Edited and translated by Nguyen Do and Paul Hoover, the anthology contains poetry by seventeen leading contemporary Vietnamese poets and four Vietnamese-American poets (Linh Dinh, Mong-Lan, Hoa Nguyen, and Truong Tran). Three poets included (Hoang Cam, Dang Dinh Hung, and Tran Dan) were members of the Nhan Van group who requested freedom of expression from the government in 1956. This action cost them their privileged positions and income as Writers Association members (in civil service terms, equal to that of an army major) and the ability to publish their work for the next 50 years. Some went to jail. In a widely publicized ceremony in 2007, the Vietnamese government made a formal apology and gave Hoang Cam, who was still alive, the nation's highest literary award. He died not long after the event. On the suspicion that he planned to pass an outlawed Hoang Cam poetry manuscript to someone at the French Embassy, the poet Hoang Hung, also included in the volume, was imprisoned for three and a half years in the notorious "Hanoi Hilton" and reform camp. The book's title is taken from one of his poems written after prison. The anthology shows a side of Vietnamese poetry that had been veiled by government censors: a startling variety of practice, including touching folk lyrics, experimental modernism, expression of existential despair, anti-war poetry, and the bold confessional works of young women poets such as Nhat Le and Vi Thuy Linh.
Paul gives an overview of the book:
A Rainy Night by Hoang Hung (To Thanh Thao)
For a long time I haven't had a night like tonight
A random raindrop landing on my shoulder and neck
makes me remember roaming at night from Bac Qua flea market
to Hang Co train station
For one cent of Ruou I as able to fly to heaven
For the first time I sold rice coupons
to buy loneliness on a street
Although thirty, I was still boyish
but became a man with a street prostitute
that nobody else desired
I looked for my fate in every distant place
in every kind of trouble
Being alive became just a habit
Tonight I'm in the South but feel the North's coldness
which makes me want a cup of black coffee
and draws me into the rainy night
on a motorcycle--not a bicycle, like those days
But I'm already fifty. How can I be with you again, old girl?
At thirty, I was a poet
Now I thirst for the lines of a poem
when this life turns me to stone
Suddenly I'm surprised by a single drop of rain
Paul Hoover is the author of twelve books of poetry including Sonnet 56 (Les Figues Press, 2009), consisting of 56 formal variations on Shakespeare's sonnet 56; Edge and Fold (Apogee Press, 2006); Poems in Spanish (Omnidawn, 2005), nominated for the...
The title of Paul Hoover's ninth collection of poetry is misleading. Poems in Spanish is not, in fact, written in Spanish. Instead, Hoover presents a variety of styles and modes that borrow from...