& STYLE: Culture Vulture (02-07-2014)
Tranh lụa "Trưa hè" của họa sĩ Lê Văn
bilingual poetry collections by Vietnamese poet Mai Van Phan were among the 10
bestselling poetry collections from Asia onAmazon.com in the middle
of last month.
two collections in Vietnamese and English titled Ra Vuon Chua Xem Cat
Co (Grass Cutting in a Temple Garden) and Nhung Hat Giong Cua
Dem va Ngay (Seeds of Night and Day) and a Vietnamese-French
collection titled Bau Troi Khong Mai Che (A Ciel Ouvert/
Firmament without Roof Cover).
chats with Culture Vulture about his passion.
How were three of your bilingual poetry collections among
the top ten best-selling collections on Amazon? Is it a coincidence or a result
of your effort to "export" poetry?
This is a
coincidence based on the selling records of Amazon, which update automatically
every hour. I did not send my collections to Amazon. That was done by Page
Addie Press [the publisher]. So it's not due to my efforts.
How did you
have your poems translated and sell them online?
2010, I met translator Tran Nghi Hoang, who has lived in the US for 30 years.
He is one of my favourite poets and has written famous poems using modern
language. He first translated my poem Cua Mau (Mothergate)
into English then asked his close friend, poet Frederick Turner, to edit it.
Turner is a
founding professor of Arts and Humanities at the University of Texas in Dallas.
He was excited to edit the translation. He then agreed to edit the English
version of my Mothergate collection free of charge.
first bilingual Vietnamese-English collection, Firmament without Roof
Cover, was republished in July 2012 by the Writers Association Publishing
House, I received an email from poet Susan Blanshard, a representative of Page
Addie Press, inviting me to sign a publishing contract. According to the
contract, the collection would be published in printed and e-book versions. The
e-book version appeared on Amazon.com in 2012. The printed
version was published in the US, Canada, Australia, the UK and other European
later, the collection was among the top 100 bestsellers on Amazon, which urged
Page Addie Press to publish my next collections.
So far, I
have had four collections translated into English and one in French. They
include the three top selling collections last month and Out of the
Dark, which was published in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and European
countries and is available on Amazon.com.
So far, my
works have been translated into seven languages (English, French, Albanian,
Indonesian, Korean, Swedish, and Thai).
The 1990s seemed to be your
most productive period. Could you briefly describe your poetry career?
literature in the early 1990s was in fact the "eye of the storm".
Writers were entering a renovation period, where everyone aspired to live in a
society with more justice and democracy.
My roots as
a poet are in folk literature, then I learnt from the great poets of Viet Nam
and China, India, Russia, the UK, France, and Latin America. In my recent
works, I use modern and natural language.
Have you received any feedback
from international audiences?
received lots of emails from people all around the world. Many comments on my
collection were published on Amazon.com, like the ones by Raymond
P. Keen (from the US), Katy Miller (UK), Amanda Evans (Ireland) and Rob Mars
(Czech Republic). I was impressed the most with the essays by Keen and Gjeke
Marinaj (an Albanian American).
The Writers Association has
just established a Centre for Literature Translation. What do you think about
I think we
are on the edge of the world's literature stream, as most of our valuable
contemporary literature works have not yet been translated. Most Vietnamese
poets have been quietly composing without caring about "exporting"
their works to other countries.
contemporary poetry has a unique Vietnamese identity. The centre will introduce
domestic literature to the world in a scientific and professional way, which
will encourage writers, including me, to write more and better. — VNS