Nguyễn Vy Khanh
Poet Ha Nguyen Du
Since the H.O. element was added to the overseas Vietnamese community, Vietnamese poetry, which originally had been increasingly dense with firewood, suddenly emerged with words of hope. Ha Nguyen Du is among these, having left his hometown ten years ago. After many losses and complications, in the past two years, he has released two poetry collections, The Other Path (Garden Grove CA: Tan Thu, 1998) and the volume (I know, my dearest) (Westminster CA: Tu Luc, 2001).
Those who are looking for the essence of poetry, walking on Ha Nguyen Du's exotic paths, will not be disappointed. The poems that yield the impression of a connoisseur are ultimately full of art and metaphors, and are highly promising. Throughout the poem collection, with the quality of the art sometimes smoldering and obvious, the poet shows a sensitive but also resolute soul according to the situation of the moment, and the general peripheral situation that is required. This is a poet who lives and breathes to compose, lives for poetry, lives strongly with the subtleties of the art, with the will to strive to open new paths!
Ha Nguyen Du seems to make it difficult for people to enjoy poetry with rarefied, unexpected words, broken chords, and abandoned sentiments, but that's also Ha Nguyen Du’s special characteristic. He appears to be playing hide and seek with his poetry, providing a rhythmic poetry that is not rhymed, poetry in natural conversational discourse, indignation, dialogue, communication... Cadenced or cacophonic poems, revealing confessions of love or acrimony. In form, the way a new line is started, even and uneven tones, middle to high pitches, caesuras are employed, and words are played on, is like a dictionary with misaligned character sets and phonic marks; the way the exclamation mark is used (Spring Poems with Many Exclamation marks!!), the way words are placed onto the page - the “New Layout” post is written with the letter B, the poem ”Huu Dung” has an S shape, “Bào Thai Cảm Xúc”, with the letter C that looks like a capital E, or is it just an emotional fetal arrow? The word "Hao Quang" gradually narrows after it has been expanded - may be intended to show people the feelings of resistance, pain, thinking, and boredom, of a poet who has to live in difficult circumstances. Without choice, the body and soul are damned, but the soul is always awake, always aiming for beauty, and truth. The poems have a bitter, violent shell, but are wrapped with the sweetness of steamed sugarcane coming from human love!
Ha Nguyen Du's poetry overwhelms literary readers because of the heavy contrasts between love and real life. Poetry here is the end of emotions, what remains after passions, real lives. "I gave birth to me / to many poems / many words strained / like a haggard / a heavy cell / on me / a melancholic tumor..." (“I Born Me”).
Ha Nguyen Du delineates poetry as "breathing/an updated physiology" after "having nothing left to give/being bankrupt yet still has “poetry," (“Nothing Left”), poetry as expedient salvation:
"...and for you, dearest, for you alone
the parable is soaked in the nectar of the nitobe chrysanthemum
when life is winter reverberating self-existence
a winter when roses are no longer in full bloom
the chrysanthemum draggingly wi, impermanent
The evening glow in your hand negotiates the color of the tree arch at the end of the alley
The mountain melancholically stands in angst about shadows traversing
Salvation poetry on every heartbeat
like a Zen master momentarily enlightened"
Because poetry can lighten darkness:
"... poetry is written with words of blood
turns on the light
ordinary human beings
bound by rigmaroles
this existential body!"
"The sea of life rages with fury" to "let the word/lull agony/love the child to escape exile" (“Loving the Son”).
Poetry becomes light or the last hope: "spiral/enters the universe/centrifugal/collects all the stories of life/ I am me / of the waning moon / of the ebbing tide / of tantalizing nothingness / you are you / of my poetry / of everlastingness / of Being" (Chân Như).
Sometimes the poet is ashamed and wants to crucify words, sometimes the sense of smell does not fulfill its function, "causing words to be deprived of heart/poetry as arid alluvial/disregardful of particular aromas of flowers" (Written in Ficomp, Santa Ana).
The poet has a very profound, highly sensitive mind to very ordinary creatures:
"I know, my dearest
when the river flows
it rollovers carrying with it a lot of waste
water diminishing its blue
the algae punished with discoloration
The waves germinating plots to eradicate the foam..."
(“I Know, My Dearest 1”)
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Ha Nguyen Du's poetry has content that conveys emotions, confidences or messages, and experiences left behind. The rhymes are light, with poetic sound features:
"... stack of old letters filled with your promises
But, oh now! just a maelstrom
I love you so, remembering the day we got acquainted
When we kiss, you say you’ll leave school..."
