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Books | Poetry | Prose: Fiction - Essays | Interviews | Videos

[Dusk Aflame: poems & art] [One Thousand Minds Brimming] [ Tango, Tangoing: Poetry & Art ][Tango Tangueando: poemas & dibujos] [Song of the Cicadas] Why is the Edge Always Windy? ]Vietnamese Translations ] Japanese Translations ][Publications]

"Tango, Tangoing: Poems & Art" by Mong-Lan

English language edition
ISBN-10: 0615188001
ISBN-13: 978-0615188003
Valiant Press, 2008

132 pages of scintillating poetry and art.

Tango, Tangoing: Poems & Art

(Tango, Tangueando: Poemas & Dibujos--edición bilingüe español-inglés; bilingual edition, Spanish-English) click here.

      In her exquisite, recently published poetry and art book, Tango, Tangoing:  Poems & Art, the Vietnamese-American writer, visual artist, and Argentine tango dancer, Mong-Lan explores and exposes that most alluring, most magical of dances, the Tango.  Only a woman, and perhaps a woman who is neither Argentine, nor even of European background, could have approached tango, and those caught in its web, as does Mong-Lan in Tango, Tangoing.  With haunting words and elegant pen and ink drawings, Mong-Lan guides the reader into a dance world that touches upon Argentina's recent tragic history and that mingles leader and follower, love and heartbreak, all within the embrace and intricacies of the Tango.
      Readers of poetry, lovers of the dance, observers of the relationship between men and women, and those simply interested in Argentina will find Tango, Tangoing: Poetry & Art to be a captivating experience.  When Mong-Lan read—in Spanish translation—from Tango, Tangoing at the Buenos Aires International Book Fair in May 2008, the Argentine audience was stunned that a woman, and perhaps even more remarkably a non-Argentine, could write in such a manner about the tango and those who dance it in the clubs and streets of Buenos Aires.  As a veteran, very macho Argentine dancer in his 60s remarked, “In an earlier life, she must have been a great Argentine man dancer."   
      Tango, Tangoing: Poems & Art is Mong-Lan's third full-length poetry book with her first, Song of the Cicadas, having won the Juniper Prize.  Tango, Tangoing is, however, her best effort, and its drawings and colors compliment perfectly Mong-Lan's poems. 


What poets and critics are saying:

"A mesmerizing accomplishment - four voices at their climax: the dance, if we can call it that, the physics of being, the history and manual of dark beauty and the voleos of line, ink, stanza and voice, layers of loss, desire and the body in ecstatic explosions. Three drops of Lorca, one tincture of María Luisa Bombal and a full vasija of Mong-Lan, a masterpiece, señores y señoras. A mathematics of fire." -- Juan Felipe Herrera, U.S. Poet Laureate, 2015-

"While the ostensible subject here is dance, Mong-Lan is brilliant at suggesting layered, ever-shifting perspectives, meanings, and voices.  These complex poems are, at times, aesthetic mediations, dissections of human relationships, internal monologues, and political inquiry. That Mong-Lan succeeds at such an ambitious project in writing that is visually striking, musically complex, unabashedly erotic and deeply intelligent, is testimony to her very great poetic talents.  This is a marvelous book, one I’ll return to again and again."--Kevin Prufer, poet, critic, Univ. of Houston

Buy Mong-Lan's Books / Chapbooks
 Ask for it at your favorite bookstore, buy an autographed copy from the link above,
or order directly from online bookstores such as

"Mong-Lan’s lyric poetry is unlike any others.  The work sings, but it is not music alone that moves us; it’s what we experience through the speaker’s observational accuracy and emotional wisdom:   “The oscillatory / foolish / the insane / make their way / into tangos”  and “I would find you / locked in a mosquito’s eye.”  Consisting of three extraordinary poems about Argentine tango, the work is “muy generoso,” as she quotes the dance itself as being, in its sweep and precision.  The poems are not merely illustrative of the dance’s famous forwardness; they reveal the transformative power of the commitment the dance requires:  the finding of rhythm with another at the edge of mayhem, even as stillness is created at the center of the ochos, emblems of infinity, the dancers create on the floor."--Paul Hoover, poet, professor, San Francisco State University

If strict steps insist, feet, face, arms and torso fit into a great tradition's design, who better than Mong Lan might insist we take to her desires to take care of traditions of all kinds. Combinations of music, bodies in action, poetry in motion, lend themselves to a book examining love, desire, fulfillment and accuracy of execution.  There's knowledge in this book, passionate resolution and meditations exacting.  – Dara Wier, poet, professor

"Improvisatory, epigrammatic, sensual, meditative, and always generous, Mong-Lan celebrates, as well as dissects, the intricacies and implications of the tango. Interweaving art with verse, this collection will leave you breathless from its impassioned elaborations and imagistic intensity."--Cyril Wong, poet, Singapore

