Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Cipher Journal

Some poems by Nhat Le, Thanh Thao, Hoang Hung, and Nguyen Do can be read in translation on Cipher Journal, edited by Lucas Klein. The website is You can find the works by scanning the contents page. All of the poems on the site will appear in the forthcoming anthology, Black Dog, Black Night: An Anthology of Contemporary Vietnamese Poetry (Milkweed Editions, 2008), edited and translated by Nguyen Do and me. You can find work by nine of the 21 poets included in New American Writing 23 (2005), website

Here's a poem by Hoang Hung, one of Vietnam's leading poets of the "outside," meaning not holding membership in the Writers Association. During a period of Soviet-influenced censorship in the late 1970s, he was imprisoned for three and a half years on the suspicion that he had possessed an outlawed poetry manuscript of Hoang Cam, who himself had suffered exclusion in the mid-1950s. Hoang Cam's offense was having requested freedom of expression in the arts. Along with other poets in our anthology such as Tran Dan and the wildly innovative Dang Dinh Hung, he was dropped from Writers Association membership and not allowed to publish his work for over 30 years. Hoang Hung is also a major translator of U. S. poetry into Vietnamese. "A Man Returning Home" is about his own return to his home from prison (that).

A Man Returning Home

He is home from that
His wife cries all night, his kids are confused all day
Home from that
when he walks through the door, his friends' faces are ashen
Home from that
he feels an itch on the back of hi head
in the midst of a crowd
as if someone is watching

One year late, he suddenly chokes during a party
Two years later, he still sweats from his nightmares
Three years later, he still feels pity for a lizard
Years later, he still has the habit of sitting alone in darkness

Some days, he feels a stranger's penetrating stare
Some nights, an aimless voice asks questions
He jumps
at a touch to his shoulder

Here are the opening lines from a section of Dang Dinh Hung's long work, "The New Horizon":

I'm leaving again . . .
on the tray of my back's shadow, a blackboard in from of my eyes and a chalk circle
beneath my feet, which is sticky like the number 8 lying down, like a
smooth magnet,
like a rice grain that will grow into who knows what.

I will know the endlessness of Epicure's crotch, who's fat and
naked, while around him,
loudly dancing, are blue and yellow poker cards on which
praying mantises land then jump randomly!

joyfully ride around on the backs of cards stiff as the Karma
would have them!

I don't know,
maybe I should include the dry cracks in jackfruit
I was looking for in back of a mirror, noting there
but pain from all the small, trivial acts of my life,
slurping bowl and bowl of insipidness and softness
but so happily . . .


Post a Comment

<< Home