Eight Vietnamese poets
Selected by Linh Dinh
LY DOI was born in 1978 in Quang Nam and now lives in Ho Chi Minh City. A member of the Open Mouth group, he has been published widely on webzines and in group samizdats such as “Six-sided Circle” (2002) and “Open Mouth” (2002), and in his own samizdats, “Seven Spider Improvisations” and “Dog-eating Vegetarians” (2005). A drifter, he makes his living performing odd jobs on the sidewalks. In 2004, Ly Doi and poet Bui Chat were jailed for two days for passing out flyers at a poetry reading cancelled by the police. These two poets are featured in the chapbook, “Hornily Flap” (Rockheals Press 2006), translated by Linh Dinh.
Drilling and Cutting Concrete
I will wipe out all of you [those who drill and cut concrete—you all] from the bases of walls
I will wipe out mankind and animals
I will wipe out birds and fish
I will make the wicked wobble and fall
and exterminate mankind [as well as those who drill and cut concrete] from the face of the earth…
I will raise my arm and strike the traitors [and snitches]
and all the Viet settlers
I will exterminate from this place [including alley 47] all the adjacent settlers who are left behind
and obliterate the names of sanctioned publishers
I will extrerminate those who climb to the roofs to beg for aids
I will exterminate those who crawl into the ground to search for a beautiful grave [or a quiet tomb, same difference]
keep silent in my presence: Doi Ly—one who drills and cuts concrete…
and remember, I will use a lamp to search all over the Viet realm
I will punish the men,
I will insult the women
and abuse the homosexuals
those who are nonchalant like wine above dregs
they reassure themselves: since Doi Ly doesn’t dispense benefits, he will not unleash harms…
they are mistaken, in a totalitarian country
their properties will be stolen or destroyed,
their houses wrecked,
they build homes, but cannot live in them,
they grow grapes [or rice, same difference], but cannot drink the wine…
it’s near, the day of Doi Ly
the day of heart-rending screams echoing
the day of wrath
the day of despair
the day of afflictions
the day of extermination & destruction
dark & blurry day
overcast & gloomy day
the day of devouring fire…
hey, all you shameless people, gather, gather together
before you will be scattered
like rice husks blown away by the winds in a day
and look at the phone numbers on advertisements for drilling and cutting concrete
on the walls surrounding you all
that even earthquakes, or I (who can exterminate everything) cannot destroy…
Note: This piece was composed when the Viet realm was experiencing earthquakes and volcanoes [8/2005], after 3,200 years. And when a volume of poetry [without this poem] is about to come out.
from Seven Spider Improvisations
doi ly spider performs a miracle walking on water
then doi immediately made his disciples get on a boat to cross the river, while doi begged money and capital from the crowd, and ascended a mountain to pray for a poetic inspiration, poetic inspiration and topic did not come, doi stayed there alone— like a grasping idiot… and already the literary boat was several arms-length from shore, beat back by the waves, all evening long and what’s left of the night, until nearly cockcrow, doi finally stepped onto the dark surface of the water intending to cross the river, but the literary disciples saw and mistook him for an imposter and panicked, doi made a sign for them to calm down and called each disciple to abandon the boat to cross the river, one then two, then three, then countless others all entered the water… the situation occurred in an instant and no one saw it, but the disciples who were doubtful and without faith started to sink, doi pulled each one up and rubbed imaginary ointment on them, they thought of reaching the shore, of belonging to the group and having people pamper them… then the shore arrived, doi stood watching the familiar disciples with teary eyes, thanks to a miracle, for each one who made it to shore countless sank to the bottom, even those who did not doubt and were full of faith… all the surviving disciples were in shock, terrified, haughty then kowtowing: doi spider was truly an impostor—pretending to be a poem.
what defiles doi?
shortly after the crossing the river incident, doi summoned his remaining disciples and asked them: what defiles us, then [to set himself straight] answered: it’s not what goes in but out of the mouth, the mouth is fouler than any other hole on your body and mine also! these things [phrases, strings of words…] are fouling me then you and I don’t know what to do to make myself even more foul and continue… then the disciples approached and took turn answering: do you know, doi, those words can make the old-fashioned ungrammatical and lament to god; the wise guys of language grumble and scream about the absence of beauty, though the nosey and analytical fancy themselves useful… doi spider replied: among many disciples only a few can become trees and bear fruits, the rest are corpses at the river’s bottom, the rest are blind and deceived, they lead each other and roll to wherever, it doesn’t matter, how can I stop them… still uncomprehending, the disciples asked: so where can we roll to now… doi turned away from them: scram to wherever, I could care less, you idiotic and defiled, hanging out with you all, there’s a risk that my mouth will freshen and my soul will become pure.
