. Calmly, Linda said that the money was all gone. Worse, she hadn’t paid their rent for seven months.

Most foolishly, Ted not only let it go, but continued to allow Linda to handle the family finance. When Ted got into a minor car accident recently, it turned out Linda had also ignored his car insurance payments, so he may lose his driver’s license, something he needs for work.

Ted’s life insurance had also been nixed due to non payment. The cable television bill, though, was always promptly paid, for Linda had to watch Criminal Mind, Law and Order, Blue Blood and 48 Hours, etc. Television and drugs define happiness for too many Americans. Those, and spewing venom online pseudonymously.

When Ted insisted they had a serious conversation, Linda went berserk and called 911, twice. He’s now living in a group home run by a blind nun.

“She’s acting like a typical junkie, Ted,” I said to him over the phone.

“I’m afraid you’re right, Linh. My wife is a different person. We’ve been married 28 years, and for most of that time, I was the happiest husband alive. Even after that inheritance disappeared, I’d not have traded Linda for any wife in the world. She settled me down, cooked, had my friends over for parties. They all envied me, Linh. My wife would rather plant tomatoes in the garden than go shopping. When my dad got sick, Linda took care of him for a couple of years. I’ll always remember that. My wife was perfect, Linh, and always very frugal.”

“Now, she’s lying to you, kicking you out of the house and suing you for support!”

“At 65, I’ve become the AARP poster boy for the opioid epidemic!”

Linda’s nephew has been on heroin for 25 years, so perhaps he’s getting her drugs, with hefty commissions for himself. With infinite sadness, Ted is filing for divorce.

Yesterday, I found out at Friendly that Lisa had been fired. On her last shift, she was so doped up, Lisa looked all groggy, spoke very slowly, rung up many orders incorrectly and neglected to charge several customers. A week earlier, she was in the same condition, and at church on Sunday, dazed Lisa was also seen dropping the Host during Holy Communion.

Dom, Friendly’s owner, related, “The contractors that come in here tell me they can’t even get help these days. All the kids are on drugs!”

Strictly speaking, only Linda and Lisa are in physical pains, but even psychological or spiritual torments, if severe enough, are felt physically, and the American solution to any discomfort is chemical in increasing dosage, so even our toddlers are drugged.

What we have, then, are two problems 1) a society that subjects so many people to extreme psychological pains 2) a culture that solves everything with addictive distortions.





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Followers

About Me

Born in Vietnam in 1963, I came to the US in 1975, and have also lived in Italy, England and Germany. I'm the author of a non-fiction book, Postcards from the End of America (2017), two books of stories, Fake House (2000) and Blood and Soap (2004), five of poems, All Around What Empties Out (2003), American Tatts (2005), Borderless Bodies (2006), Jam Alerts (2007) and Some Kind of Cheese Orgy (2009), and a novel, Love Like Hate (2010). I've been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2000, 2004, 2007, Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present, Postmodern American Poetry: a Norton Anthology (vol. 2) and Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories From Around the World, etc. I'm also editor of Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (1996) and The Deluge: New Vietnamese Poetry (2013). My writing has been translated into Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Icelandic and Finnish, and I've been invited to read in London, Cambridge, Brighton, Paris, Berlin, Leipzig, Halle, Reykjavik, Toronto, Singapore and all over the US. I've also published widely in Vietnamese.