Sacred Vows
U Sam Oeur
Translated from the Khmer by Ken McCullough and U Sam Oeur
Coffee House Press: Minneapolis, 1998
226 pp.; $15.00 (paper)

reviews 107 winter 1998This collection of poetry dates from the early fifties almost to the present day. U Sam Oeur wrote these poems in traditional Cambodian forms, which are sometimes replicated in the translations with the oddly graceful effect the reader will notice below. Sacred Vows is a significant human, Buddhist, and poetic creation.

Born in 1936 and raised on a prosperous farm, Sam came to the United States to study industrial arts. Almost accidentally his talent for poetry was discovered, and he earned a degree at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1968. Intensely matriarchic, Sam regards Cambodia as a sacred Buddhist land. When he was sixteen he bemoaned his country’s suffering, and in “Oath of Allegiance” vowed:

I shall never betray you

my motherland

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