Footnote for the Bodhisattva at Su Thai Temple:
Today a story appeared in the City Police newspaper about some deputy minister who habitually bought sexual favors [and dispositions] from children and was condemned to death, and here we have a matter worthy of attention that happened on the execution ground:
Since the guy was a master in wheeling and dealing [even selling out the people] he bought off the director/psychological [issues] advisor to the firing squad, to make these guys feel remorseful [as in their conscience shred into pieces] when they take out their guns to perform their duty. He also bought off the entire firing squad… the result: the hail of bullets only hit a soft [but tasty] spot and even the coup de grace, an extremely rare occurance, only glanced his skin—blood spilling all over… he pretended to faint, then fainted for real, then was revived by a waiting crew of doctors with their equipments…
But it seemed that the sky had [blue] eyes [and a red mouth]… gloating over his complicated ploys, he grinned constantly while lying in the hospital to be treated for his light wound. Discharged, he offically laughed out loud in satisfaction, but because he was not paying attention he slipped on a banane peel, fell and hit his head on a pebble that a little girl he had bought sex from had left behind after a [gay] game of tic tac toe. This time, with no waiting crew of doctors nearby, he had to close his eyes and wait for [chilly] death but still he grinned in satisfaction because he had managed to escape his execution. Suddenly from afar echoed the voice of Mrs. Six living in a working class ghetto [someone who had nothing to do with him]:
If you must be reincarnated as a dog then be a German shepherd, a daschund or some Japanese breed… don’t be a Vietnamese dog, you’ll eat shit all day, are struck by people and even run the risk of being strung up and converted into 9 dogmeat dishes.
This entire poetic tale according to Mrs. Six is a type of third-rate sentimental film mixed with bits of fucking, ready to be rented at New Mountain [high spirit] market and shown nonstop at Su Thai temple.
THE BENEFITS OF POETRY
Poetry and Physical Beauty
Poetry is a great form of exercise. When you write poetry, it means that your muscles are active, your energy spent, your body becomes flexible, your figure slim and firm. You only need to write poetry two to three times a week, this practice is the best replacement for all other forms of daily exercises.
Writing poetry is also an excellent way to “tighten” the second circle, harden the third and invigorate the first. The stomach, buttocks and chest muscles are very active when you write poetry. According to a recent Chinese study, writing poetry combined with dancing to gentle rhythms such as Waltz, Tango and Swing…. will burn up a fair amount of calories, increase your height and juice up your sex drive…
A person who practices poetry regularly is also one with an elegant, classy appearance; and, of course, not without allure and attractiveness.
Poetry and Health
Poetry doesn’t just bring a healthy body, a slim shape but can also help you to resist and prevent many illnesses. After many stressful working hours, exhausting, you can let yourself go with the lively, transforming constructions of a Rubai, a Sonnet, a Haiku, a Sung Dynasty styled poem, a 6/8, a free verse, a post-modernism… all your tensions and stresses will be shooed away quickly.
According to researches and investigations from America, someone who practices poetry can eliminate up to 70% of illnesses such as: insomnia, obesity, arthritis, depression, migraines and even diabetes. As your body is allowed to move rhythmically to the constructions and flows of words… your blood can circulate, your nervous system can unwind.
Once you’ve become an expert poet, you will have gained much experiences to be someone with the skills to socialize, make long-term plans and be especially confident. These benefits will help you greatly in life, work and play.
