Spirits Dancing Into Light
by Judith Dickerman-Nelson
“When I started writing poems, I felt uncertain about the appropriateness of writing about someone else’s burdens and pain. But the more I talked with my Cambodian friends about this project, the more encouraged I became. They shared their stories and listened to my poems and gave me their support. My writing is filtered through my own experiences, my own thoughts, but their experiences are reflected here, as well. It’s funny to think that at one point I believed I would find happiness teaching college students how to write, and perhaps I would have. But my steps took me elsewhere—to the CMAA where I found another culture, another world really. It was within this world that I found myself most at home, with people I now regard as my second family. Here I found happiness.
I hope that I have honored my second family, honored their history and culture by writing this book of poems. Certainly, that was my intent, and that is why I wanted to have this book translated into Khmer, the two languages side by side. Language is an intrinsic part of culture, and to have these poems only in English seemed wrong. However, these poems do not follow the structure of Khmer poetry; instead, they are, essentially, word for word translation of the English original versions.
My poems are small pieces of a puzzle. But I hope they add to the larger picture, contribute to the view, lending additional color and some clarity to a part of the human story in our time.”
—Judith Dickerman-Nelson, from the Introduction
“Judith’s poems are honest, eloquent, and captivating, with crisp detailsabout the plight of the Cambodian people, then and now. She shares her reflections, her revelation, and her strong connection to the powerful stories and images of suffering, survival, and resilience that arise from the Cambodian diaspora community in Lowell. The poems are translated into Khmer, enabling her to reach out and give back her immersive and sensitive voice to the people who have endeared themselves to her and welcomed her in friendship.”
—Phala Chea, Ed.D., Coordinator of English Language Education Program, Lowell Public Schools
“Spirits Dancing Into Light conveys both the pain and exquisite beauty of contemporary Cambodian life. The power of these deceptively quiet poems lingers, and grows, after one reads them. The translations into Khmer highlight the ongoing conversation between American and Cambodian cultures that Judith Dickerman-Nelson has witnessed and participated in. A terrific poetic debut.”
—Hilary Holladay, editor and publisher, Jefferson Park Press