Tears of Quang Tri by Nguyen Phan Que Mai

AFTER THE LAST American soldiers

had left Vietnam

and grass had grown

scars onto bomb craters,

I took some foreign friends to Quảng Trị,

once a fierce battlefield.


I was too young for the war

to crawl under my skin

so when I sat with my friends

at a roadside café, sipping tea,

enjoying the now-green landscape,

I didn’t know how to react

when a starkly naked

woman rushed towards us, howling.




Read this poem in full in Let me Tell You a Story and hear Que Mai’s own narration by scanning a QR code on the page. Available from Lulu and Amazon.

Nguyen Phan Que Mai delivered the International Women’s Day poem at the 2016 UN event.

Let Me Tell You a Story: Phillippa Yaa de Villiers

If ever you wanted a voice warm and enveloping as sun baked earth, here it is. But if you want gentle thoughts and pretty images, this is not what you’ll find. Phillippa’s poems come from a place of deep emotional insight and connection to her world. One that has turmoil in its history and also its present, and through which people do ordinary things; they grow up, fall in love, become mothers, and they manage the hopes, dreams, and despairs of their lives. Ordinariness written and narrated extraordinarily. And while Phillippa’s Origin closes the book, her last word opens the deepest of chasms.




author image Phillippa Yaa de Villiers




Let Me Tell You a Story – on sale now

qr codeThis is an exciting moment because, in a world crammed with books and content in print and digital form, I believe this is different. Each story or poem has at its head a QR code; scan it and you go directly to the voice file of its author, which means you can read along with them; hear the words, the rhythms and the pauses the way they were written; get to grips with unfamiliar words or find a beat in a poem you didn’t know was there. This is what Ian McMillan says:

“Sometimes I can read a poem on the page and I can’t quite make out what the author’s intention was: there’s something there, I can tell, but it’s hidden in the language-mist. When I hear the poem read aloud, (or accompanied by music, or acted out by a variety of voices: anything is possible once you start down this road) then the clouds are blown away and the poem does what it meant to say on the tin, to re-fashion an advertising slogan.”

The contributors are accomplished writers (although I can hardly speak for myself, that must be in the eye of the reader) but they have gone out on what is for some, an unaccustomed limb and recorded their stories or poems too. I’ll be forever grateful that they were willing to take this step and help bring to fruition a project that has been stewing for many years, one that I hope will help enhance the reading experience for many, and make it more possible for those put off by their early struggles with it.

I believe it’s a first. I believe this hasn’t been done before. And I believe the technology and the incentive just came together to make reading a much more enjoyable thing for many more people. There are applications beyond fiction though – look out now for this #QR4PR; a campaign to get QR codes on public information leaflets so that no adult need have essential information read to them by a stranger, their nine year old son, or perhaps the person who will use that information to abuse them. There’s more about those issues here but in the meantime, please consider purchasing a copy of the book or asking your library to get it for you. Let publishers know you’d like QR codes in some of the classics when they come up for reprint, tell local language schools they could do this themselves for their own students with their own material. Give it a go yourself for your village newsletter, your promotional leaflet, your birthday card to the auntie who can never find her glasses. Let Me Tell You a Story – out now.

book cover

Let Me Tell You a Story: Nguyen Phan Que Mai

Nguyen Phan Que Mai (call her Que Mai) is a Vietnamese poet and writer, the bulk of whose work addresses a poorly explored past – that of the impact of the Vietnamese war on its survivors, often through the eyes of women and their families. Here, she reads in English which is not her favoured language, (and when you hear her deliver her work in Vietnamese with all its bells and chimes of nuance you instantly know why) and reaches deep to lift our comparatively dull tones with a breath that floats her words into our shared air. Que Mai is the author of The Secret of Hoa Sen which I reviewed elsewhere, and this year performed her poem for International Women’s Day at a United Nations event.

author image Nguyen Phan Que Mai

Let Me Tell You a Story

Let Me Tell You a Story is the title of a forthcoming anthology which expects to do just that – tell you the story. It will also read you the poems; give you the long pauses, the quick steps, the rushes and hushes of words and lines that sometimes are hard to find for yourself. And the voices will be the authors’ own.

The words are on the page, the voices working their way into the can, and we hope to be on some shelves very soon.

Suzanne Conboy-Hill