Poetry and Romance
Writing poetry with all your passion is definitely an activity to help you increase your human potential for being sensitive and romantic. As you succeed in feeling a poem, chasing after its inner movements, you become more sensitive. As with nearly everyone, we all want to become more attractive to a lover or a spouse. Nothing else will give you so many opportunities to trigger emotions, increase your attractiveness to a stranger of the opposite sex without saying a word, or do anything but spend a few minutes reading a poem together.
Poetry and Social Organization
Of course, unfortunately, writing poetry is also one of the causes of regrettable misunderstandings that can destroy your social contentment, and subvert society. The main cause is that poetry is still an oddity to many people, and on top of that there is a lack of positive knowledge of this mode of social communication among those in leadership positions all over the world.
In Vietnam, writing poetry is also spreading widely, relatively speaking. You can catch people writing poetry in many places, in the offices of the national assembly, parks, next to a lake and in locales where people gather to eat and use prostitutes. From early morning until dusk, late night and beyond. From preschool, youth, middle-age to even old age, everyone enjoys practicing poetry. A destination for those who want to participate, exchange, explore and research news about poetry in Vietnam: the various types of literature and art journals.
Poetry and Advice
Let’s all practice poetry not only out of enjoyment but also because of the many advantages and attitudes that poetry can bring.
Translated from the Vietnamese by Linh Dinh
LYNH BACARDI’s real name is Pham Thi Thuy Linh. Born in 1981, she lives in Ho Chi Minh City and works as a typist and a translator of children’s literature. A 5th grade drop out, she has also worked as an itinerant vendor of cakes and lottery tickets. She has published poems in several leading Vietnamese literary journals and webzines. Translated into English, her works have also appeared in Tinfish and Nha Magazine.
Shrink & Stretch
today waking up speaking like an opportunistic death rim. I cry buzzingly a scrawny milk cow. missing the last grasping chance. mother sits counting money inside a jar brimming with black water. a hot line for polluted spirits. outside all living things are in mourning clothes and trampling on each other to reach heaven. I uncouth a building built with virginal blood. feigning an orgasmic moan. sunlight high above weeping inundating the streets. men who become bloodless when overburdened. the obese rain flows hotly. I’m pregnant with coins reeking a burning smell. a mother selling her flow keeping the cultural flow for her brood. needle marks wilting along with each vein. numbly I chew the cheery invoice. the ulcerated mouth teaches civilization to its children. I give birth to well-off swindlers. a tiny body running after a beer can recklessly tilting. drooling at leftover food inside the eyes. bad nerves jamming the buddha’s miracles. a shivering fairy guffawing up a pack of lice. today all ideas upset the stomach. a look loaded with the code of one who defecates often. hey little girl laughing savagely a prurient pain. let’s wear the voice of the opportunistic death rim. I carry your shadow into a coffin bought with a bitter tongue. headstrong words trading blows with each other. stepping on red coals I walk spellbound. budding pubic hairs dying of old age. at midnight laughs and cries grind down the city. the malnourished timid whirlwind. I sold my ass seven times the first time. pay back with a bout of love making without joy. woke up the next morning with a blood-smeared death rim. virginal blood more precious than living blood. a mother laughing baring her teeth inside a jar brimming with black water. I drape my skirt over lumpy heads encrusted with woven spider shit. now my male member festers.
rubbing salt on a wound not yet encrusted. choking the overflowing source of piety. how to freeze frame perfection. I banish all erupting emotions. the ladle scornfully splatter a smooth face. sterility drifts inside consciousness. goose flesh kindling disease. I howl into the void. breed wild dogs inside the body. the bra suddenly dries up binding each vertebrae. the generational divide rotted and buried in earth. nakedly glowering demanding to be worshipped. male members lined up permanently risen. I 5 feet 5 after recovering my dignity. an intellectual hawking the equivalent of a rotten egg. two rubber sacks at face value. I stand on my head wearing a pair of three-legged pants. the microphone from the rally sprouting bristles. I tear the third pant leg. in need of a few holes to penetrate tonight. will be brainy tomorrow. the bible bleeding black blood at the head of the bed. the gospel hits the road. I rejuvenate the brain with a coat of status paint bought from the open-air market. asskicking high class. will turn into a child this evening. bound by the word “far” weighing down the neck while being carried by “mother.” greedy eyes a mouthful of milk. two knees suddenly numb on the barbed wires. praying hoping to give birth to a flock of suns. like to illuminate distances with insolent laughter. I crave the smell of piss from the rat hole neighborhood. roaming around carrying a flat face. bad-mouth the past betray the present. the cock on the church’s roof clucks. I shift sex. put hands together for the end of the day’s prayer. tonight I gobble once more the sacrament. look for a new brand tomorrow – surely people are disgusted.
