7/13/07

Tran Da Tu







American readers are familiar with the Vietnam War poetry of Bruce Weigl and Yusef Komunyakaa, etc., some may even have read former NVA Bao Ninh's novel, The Sorrows of War, but almost no one has read the war poetry of the South Vietnamese, on whose land much of the fighting was taking place, but that's not so unusual, is it? Does anyone know what Iraqi and Afghan poets are writing? Among the best South Vietnamese poets of his generation is Tran Da Tu, born 1940, whose war poetry reads as if it was written, well, right now. I translate two:



Toy for Future Children

A blind and deaf bullet buried in the field
Dozing through decades of blood and bones
Then one morning
In a bustling future
As the children return to the field
Returning to goof around and chase each other

The blind and deaf bullet will be dug up
Will be dug up and awaken
In the middle of this happiness
As the children shriek and crow
The bullet will wake up
Wake up and open its eyes
Open its eyes and explode
Explode and the children will die
Die with their bodies and faces shattered

There, that’s the toy left over by your parents

O my children
What more can I say
What can say to my children, to my children
To a pitiful future.


[Saigon, 1964]




Fragmented War

The loose change are still warring on the table
Amid paint brushes, cheap plays, vague poetry and confused papers
An endless economic war
A weird adventure inside a bowl’s rim

How do we exit from it
Beside stripping ourselves naked
To search and sketch ourselves, to confess
Is there a body not as obscure as the night
A desire not as messy as a storm

That’s when history assumes the enemy’s face
I punch his chin hurting my hand
Hear love dissolving like a breath exhaling
While the past is as exhausted as an illusion
As you look down

How do we exit from it
Beside finding each other
To weep, lament and swap stories
Is there a history not as treacherous as you
A truth not as ragged as mother

These are mornings you must stand on the balcony
Evenings you must wander the streets
Suns that must be put into frames
Nights that must appear as words

And how do we exit from it
Beside dying
So as to finish, fall and exterminate ourselves.



[Saigon, 1965]
*Photo: Tran Da Tu with his youngest son in 1976, just before he was imprisoned for 12 years by the Communists

7 comments:

Murat said...

Linh,

The fate of bullets in war to be blind -

I'll meet Christ in the shape of a bullet
When the dew comes
Oh, I fear the hour
when horizon stares.

My loved one is away like starlets
I poke the ground.
I'll be soon dead, oh,
like the wood in my hand.

Night folds the eyes of bullets
But my fear wakes,
I'll see you in the eye oh lord
when the dew comes.


Ciao,

Murat

Linh Dinh said...

Hi Murat,

Wonderful! When did you write this?

Linh

Murat said...

Linh,

The poem is around twenty-five years old.

Ciao,

Murat

ann cotten said...

the statement that a poem 40 years old sounds like it could have been written today is a common remark used either to imply high quality via timelessness or to suggest the poem in question was "ahead of its time", i.e., usually, in some way what you would call avantgarde. each relies on assumptions one could question, the first is that there is a special connection between quality and timelessness. if you think about it, however, it is much more likely that an inane poem remain untouched by time. many fantastic works of literature draw one necessarily into the time they were written when one has to do with them, and that doesn't have to be a fault. (just as, in this case, it is not -- i know this was not exactly what you meant) the avantgarde notion, however, implies the idea of progress in literature, which is something i for one can only complicatedly acquiesce to. while no doubt the mass of interesting individual developments, tracks and techniques grows, nothing releases each individual author from the necessity of reinventing every wheel she would like to use, admittedly with the help of the established diagrams. and definitely, the words, the pains and images, the needs, the questions, the words and letters repeat themselves perpetually. so does war, so that questioning the ideas of timelessness, repetition in history and progress becomes particularly poignant in regard to these poems.

Linh Dinh said...

Hi Ann,

In stating that the Tran Da Tu poems read as if they were written today, I was only pointing to the many tragic parallels between what he was describing and what's happening today (notwithstanding so many pronouncements about the end of war or, even more hopeful and sillier, the end of history). His stoicism, despair, outrage and struggle to make sense out of what was happening are all-too-familiar to those caught under the wheel of history, yesterday, today or tomorrow. Even the details don't change much, if at all. I quote from his "Love Tokens" (which I read in the second video of the following post):

I’ll give you a roll of barbwire
A vine for this modern epoch
Climbing all over our souls
That’s our love, take it, don’t ask

I’ll give you a car bomb
A car bomb exploding on a crowded street
On a crowded street exploding flesh and bones
That’s our festival, don’t you understand

Linh Dinh said...

Hi Ann,

Regarding poems belonging to their time: a great example is Neruda's "Ode to the Sea," posted recently on this blog. The first half of this poem is charming and exhilarating, with the speaker pleading with an anthropomorphic sea to feed the masses, but it turns bizarre when he threatens to dump concrete into the ocean, spit at it, ride it like a horse, force it to serve mankind. Neruda's Soviet faith in a bright technological future places him squarely in the 20th century. Like Marinetti, Pound and every other writer, great or mediocre, he could only belong to his time, of course, but no more so than in this great, shitty ode.

ann cotten said...

dear linh dinh,
i certainly agree! i just meant to point out this point where, with all specifics, the diagram of the cyclic and the points of view at one point of the cycle seem to fall in one, and yet not forget their diverging prospects. vine and barbed wire - new products by old models. i find all this interesting.