What We Bring Home
by Susan Coultrap-McQuin
In What We Bring Home, Susan Coultrap-McQuin reflects on what she has learned about herself and the world by venturing beyond American shores, first as a young Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines during the Vietnam War and years later as a tourist in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Her elegantly crafted poems invite the reader to travel with her, to see anew the sights of Southeast Asia, and to confront the ambiguous truths of cross-cultural interactions. In image-rich poetry, Coultrap-McQuin ponders how history and culture have shaped her views and experiences. Like the souvenirs we bring home, these poems speak to the heart of who we are and why we venture to distant shores.
About the Author
Susan Coultrap-McQuin loves the challenge of writing poems that invite readers to see the world in new ways —from the smallest leaf to the largest cities. Her poems have appeared in journals such as Talking Stick, The Moccasin, Songs of Eretz Poetry Review, and in recent pandemic anthologies, including Capsule Stories Isolation Edition, The ACCC Pandemic Arts Journal, and This Was 2020. She has also exhibited poems in libraries, art galleries, and parks in Minnesota where she now lives. What We Bring Home is her first chapbook.
Susan grew up in a Chicago suburb, has lived in the Philippines, England, and Germany, and has traveled throughout the US as well as to almost fifty countries. As a professor and administrator at universities in Minnesota and New York, Susan published two books on women writers, co-edited an anthology on feminist ethics, and wrote articles on women’s studies and higher education. She has served on a variety of regional and national boards related to literacy and higher education. Currently she volunteers with a local arts organization and coordinates their annual poetry contest. Susan is married with two grown children and three grandchildren, who inspire her to see the world in ever-new ways.
In a diverse and picturesque collection of poems, Susan Coultrap-McQuin pays homage to many places and peoples she has encountered. In this chapbook, What We Bring Home, readers should be prepared to have their passports stamped as they collect searing images, a few treasured souvenirs, and indelible memories. Traveling unhurried through ports-of-call in the Philippines and Southeast Asia, Coultrap-McQuin offers enough human history for context and mixes it with vivid narratives that resonate in today’s faulty world. She moves seamlessly from poignant scenes in post-war Viet Nam, to the humble sensories of a village cock fight in the Philippines, passing rice to monks in saffron-dyed robes, and tuk-tuks and trucks drown/ silence and care. Through her detailed yet elegant poems, she reaches out with respect and compassion to those she encounters along the way. Be prepared to be transported and transfixed.
—Bonnie Larson Staiger, North Dakota Assoc. Poet Laureate
and author of Destiny Manifested and In Plains Sight
A scarf acquired by bartering with a woman trying to feed her family; ghosts of foreign correspondents at a club in Cambodia; exchanges of quotidian pleasantries at the market; clothes shimmying on hangers during a rough passage at sea—these recollections are what Susan Coultrap-McQuin brings home from her travels as a Peace Corps volunteer, then over a span of decades. Accrued wisdom is conveyed by vivid imagery, beautiful sound and rhythm. These poems hold space for haunting, complex memories of being a visitor, a witness, an outsider. We may wonder where we are in relation to others across the globe, including our closest neighbors, including distant contacts, including those we haven’t yet met and those we’ve lost. Over dinner, the writer and Vietnamese companions laugh as if there was no war, but she knows that tomorrow they’ll plow fields/ where shrapnel still hides. What we bring home is everything, perhaps, and what matters is how we honor those who’ve shared their land and their homes during the ravages and recoveries of history. What lingers for the reader is both appreciation and curiosity; of travelers, are we sure/ they’d be happier— changed/ if they explored distant shores?
—Donna Steiner, author of Elements
and Lost and Found in Ocean County, New Jersey
In What We Bring Home, Susan Coultrap-McQuin examines in precise, elegant verse, what it means to be an American traveler. Her poems are compassionate, intelligent witnesses asking us, what can we learn from the past? Some poems speak to the beauty of finding oneself at home in a foreign landscape, dust coating my shoes/ like everyone else’s. Other poems demonstrate the difficulty of visiting places such as Vietnam where the wounds of American warfare still fester, and Cambodia where ghosts haunt the field of bone fragments,/ the pieces of blue cloth,/ poking from bare ground. In this collection, we can trust our speaker to not look away from harsh reality or her own complicity. These poems are as beautiful as they are fierce. A wonderful debut.
—Amie Whittemore, author of Glass Harvest
In What We Bring Home, Susan Coultrap-McQuin takes us on a tour that crosses decades and continents. She speaks both as an insider and as an outsider, with observations that illuminate the human condition and the state of the world. Coultrap-McQuin’s keen eye and compassionate voice breathe life into distant scenes, and we feel like fellow travelers gathering to reminisce over a collection of souvenirs.
—LouAnn Shepard Muhm, author of Breaking the Glass
and founding partner, North Beach Writers’ Retreat