Translated from the Vietnamese by Linh Dinh
MIEN DANG was born in Da Nang in 1974, came to the US in 1989, and now lives in Florida, where she works as a manicurist. She has been partially deaf since the age of 13. Mien Dang has studied meditation with the Burmese monk Sayadaw U Silananda and the Vietnamese monk Sayadaw U Khippa. Her poems can be seen regularly in various Vietnamese print and web journals. English translations of her work have appeared in the webzines xconnect and MiPoesias.
I know the bud will bloom
Perhaps into a girlish pink
Or the color of a salamander
Or the color of a hairy worm
Grinding a thousand leaves
To steal for itself a green color
How does one know that someone is longing to look at a green flower?!
Perhaps the blossom will not be whole
Missing a broken angel wing
The flower also has no perfume
But I’m longing for something else entirely
And he doesn’t have a penis
Twisting towards me on a VERY HUMAN foot
And I also don’t have a vagina
We make love with our mouths
With tongues sucking
To increase our pleasures
We clang our teeth
God has given mankind so many marvelous sensations!
If there really is an actual nervous system
We’d knock each other down to make love
Damn those illusions!
I know the bud will bloom into a mottled flower
With fake angel wings
But I solemnly wait for something else entirely
And he doesn’t have a penis
Circling me on a VERY HUMAN foot
Dec 5, 2001
The window bar decanters the slanting sunlight
Shape of a creature that knows how to sulk
Urgent howls of crazy love talks
Curse in the filthiest language
Let’s try to kiss each other
I borrow the soft parts of the lips
To reconstruct a ravaged face
Rotating upward the pupils
Roots like tangled lightning elongate
Reddened the cruel dawn
Doddering love’s black magic
Doubts then modesty
On pale pink cheeks
The skin has become musty here
In panic the river licks the bank
And who are you?
I save for you grief on round breasts
How can I wait?
And what would I be?
What’s repulsive hidden deep inside the uterus
I want to pierce shame into you
And what would we be?
I want to see you laugh
A trembling puppet bursting
A hand on shrunken testicles
Opening wide the flat chest
Flash frozen the self-absorbed lonely substance
To escape raggedness by stripping naked
Tickle and laugh
Jan 26, 2002
Beauty flays along the length of the dirty stain
Petrified in some corner nibbling
Phosphorescent glass shards
Sweet tasting half a curse
The remaining secret part
Groaning behind clenched teeth
Slippery inside a body oozing water
Night is pinned with a million black sesame seeds
Flitting along the fireflies
He is buried alive at the fold
I nudge it out gingerly
The green scar by chance passes through many springs
Skin brownish yellow the color of alluvium
The life force splits the mud cakes
Naked to be reborn
Can’t Speak Yet
Extending the color of sunshine,
He touches the blue shadow of the sky.
The sharp tip of pregnancy
A flipped jaw.
Existence drifts completely the soul,
Frothing an ape dream.
The subconscious warps the other side of the face.
Cruelty crowds passion into a corner,
Rams the body as the flame rises.
A short nerve
Softens the water.
Let’s pierce to pieces the illusion!
Appearance bares its back whispering.
The hand not black enough for the heart of night.
Cannot speak now.
Striving for meaning at the end,
In a cattle state,
Stretched out the wet eye…
Sept 12, 2002
The abyss blooms tenderly in the crotch,
flips the body.
The hallucination casts a strange face the submerged pains.
I listen to a music bored into bones and marrows.
If it’s that absurd,
then be quiet in front of too many masks to morph into.
a red skinned sack kicking madly,
and still the scalding drop life’s endless night.