(“Stack of Old Letters”)
"... the autumn forest barren, dead leaves covering up the path
Love of old days
Military maneuvers in the forest, one distant day, someone...
Deeply in love
Distended with adventurous longing, I still love you
(“Still Perching on the Branch of Love”)
"...summer is coming, what would you say to the sunshine?
Mourn the fallen leaves emptying the dry branches?
The old cicada ripening its melody
What do you remember in the flamboyant flower petals pressed in poetry?"
(“Summer And You”)
Composing poetry, truly living poetry, signifies "disclosing openly each compartment of memory/primitive love, a brief trance, physical appearance/ you hide behind neurosis, behind the fibers of your flesh/ although quiet but not silent..." (“In and Out of Life”), because how can you remain silent when the vestiges of your homeland are full of remembrances, flesh and skin? Ha Nguyen Du's “Tha La Parish” is Mary, is "jade".
"Mary dearest, it’s hard to forget the old days
Even in shackles, yet you are gentle!
you give me a load of energy, a load of streams of poetry
...Mary dearest, my love from Tha La
Barricaded by tons of mountains, we are not far away from each
I'll come back tomorrow to look for you, jade, tomorrow I'll come back to see you
(“My dearest,” Tha La)
The background of a painful past can leave traces:
"The fate of death and "
Is hallowed only to God
Cities growing up in forests
Overlords fighting one another
eyes rolling back
up to four thousand years
Whereabout wretched souls are groaning
It’s time to wait for the benevolent ruler
The past is the darkness of “Life Ruined”: "camp a / camp b / a 1, b 4 / handcuffs / U-shaped shackles/doctrines, conspiracy theory / young lives ruined".
"I am a bird whose wings are broken when the flock is scattered
I, a lame horse when the storm hits..."
(“You And The Way Out”)
"once I limp
the shoulder buckles!
In front of roads not traveled
And pangs of everlasting sadness
About hundreds of thousands of diseases...
coming from the direction of injustice
Regardless, it's a chase after all..."
Why is it unjust? Is it "four thousand years of offering / four thousand years of division/squash seeds rotten/ gourd stalks withered / mad at the empty barrels/whose sounds are bursting the eardrums / angry with the cowardly hands / crushing several generations" (“Generations Crushed”).
Poets are also angry at times, understandably, because:
"more than halfway around the distant earth
I always see it so close
because the roots are tightly implanted in the heart
because love is flesh and blood.."
And I still remember a lot because, in the home of the Statue of Liberty, human interactions are normal, but buffoons even when not sought, are still seen everywhere.
"... a quart into a pint pot
...bad actors fixing makeup
Are plotting farces
Unread about scripts
Enamored with jumping on the bandwagon
"Exiled, I'm a listless guest" (Nguyen Lu), I have to stop “Brush Your Hair”, to take care of my mother and sister back in my home country. Who says that being exiled is speaking about your parents whose recollection of someday “Under the sunset, Dad Sits Sifting Rice”, but "now that the sun is setting, who's going to sit and sift rice/ probably replacing Mommy’ shadow waiting for her son! / the roving son from thousands of miles away / living in exile, missing her immensely". In a state of extreme pessimism, he sometimes wishes to leave the world with his Last Word ... About A Prophecy. Because living alone is many a time a deadly experience: "that part of the bridge, that part is tottery / lost his ground in this world!" (Superfluous Step). Sad but not hopeless, because there still are aspirations (Tran Tinh Khuc). Restless sleep: "the slapping waves of the shallow pond or the sound of bells?!" (TVCB).
"...canes grow on rare soil
How can you find yellow apricot flowers amongst the thousands of green trees of different species?
Communications daubed in frost
Green sprouts cannot penetrate the ancient words?
receiving the miracle of the elixir..."
So it is, and that is the poet's subjectivity!
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It can be said that the unique feature of Ha Nguyen Du's poetry, if it has to be evaluated, is in the many strange and deliberate images, familiar to the poet but maybe strange to the reader. He is like a person who has a lot of thoughts to be shared, many experiences to be recorded, to be dedicated, and many innermost thoughts to preserve lest they are lost. “You, love, are the cycle of the sun and the moon", are both reincarnation and permanence, in the realm of yin and yang, as in the feelings of the heart.
"This flower in this sad world of birth and death
Nowhere can humanity escape death and rebirth.
You are the cycle of the sun and the moon
That gives me breath, shame, and honor..."
(“You are the Cycle of the sun and the Moon”)
Or some swan song that Ha Nguyen Du yearns to hear in objects of naked reality:
"Does love still bear green leaves and flowers?
