Poet Hoang Hung, born in 1942, is a poet of the American War generation in the 1960s. He is well-known for his spirit of renewal in contemporary Vietnamese poetry. A number of his poems have been published in translation in France, the US and elsewhere. In addition to writing poetry, Hung has translated many works of modern poetry from French and English into Vietnamese. He spoke about his work and his younger colleagues.You recently introduced your latest work of translation, Aniara: A Review of Man in Time and Space by Nobel Prize-winning Swedish author Harry Martinson. Are you satisfied with that book?
Basically, I’m satisfied. But if I spent time to review it carefully I would change some words. That is poetry. Poetry means that you cannot state what you want to express.
Is that the reason why your readers have had recently a few chances to read your new poems? You once said it was a failure for a poet if he doesn’t write anything. Are you now in failure mode?
I am currently taking time to gather information and experience. It is not that I cannot write poems. I’m writing Zen poems. I don’t want to publish them because I have not satisfied with them. Zen poems are a difficult form. It is very hard to write a poem with both traditional Zen and modern characteristics, and it is easy to get it wrong through expression. Zen needs calm. It is very difficult to express emotionally but follow a Zen spirit. It is a contradiction which cannot be resolved.
You are seen as one of the forces behind the current renewal of poetry. How is that going?
First, I need to renew myself not anyone else. Previously, my poetry was affected by romanticism. Time goes by and everything is changed; romantic language is not suitable anymore. I have to find another form of expression. Renewal requires a new way to express new moods through a new language or form. It is not finding a path for renewal of other poets. It is natural to find aspects of my soul that require change and renewal, but it is necessary to find a proper way. I’m moody. I read a lot so I don’t want to stand still.
Yet young poets are making efforts to renew poetry. How would you comment on what they are achieving?
Young poets have accessed post-modern poetry earlier than in my time, so their renewal effort is different. In general, it is unformed because they lack basic knowledge of culture and language. In my generation, many poets knew English and French very well and read the original works to gain a deep understanding of Western culture.
As with your poetry night, Echo from Viet Nam, held in the US in March?
I have been to the US to read my poetry many times, but the Echo from Viet Nam just came to together by chance. Last year, I met here in Viet Nam an American poet named Ellen Bass. Earlier this year, I planned to go to the US with my daughter, and I told Ellen I would visit her. She said that she would host a poetry night for me. I didn’t think about it much because I think it took several months or a year to plan an event. But, after one month, the event was held to introduce my poetry book Poetry & Memoirs. I was very moved.
What is your latest poetry?
That was 36 Poems by Hoang Hung published in 2008. The book includes the poem Nguoi Ve which has been published in many Vietnamese poetry anthologies. It is also listed as one of Viet Nam’s 100 best poems in the 20th century. America’s McMillan publishing group chose Nguoi Ve for its World Literature Books. Nguoi Ve and Black Dog, Black Night were also reprinted in a contemporary Vietnamese poetry book published in the US and featuring about 20 poets.— VNS