Heed the arousal both deranged and sensibly elastic:
a secret pliant stain,
the shape of a worm slipping smoothly into earth.
Vibrate the end-of-the-world thread.
Recall a torn feeling.
Nods repeatedly that head,
gaze at that grinning darkness,
and memorize a poem about that little mouse.
All is intimate and forgiving,
challenging the dark
Blood clears a course drifts down a blind dream,
boils the pit of a girl’s soul.
From this strange hairy bush, an endless question.
From you to me, walking into an alliance
If you want to kill yourself, then try to forget all blunders.
I’ll give up my self-torture
so you could be reborn as downy hair over my ears.
Fondling each vague photographic negative,
life gushes out,
beats urgently on your river banks.
Morning in the highland juts out like tiny cheeks,
clear and plump,
applauds the enthralled heart and mind.
All things on earth need to be seen, sucked and sniffed,
carefully and attentively, by the earthiest organs:
the nose of a wild dog, a milk-fed mouth, eyes of a rainy evening.
Look into the pit of a toilet,
sniff for your lover’s sweat,
and suck your own tongue.
experience a surprise attack and resist without tiring.
Memory of spirited life will sweep clean messy remembrances—
find the pulsing artery of the frenzy.
It appears the man is crying,
set aside the smell of a forest silently burning,
shattering sounds of a newly formed desert.
The animal instinct of spitting out whole the poison,
suddenly sadly naked…
Never tasted to the full the saltiness of salt,
a bout of sea rain on the tip of the tongue.
A rousing root spreads across the lips,
to life’s climax.
No need for another escape.
Stroke aslant the worries
from my breast
with your hand.
Feb 17, 2005
Translated from the Vietnamese by Linh Dinh
Nguyen Quoc Chanh
NGUYEN QUOC CHANH was born in 1958 in Bac Lieu, and now lives in Ho Chi Minh City. He is the author of four collections of poems, “Night of the Rising Sun” (1990) and “Inanimate Weather” (1997), the e-book “Coded Personal Info” (2001) and the samizdat “Hey, I’m Here” (2005). His poems have been translated into English and published in the journals The Literary Review and Filling Station, and in “Of Vietnam: Identities in Dialogues” (Palgrave 2001). A selection of his poems are included in “Three Vietnamese Poets” (Tinfish 2001), translated by Linh Dinh.
Seven Untitled Poems
The sun lunges forward crossing a boundary puncturing a late sleep.
An egg hatches a sound.
I grip my own hand holding a shadow and releasing it into a glass of water.
On the silent shore the sea of memories spares two shells odorless and empty.
Evening holding back a burnt mark a pictogram the pit of an eye the sun immolated,
Evening burning the memory bank arms held in prayer the night heron calling into
Night extinguished with one man left behind lunging forward turning into a
Feet without lamp street without lamp the shadow is black.
Feet without lamp street with lamp black is the shadow.
Beneath two lamps two shadows both are black.
You ran contrariwise from the crown of your head to the soles of your feet, a mad
woman, a primitive egg dashed against scrap metal.
You collided then reverted to a rubbery condition a series of warped circles.
The endlessly jarring road with its bad intentioned collisions and drowned rivers.
You ran in panic from the woods onto a tidy stage then smiled and talked in a
Beneath the conceptual hammer you boldly split in two rhythmically trembling on
the resilient mattress.
You chased after a fit of excess and fell into the HIV pit.
A strange wind poured into the fire.
You a gray smoke gathering into clouds metamorphosing into a female bug like
the woman in the dunes adapting to a man robbed of freedom without his
day on the cross.
You a woman about to be stoned.
My eyes do not register the presence of trees animals men or even the arrogant
Inside my eyes are only distances hierarchies dark holes black boxes zigzags and
Daybreak frolics with the flowers the night smile disappearing on the street.
Each person a curfew face inside the clock the pendulum oscillates.
The briefest day I throw away as you save the thin pleasured body.
Daybreak swallows you in stages nibbles me to bits.
Tic toc tic toc
The horn beak pecks at the night drum,
Two secret revealing eyes are sliding along time’s greasy surface.
