Poet Mai Van Phan: Vietnamese artists can also create permanent art trends

Friday, 2017-06-30 10:02:46
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Mai Van Phan's collection of poems titled 'Firmament without roof cover' was translated into English.
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NDO – Poet Mai Van Phan is the author of 13 volumes of poetry, many of which were translated into foreign languages. He became the second Vietnamese poet honoured with Cikada Prize - a prestigious award for outstanding poets, focusing on East Asian region.

He granted an interview to Nhan Dan Online in relation to the integration of Vietnamese poets on the international arena.

Q: You were the second poet in Vietnam, after Y Nhi, to win the Cikada award for Southeast Asian poets launched by Swedish poet Harry Matinson (1914-1978). The award showed that Vietnamese poetry has a common voice with other countries in the world. What do you think about this?

A: Vietnamese literature, particularly poetry, is sharply divided, showing that it has become more diversified, liberal, democratic and creative. Notably, since 1986, a new trend of renewed Vietnamese poetry has been formed and developed, keeping pace with poetry in the region and the world.

In my opinion, in order to promote Vietnamese poetry to international readers, it is essential to create high quality translations, conveying the right meaning of the original text. However, the poets should accept the variation of the verbal meanings and even the form between linguistic texts for the same poems. For example, several Vietnamese translators changed the style of poetry produced by A. S. Pushkin and P. Neruda to 'luc bat', a Vietnamese verse form of alternating six and eight syllables. Polish poet Agata Tuszynska said that he really respected the hard work of the translators.

The translators have to understand the spirit and intention of the poet before translating the language in order to convey the meaning of the poems. Therefore, it is said that the authors and translators need to have sympathy for one another and a common voice in order to create translated works that are closest to the original. In addition to understanding the language and content of the poems, the translators need to have a deep understanding of culture, history, psychology and society in the localities where the poets lived and worked. The UK writer Anthony Burgess wrote, “Translation is not a matter of words only: it is a matter of making a whole culture intelligible”.

Q: You have changed different forms of expression, aesthetic concepts and poetry language during your career. Why did you make these changes?

A: I created my first poems mainly based on my instincts and life experience. Then I soon realised that if I depend on familiar spaces and inherently available things, it would be hard for me to create my own style. I have known and even tried to bore myself after ending a period of creation in order to have a new internal force. I felt I was born again whenever I started a new creation period.

Q: Do you have a specific target?

A: I aspire to create my own style as well as join hands with some other poets to build a modern Vietnamese poetry trend which will be different from the past and present. In my opinion, like artists in other creative fields, the target of a poet is to create real values, truly reflecting the current age as well as predicting good and bad omens in the future.

I once said to a French poet that I admired the ‘modernism’ trends that were initiated in France during the 20th century. Many art trends, for example surrealism, ended in the middle of the last century; however, they also left a special mark on the literary life of humankind. Vietnamese artists absolutely are capable of creating trends that will receive the attention and study of international readers, contributing to improving Vietnamese poetry’s position on the global poetic system.

Q: In your opinion, what is most important for the creative journey of a poet?

A: I think that is the sense of self-learning and self-training as well as nourishing and maintaining strong emotion.

Q: As I know, your poems have been translated into 24 different languages. Could you share with us about this achievement?

A: As I have said, my poems were divided into different phases corresponding to my own creation period. During each period, translators selected my most well-known poems to translate. The feedback showed that foreign readers loved my poems that were written during the recent periods. They said that my poems were in harmony with the world’s poetry in form of expression, language and the poetry space. Especially, readers want to understand the identity of Vietnamese people, including language, lifestyle, customs, behaviour, religions and community and social institutions, through my poems.

The British poet Susan Blanshard remarked that Mai Van Phan’s words express the values of the culture, spirit, traditions and customs of Vietnamese people. In addition, the American poet and literary critic Raymond Keen wrote in an essay that Mai Van Phan brought a pure and lively poetry language to the reality of human life in the larger scene of nature and the universe.

I want to share an experience that firstly, poets need to have high quality translations without losing content of the original text. Each poet should have translated poems into English, French and Spanish because they are languages popularly used in the world. Two poets and translators Erik Bergqvist and Maja Thrane from the Tranan Publishing House (Sweden) have translated my poems into Swedish. My poems are scheduled to be published on the occasion of the Stockholm book festival in September.

Q: You always follow and search for the development of Vietnamese poetry, including ups and downs, achievements and young faces. Your critical book titled ‘Khong gian khac’ (Another Space), which was published two years ago, has achieved fame for your independent and new critique as well as different aesthetics in assessing and evaluating contemporary Vietnamese poetry. What do you wish to say with young poets?

A: Through the book, I want to affirm that a new and renewed poetry trend has been formed in the country’s literary life although it receives multidimensional public opinions. Before writing this book, I wondered which position contemporary Vietnamese poetry holds in world poetry and what Vietnamese poets must do? I studied and analysed four foreign poets who represent current modern poetry trends in the world, including Gjekë Marinaj (the US), Rati Saxena (India), and Metin Cengiz and Müesser Yeniay (Turkey). The poets who were mentioned in my book have created different waves in terms of changes in Vietnamese and world poetry.

I want to share with young poets that in order to be more creative, they should constantly accumulate knowledge and enjoy rich experiences. Maybe the young faces agree with me that we should patiently read the works of typical poets many times to understand trends today and in the last century to see how they come into prominence in their time.

Thank four very much for your interview!