Why is it like cicadas crooning a lullaby on the Chinese parasol tree
Why is it like living in the past, water receding
You, with eyes and lips sadly closed, are waiting
...We still dream, still long for each other
Clouds yield devastating rains, then the clouds are stretching out melancholy
You appear to repent when love goes astray
I live in exile singing my swan song..."
(Quoc Ly Tao).
Sad beautiful pictures of the “dwindling Sun Rays” in “Dropped Love”:
“...slanting sun rays, the sun is setting
Do you hear that fast pace of human life ?"
Today's poem wears the familiar image of cigarette smoke evanescing:
"...I miss the person rimmed in with evanescing cigarette smoke
the wilting spring branches, the white nights
My heart flutters with the tide
My dear! Would you ever know?..."
(“Missing the Person of Evanescing Cigarette Smoke”)
The subconscious folk poetry lives in the lines of the Rap period:
"Crossing the river, I miss the spans of the bridge
Crossing the moor, I’m imbibed with the pain of this grim life
Making it through the night, I appreciate the sun more, through humanity I see
Relationships are so fragile, wherever but not through you?
Through all the challenges, all the grief-stricken nuisances, through whomever as to be jointly
bound in trouble, through the miserable country, through exile in austere
prisons, across the river, to remember the spans of the bridge, through poetry to arrive
at the dangerous mulberry field.."
(“My Folk Poetry”)
Poetry is a place to relieve the fury and intensity of life. In love, sensuality insinuates itself into the very end of all instinctual crevices:
"keep kissing me / oh lips of fire/run after the tidal wave hands / let go of love / like a tiger / tearing apart a young dear / when hungry / your body is like a ripe fruit/ecstatic dream/I, a traveler on a sunny road/panting, empty stomach / undoubtedly not afraid to break the monastery precepts! / don’t abstain from hunger pangs!
Keep wrapping me up / wrapping me like a python / with your murderous curves / the smell of the forbidden fruit emulating pheromone
…lost soul / opening the door to birth... / also the door to death !"
(“Journey of Craziness, of Trance”)
Poetry is created with words, with language, with a capacity for interaction, with the subconscious, the wordless. Why not play with words?
Heart fire burning fire
Death/birth death demon..."
"...wrap me up with a rope of multiple knots
Oh, Gosh, so twisted…
Burdened with family responsibilities!"
Listen to why love is so twisted, not smooth at all!
Smooth out the rough parts
Fingers manage with dy
sparks of love on the wall of the dark dungeon
blooming on the branches of benevolence and righteousness
Accruing Bodhi and Charity
Playing with words as from which one can find the essence of life, find out the pure substance of birth, love. Like speculating on numbers to find salvation in “Pondering over the Impossible”! Or the mathematical symbols applied to the ego or a life full of calculations:
"I'm not me when I've not arrived
I'm just me when I come to me and when I
come to me that is me I have to leave me to
connect with the other me’s around me [tôi]
... and become “toi” [death] with the circumflex accent (^) missing to understand that
The (^) accent is like a bridge between words
not merely a mark, a..."
(“Is That Right, My Dearest?”)
And so go the semantic marks ', `, +, = , etc.
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Another feature worthy of noting in Ha Nguyen Du's poetry is the syncretization of ancient and modern writing, dead languages and living languages, dictionary languages, street slang, etc. Is this to express the here-and-now existence, of which parts belong to the past? A worn-out existence, an unneeded life, or still alive, but thinking I’m already dead, still in existence but filled up with seeds to rot like rice seedlings after a longer-than-usual flood, because of the destructive cruelty of time, of nature, and people...
Ha Nguyen Du is in command of the way he uses words, echoing formal classical literary language, sometimes exotic, next to the colloquial of street cries, conversations, greetings, confessions of love, innocent at times, concise at others, of the ordinary life:
"...waiting for someone in the summer night? Velvet tears, unfairly blaming
karma, lodged in asperity, in the lullabies sung by cicadas, crying..."
(“Dark Summer Night”)
"Panicking again about trivialities
You’re still round like a solar/lunar eclipse
And that is where the noose trap lies..."
"...you are waning as my precious stone
the stone fate the life of algae on those wild roving days..."
(“When Love Steps Pass Through”)
"...the moon descending, the sun setting, the clouds dropping
I, you keep singing, the eternally sad song…"
(“Already A Bird Has Flown”)
People who are not familiar with Ha Nguyen Du's style will become confused between “nguyệt tà” (the moon descending) and “dương xế” (the sun setting) with “tà dương” (crepuscule) or about the word “thôi” employed in more than one way, with only one meaning:
"...which egress would help us to avoid mortality
Just (thôi) gobbledygook! Cease (thôi) to separate human lives..."
