The war ended 35 years ago and now people who were once on the two front lines are sitting together to talk about poetry and literature. In this manner, it is apparent that literature is always pregnant with the miraculous, to the point that it helps people erase their former complexes and feuds. In order to have a meeting, Vietnamese and US writers had to go long series of steps over the past 20 years.
Kevin Bowen (L), director of the William Joiner Center of the University of Massachusetts, and Vietnamese writer Do Chu (Photo: SGGP)
Coming together thanks to beautiful lines of poetry
The pioneering writer Le Luu brought Vietnamese literature to the US in 1989.
He went to the US at the invitation of the William Joiner Center (a Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences) of the University of Massachusetts, that gathers famous American writers and poets who were veterans of the war in Vietnam.
The center promotes research on the consequences of war, mostly through literature and art.
Kevin Bowen, the center’s director, said that he met writer Le Luu for the first time in Ho Chi Minh City. At that time, together with some veterans and Vietnamese writers, he reviewed stories about the war.
A soldier and poet himself, Bowen sensed that Le Luu would be the one who would help him heal the scars of war Vietnam and America still suffer from, through literature. Then, Le Luu traveled to the US.
After Le Luu, many Vietnamese writers, poets and translators have also gone to the US through the center to study and discover American literature. These men of letters were messengers who introduced Vietnamese literature to the US.
Since then, the center began promoting projects to popularize Vietnamese literature. Bruce Weigl and Nguyen Thanh, a Vietnamese American student, has joined hands to study documents collected by the US after every battle.
The center’s writers and poets have found many poems written in diaries and notebooks of Vietnamese soldiers and guerrillas, which were collected by US troops.
There is no stamp of the war or hatred in the poems, but only emotions of love and homesickness, and hopes about a day when the war would end.
The center decided to translate the poems and published them in a collection named “Poems from captured documents”. They are very simple poems comprise the true feelings of soldiers.
For that reason, the poems make US readers able to see Vietnamese soldiers’ soul, spirit and strength that enabled the Vietnamese to overcome the horrors of war with its lethal weapons, and aspire for peace.
Following the first collection of poems, some of Vietnam’s famous literary works were translated into English and introduced in the US, including the novel Thoi Xa Vang (A Time Far Past) by Le Luu, and poems by Nguyen Trai, Nguyen Du and late president Ho Chi Minh.
Another famous collection of poems, Song Nui (Rivers and Mountains), and a work about the war titled Noi Buon Chien Tranh (The Sorrow of War) by Bao Ninh were also translated and published in the US, receiving enthusiastic responses from the American people. A chorus of peace and humanity
A seminar on the literature of Vietnam and the US was held in Hanoi on May 28-June 3, with the participation of Vietnamese writers and US writers, poets and researchers of Vietnamese culture from the William Joiner Center.
Delegates focused their discussions on writers’ mission in promoting abroad the beauty of the land, people and culture of Vietnam as well as highly valued great contributions made by American writers on introducing Vietnamese literary works to the US public.
They also exchanged views on the impact of Vietnamese cultural, especially through its literature, on the American people’s viewpoint of current Vietnamese society.
Cultural exchange activities between writers of the two countries and achievements gained in advertising Vietnam’s image in the US over the last 35 years were also highlighted at the seminar.
At the seminar, Vietnamese writer Nguyen Quang Thieu said that introducing Vietnamese literature to the US is just the beginning. In future, more Vietnamese literary works, poems, short stories and essays must find their way into American literary culture.
Like other writers, Mr. Thieu said he didn’t expect much from the seminar’s formal nature, saying what was important was the meeting itself, a chance for the two countries’ writers, who were in different front lines during the war, to sit together peaceably.
Having the same state of mind, the US delegation’s head, Kevin Bowen said he was moved when returning as a visitor to Vietnam, where he was a fighter during the war.
He said he had good impression of Vietnam, immediately upon arriving, and the more contact he has had with the Vietnamese people, the happier he has become.
As a poet, Mr. Bowen learned Vietnamese language through poems. He not only likes folk ballads, he introduces them into his own works.
He has visited Vietnam for many times after the war and written a number of poems and essays about the dignity and soul of the Vietnamese people. With his contributions, he received the Friendship Order from the Vietnamese State.
In memoirs, many American writers have said that they have owed Vietnam and the meeting has helped them attain some level of relief.
Writer Van Gia said that, although the war has been over for 35 years, many aspects of post-war psychology still need addressing, in order to achieve closure with the past and look forward to the future. Though some things have been done, there is much more work that needs to occur.
Surely, the war’s remaining myths will be dispelled, if writers and intellectuals from the two nations continue with their devotion to love and reconciliation.