… They (your poems) are all…individualistic

Allen Ginsberg (Academy of Litarature and Arts of America)

Hand-written letter  to Hoang Hung, Feb 18th 1997


Reading the translations of your own work, I am very moved by the insistent feelings of displacement and loss — it must be our whole world has come to that same bitterplace

Robert Creeley (Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets 1999)

Message emaile,d to Hoang Hung, 1997,July 12th


Hung’s poems remind me of existential fictions. They happen strongly in time but there is also a timeless quality to them. Many years are compacted within a single lyric poem of loss and suffering. The man who suffers has body and experiences, but he is, in another sense, a representative figure. I’m thinking of the novel The Women in the Dunes by the Japanese author Kobe Abe, in which a man slides down a cliff of sand one day while walking in a fog in a distant place. He now becomes the husband of one of many women of the dunes, whose job is eternally to sift the sands. In effect, he has found his own inexorable fate, from which no escape is possible (and finally perhaps not desirable). We are given painful worlds to live in. The heart’s emergence is possible, despite having been buried for years (“Smell of rain”); a touch on the shoulder may suddenly awaken us to the life that  has been staring past us.

I know of no other poetry with which to compare Hung’s. Under its cool, narrative surface, the poetry is very complex and emotional. Perhaps on the autobiographical level, Hung has felt exiled in his own country and removed from the circumstances of his own life and work”

Paul Hoover (Poet in residence, Columbia College Chicago – Editor in Chief of New American Writing)

Gravity, Columbia College Chicago, January 2003


Ce que j’aime, dans les textes de Hoang Hung, c’est qu’il restitue le reel objectif, exterieur, a travers le prisme de l’esprit, du reel interieur, subjectif, onirique et sensible. Il y a donc dans ses poemes des notations precises sur les objets, les lieux ou les evenements mais elles nous sont transmises amplifiees, deformees, corrigees par ce que vit l’auteur et ce qui vibre en lui

Marie Etienne (French Poet, Editor of Aujourd’hui Poeme):

Message emailed to Hoang Hung on June 15, 2002


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 his head in the midst of a crowd

as if someone is watching


One year later, he suddenly chokes during a party Two years later, he sweats from his nightmares Three years later, he feels pity for a lizard

Years later, he 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

(Hoàng Hung, from Black Dog, Black Night: Contemporary Vietnamese Poetry)


I placed this poem in my Admired Poems file because I was enamored of its use of the list. I love the way the discomforts of this man’s life seem to simultaneously increase and decrease in magnitude. The “aimless voice ask[ing] questions” might have seemed less daunting had it come earlier in the poem, next to the mention of his kids for instance. But here at the end of the poem, when we find that physical comforts like “a touch to his shoulder” frighten him so, this voice becomes incredibly worrisome. What is the voice asking him to do? The line break after jumps is particularly effective given that the line “He jumps” comes in such proximity to the menace of those questions. Now the idea of the man jumping seems terribly alarming, and though we ought to be calmed by the fact that he’s jumped at such a little thing, in the end the menace of the “touch to his shoulder” increases rather than dissipates. I also love the nonspecific word “That,” and how, in this version of the poem, the word is presented capitalized and in italics. Hoàng Hung allows the reader to decide what it is this man has returned from. I have conjectures, but the specific answer to what “That” might be is significantly less interesting than the answers we get to what “That” has done to the man. As with the details accumulated in the poem, the horror of what “That” might be accrues weight as the poem progresses.

Consider the way choices reflect anxieties. Or, consider the way anxieties reflect choices. Is there any difference between the two? Now write a poem.

(Camille Dungy, A Few Prompts Drawn From Wandering/Home) drawn-from-wanderinghome/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s