The wall displays dead holes variously connected to the inmate.
And only the tic tac sounds remain to count the rolling aspirins.
Night flashes its cold teeth the mouth opens its precipices.
Shadows from cul-de-sacs stretch and stagnate on the brick floor.
Still the tic toc sounds pecking the dense night.
Still the rolling aspirins.
Low Pressure System
The thumb stops breathing.
There is a sound of a dropped glass.
Needles piercing the ear.
I see water gushing from hollows in the wall.
(The house’s arterie is broken.)
Water is drowning the word mouth.
A character cannot escape the death of a wet book.
Our character is tattooed: Small. Weak. Wicked. Shell.
Words stepping on each other trying to remove themselves from literariness.
They float blue on the water.
Individual corpses sink to compete with bricks and shards of glass.
The remaining fingers have headaches and runny noses.
Memory stands then sits stringing pieces of intestines around a hole.
I hear cries of a newborn.
A fish crawls out from a bloody hollow.
The woman closes her thighs and a corpse is covered up.
A laugh crawls in wiggly lines across a cheek.
Look into the thumb.
Sperms reborn in the flow of sap animating the wild grass and flowers.
After the bee season the flowers and grass are plowed up shredded and burnt.
The grass regrows and the sperms open their eyes.
(Even if the land is mortgaged joint ventured or sold to another.)
The hunt is a thousand years old.
A distance only blind eyes can perceive.
Its concentrated flavor cannot be tasted by anyone besides the moss covered
tongues of turtles.
I hear wild laughs from a circus mixed with the rhythmic prayer for the release of
the souls of many female nuns.
(They are performing a circus for another world?)
A low pressure system on the hill seeps into the body.
Termites dig up dirt inside bones.
Nests grow from the ground to resemble artistic graves.
I carry a cemetery inside my body.
A fist missing a finger.
From things the night oozes out eyes and all are infected.
The taunt threads on the face of criminal justice.
Escaping heat loses abilities to ejaculate.
One’s aura is glazed over with a spreading yellow film spilling onto the
demarcation line and entering the forbidden zone.
Sedimentary mouth sucks on pride a soapberry lava ceases at the border of real
and fake weathers.
Life stops flowing.
Everything rots to pieces only the echoes of a linga and a yoni impassive statues
Things declare themselves royalties.
The faithful let down their guards.
It’s a legal opportunity for a disorderly appearance.
Order is restored by a red malice.
An inflected voice suffers rising blood pressure dreaming of nux vomica and
empty wine bottles.
The cerebrum enacted a benign female theatrical.
The hand of monopoly nudges the god-given rights of living things.
Skin color loses its reflex and the spool of the past weaves a fabric to cover holes
incapable of passing on the ambition to raise the count of air-hating insects.
Staring eyes having lost their keys open and shut at will.
Staggering mad manikins.
Each manikin hides a pig tail in Macondo (the village in One Hundred Years of
Solitude) and animal-shaped clouds jump on each other’s backs without distinguishing between predators and preys lions rabbits cats dogs or horses…
The human body opens up.
The pressures of surpluses and deficits ooze out beyond the range of sight and
The face of lava is not in the book of divination.
The protuberance is sharp and pliable.
The hollow has a black hole element its shape changes according to the weather
of a half yawn.
Night smoothes out protuberances and fills in hollows.
Disparity aches the entire line in back of the ears throat navel tail bone groin
and an open toilet.
The savior sits.
Concepts are a constraining helmet insects catching prey by a system of
Imagination and thoughts eternally nourished.
Man with a thick shadow does not hear the air breaks to clear a road to the cemetery
Look into one spot.
Staring and contemplating is to enter a train car without passengers.
Imagination thrown into a blinding interval everything rises.
A straight movement eliminates dampness and dries out the viscera.
A shadow creakily swinging a hammock.
The sound of darkness moving drenched in lubricating oil.
Kinship is declared through hastily carved bas relief where air-hating insects worship.
Product of cohabitation disobedient shard of instinct pressures of an offshoot forest.
A curt hand.
Memory opens its compass and a train car without passengers.
The past has extra tickets.
Centuries not transported.