Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Thanh Tam Tuyen

Definition of a Good Poem

more than a species of frightful crow
white curtain a worried finger rubbing the eye
let's drop it into the sky's evening
a life as round as a green rice flake
third season of a year dripping milk
as lucky as a poem with agreeable consonants

syllogism needed
a man must die
you're a man so you must die
a public notice
sleep children the hearts of loved ones
a sacred journey without end conducted with blood

how many creative works completed
only to be summed up with a spoken word
you should use your work to say farewell to everyone

a line of poetry as good as a saying
a good poem is the final death

so long the bed the table the chair
one person two persons three persons

one person two persons three persons

In the Name of

Au nom du front parfait profond—Eluard

An imperfect love
Inside the soul of each eye
A shameful life

A mute chest without voice
Lips without laughing substance
Starving senses

An alley night surrounding window
A seated person forgetting time
Emotions demanding an exit

A free barren hand
Flowers declining youthful hair
Measured breaths

The survival of one person
The survival of many people
Innocent people

In the name of
Love freedom man
I have the right to call forth

Those who have died to show up
Those still alive to raise their hands

translated from the Vietnamese by Linh Dinh

Thanh Tam Tuyen was born in Vinh, northern Vietnam, in 1936, moved to Saigon in 1954, emigrated to the US in 1983, and died in Minnesota in 2006. Drafted into the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, he served two stints, 1962-1966, then from 1968 until the end of the war in 1975. He was imprisoned for seven years in remote Yen Bai by the victorious Hanoi government. His first and most famous poetry collection, Tôi không còn cô độc [I'm No Longer Desolate], was released in Saigon in 1956. That same year, he co-founded, with Mai Thao, the groundbreaking literary journal Sáng Tạo [Creativity]. Thanh Tam Tuyen introduced a cleaner, starker music into Vietnamese poetry. He was also the first Viet poet to write about jazz.

Linh Dinh is the author of two collections of stories, Fake House (2000) and Blood and Soap (2004), four books of poems, All Around What Empties Out (2003), American Tatts (2005), Borderless Bodies (2006) and Jam Alerts (2007), with a novel, Love Like Hate, scheduled to be released in 2009 by Seven Stories Press. His work has been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2000, 2004, 2007 and Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present, among many other places. Linh Dinh is also the editor of the anthologies Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (1996) and Three Vietnamese Poets (2001), and translator of Night, Fish and Charlie Parker, the poetry of Phan Nhien Hao (2006). Blood and Soap was chosen by the Village Voice as one of the best books of 2004. He has also published widely in Vietnamese. His latest project is the blog, The Lower Half.