(“You Are the Sun and Moon Cycle”)
Or the three sentences "remembering recently/time for spring parting (xuân ly)/remembering bitterly ...", xuân ly, not phân ly (separation), but it appears to want to say separation, probably that's how remembrances become poetry.
Through paragraphing, and punctuation, memories fall apart following the words:
Directed towards the sun
Songs for humanity
Voice of love does not dwindle
tamarind leaves, the paths to poetry
blue eyes entering life brighten up the horizon of dreams…"
Or as prolonged as a tormenting recollection: "You cried one afternoon you cried, so demure the rain outside is, facing the particles of frost/ the wind outside appears to stop her adventurous journey, Lo and behold! Your tears emulate the sky storming..." (“Beauty”)
Eight-word poems are placed side by side. Farther are long-winded poems of the New Formalism style, as in un-ended confessions, or if there does exist a desire to end, just stop as if tired or why een bother stopping like in Rap music!
Let's read “Ha Nguyen,” “Gene Ocean,” “I Know,” “My Dearest Love 2,” poetry as ayurvedic breathing! Sentences can be eight words but lines may be intertwined at will; rhyming doesn't stop at caesuras or paragraphing with intertwined lines, if you want to stop, stop in the mind, in the middle of the sentence, in the middle of the road!
The poet also uses different genres in the same composition, switching only according to sentiments.
"...waiting for someone in the summer night? Velvet tears, unfairly blaming
karma, lodged in asperity, in the lullabies sung by cicadas, crying
over the avowing moon, white nights, ephemeral pleasures
Oh, dark night!
Sunshine embroiders the surrounding mountains
Wilting the branch of mine
Yours the leaves are falling plenty…”
(“Dark Summer Night”)
“Cursed moonlight, staying awake at night, sectarianism
Oh my god!
sun embroidered a thousand fins
withered my branches
I have fallen leaves..."
(“Ha Huyen Night”)
Ha Nguyen Du experiments with several poetry genres, refreshing his style, different from the verse, liberalizing poetry that is already free, and in each poetry genre the poet experiments with a new style, employing words differently, replacing them with words ordinarily not used. The musical aspect is always present, sometimes as rhythmic as a folk song (ca dao), sometimes as long as a popular classical vọng cổ tune, and at other times, full of the rhythms of contemporary sentiments. Ha Nguyen Du's poetry must be recited to appreciate its beauty, the pleasures it gives, its poetic flavor, and the latent implications of sounds and words! Poems like “Give Me a Tango”, “Give Me a Sonnet”, “Dark Summer Night” must be read aloud for us to get in touch with the subconscious feelings of a heart, of the hyphen, and of period marks!
As Ha Nguyen Du once confided at the beginning of his poetry collection, after thirty years of being more or less happy with poetry, he now has returned to it with dedication. And he’s dedicated to making it new, different. As a synthesis. As a form of "assimilation" with the American Society of the New Formalism. Since the beginning of the existence of humanity, there have always been people searching for the meaning of words, cloaking them with particular characteristics of the time. Trends and literary schools then arise! Any school, any search is only a means for poetry; at worst it is but a home menu, supplementing new flavors to commonly-used dishes. But the poetic quality and distinctive characteristics of a poet cannot simply be a household menu, but instead must go beyond to be in touch with the poetic essence, the source of poetry! In quietness, it lies deep down below in the words incidentally evoked, in skillful metaphors!
In this second collection of poems by Ha Nguyen Du, the experimental part based on the poetry of the Postmodern period, the Neo-formal period, the hypertext, etc. is still too early to evaluate, but an unaccustomed fastidious reader still can feel through some poetic imagery, rhyming, and content. In the poems of his that are really "new", that can be "acceptable"(!), Ha Nguyen Du has left something other than a genre focusing on form. In the remaining two or three parts, Ha Nguyen Du does not disappoint poetry connoisseurs with special characteristics of his own. Paradoxically, in the use of hobbled words, of images or faulted rhythms, unexpected, one can find special features of success, such as a special kind of "musicality", a "tone" that is very poetic, very Ha Nguyen Du!
Here and there are gentle words like folk songs, with the passion of a first love, but Ha Nguyen Du's poetry is not the familiar, trodden path, but the highway opening up, spreading further everlastingly, non-stop, despite some mental glitches, disconcerted by the life of integration! Poetry confronting words and reality!
Translated by Phe Bach
Edited by Dr. Thai V. Nguyen