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Thứ Tư, 1 tháng 6, 2011

Nguyen Trai’s poetry recited in English

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The poet Nguyen Duy(left), Paul Hoover (middle) and Nguyen Do (right) at the session
Photo: Truc Quynh

Selected poems of Nguyen Trai, Vietnam’s 15th century national hero, were read in English and contemporary Vietnamese at Hoa Sen University in Ho Chi Minh Tuesday morning.
The session was part of a Vietnamese tour by two poets and translators, American Paul Hoover and Nguyen Do from Vietnam. The two visited several cities to recite Nguyen Trai’s poems introduced in their book “Beyond the Court Gate.”
Published last year in America, it features a collection of about 150 poems by Nguyen Trai translated from original Han and Nom characters into English and contemporary Vietnamese.
A prominent historical figure of Vietnam’s feudal dynasties, Nguyen Trai was better known in the country as a military and political strategist rather than a distinguished poet, Do said.
His poems’ old-fashioned verse and vocabulary only distance them more from contemporary readers, he added.
Ly Doi, an audience member from Ho Chi Minh City said the Nguyen Trai poetry he was taught in junior high and high school were old-fashioned and difficult for students to understand.
He also cited examples of classic works like Shakespeare which have been rewritten into contemporary English to reach more readers.
Many of the audience members were young and showed an interest in approaching Nguyen Trai’s poetry from a different angle and through a more modern language.
“This is not the Nguyen Trai I think I have known,” a male student from Hoa Sen University said after the two poets recited the poems in Vietnamese and English.
To Hoover, Nguyen Trai’s greatness lies in his ability to touch readers across ages. 
“There are many human moments in his poems, as human as forgetting your shoes,” he said. “ He has a modern mind and is able to see life both sophistically and immediately with tremendous clarity.”
Unlike many classic Chinese poets who mostly found expression through landscape, Nguyen Trai wrote about his own life with such intimacy and immediacy that many contemporary readers can easily identify with, Hoover said.
“Having a modern life, he put his emotional life forward and at risk,” he said. “In a way, anybody can understand his works. They just need to be unveiled as to what he means and what his human drama is.”
Nguyen Trai’s poetry seems to transcend borders too, as the reception of the book in prestigious American universities, like the University of California, Berkeley, was enthusiastic.
“People kept asking me who this poet was, and why they didn’t know anything about him till then,” Hoover said. “They said his works were just great.”
In Vietnam, there have been offers from publishers to put out Nguyen Trai’s poems.

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