Mong-Lan Tango Drawing 3

"I have a way of thinking about the Mong-Lan enterprise. Tango is poetry, is a calligraphy of the body, a series of movements and freeze-frames also suggested by the dispersed lineation of the poem on the page. So that a linear equivalent of ochos, backward and forward steps, and voleos can be discerned in the arrangement of the lines. I know that Pollock thought of his 'Action Painting' as a kind of dance, and films of him at work show him jumping about and waving his arms in an agile way. To succeed at calligraphy you must practice over and over until the arm and hand move without hesitation, instinctively. And it is the same with the dance. This is work that is inseparable from virtuosity. It's instructive, too, that she places Porteño tango in a context of poverty and melancholy. The dance becomes a kind of pain-killer, helping participants forget all that is irreparably sad about their lives. Obviously it has a relationship to love and sex, too, but not a direct correspondence, since you can have great partners for the dance that you don't see elsewhere. It is an abstraction of love/sex. An impressive performance."--Alfred Corn, poet, professor.


From The Argentimes, May 2008, Buenos Aires:

“Tango, Tangoing is a sensual combination of tango, poetry and artwork. . . . [it] offers an astute and refreshing look at real tango.  So much is written and said about Argentine tango; here is a new and complete way to get to grips with more than just the steps and the music of this dance; the greatest of Argentine institutions. Read the full Review


Mong-Lan Tango Drawing 1

From El Tangauta, June, 2008, Buenos Aires, translated from the Spanish:

“Mông-Lan manages to reproduce that suggestive and attractive atmosphere of the milonga but with quite unorthodox forms because she is innovative in both her meter and syntax as well as in the spatial positioning of the verses. Among the most original characteristics of the work are the drawings, with few but accurate lines of couples embracing that seem to be moving on the paper.
Read the full Review.

From TimeOut Buenos Aires:

“The latest publication from celebrated US poet and artist Mong-Lan, Tango, Tangoing: Poems & Art, is a beautifully crafted collection of poetry and artwork, capturing the flavours of Argentinian tango through three sections of free verse interwoven with fluid pen and ink drawings."


Poetry Selections from the book:

Mong-Lan Tango Drawing 2

Audio: Listen to Mong-Lan recite her tango poem, with music:







In Buenos Aires  the tangueros are tangoing to the bandoneón’s beat  

violin’s abandon

  seductive net of music


Dancing with a restrained wildness  cunning  controlled 

          hearts full


elegantly these men & women   elegantly these bellies proudly protruding

beef-eating   dancing to the sensual tango


Most are genteel & do not steal other’s partners  do not stow

knives in their blood



Gliding to the bandoneón’s breath


pivoting   swift turns   slow   smooth   bitter   wild   excited

blind turns


Spinning night to dawn   their love-lives gouged on their faces   desperate

lines deeply

milongueros expose the history of Argentina

on their visages



Dancing rhythms that bodies unravel an unending night unparalleled 

oblivion & desire


desire to forget the lives


of misery           To forget    Menem 

the military dictatorship    disappearances    

life-savings & bonds lost












In the bay of Río de la Plata    tango was born 100 yrs ago   & carries on  

The tango of the lower classes  tango of the chic    often happens at night   in la madrugada         From Africa came its syncopated rhythms—







The night continues


I begin

life over

the questions of my life

come to me in dreams

The questions

come & go  The dances


& came   The men

came & went














The destitute  suddenly poorer

come & go at night

They sift through

trash  take paper  cardboard  & recyclables

away  leaving disposable trash

pilfered  like feathers

receiving a few pesos

for a few kilos


Courteous  some say  Buenas Noches

with soft eyes   Women & children

barrel away

paper    Men cart

away paper       Trash  picked at

vultures at dead bodies









Cab drivers do not have change for a 20 peso bill    A lack of effectivo


Anapestic   by magic   the city    the nation & its citizens keep on



Where is the fire?


At night fire burns

in trash bins on city streets   a huge pyre

waiting for its sacrifice






Out until 5 or 6 in the morning           milongueros

embrace sucking each other’s blood      They lean

towards each other’s hearts   plucking

    Perhaps they will follow each other

home   devour the other


Drinking each other’s glances & stares   deriving pleasure in dancing   embracing kicking

between each other’s legs   on crowded floors


Eyes scan:  whom to dance with   whom to avoid?


Tables & tables of hungry women   predatory men  courteous   disdainful


Around & around   people draw ochos    flick voleos   flicks of knives










Walls crumbling



I begin life over  I start

to read

skies  leaves  dawn

The questions of my life

float to me in tangos

The questions come

& go  the dreams

the men & women




[Buenos Aires, 2001-2004]



Video: 2009 Buenos Aires International Book Fair -- La Fería del libro de Buenos Aires: Mong-Lan reads from Tango, Tangoing: Poems & Art (Tango, Tangueando: Poemas & Dibujos). Invited by the American Embassy in Buenos Aires.

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