Meetings (VN Diary No. 22)

Because I haven’t been feeling well the last couple of days, I’ve had to cancel a couple of meetings, which of course throws everything into disarray. Add to that the fact that I’m going south on next Tuesday and it makes for scrambled plans. I haven’t met nearly as many people here as I had hoped. On some days I have felt as if people are actively avoiding meeting with the American professor. When I was planning this trip, I thought that Hoang Hung and Ngo Tu Lap would be here to help, but Hung has permenantly decamped and Lap is nowhere to be found. One of the poets I’ve really wanted to meet again in Hanoi is Phan Huyen Thu, whose poems I helped translate when I was here before. Unfortunately, she left town on business just about the time I arrived — I’m not quite clear about when she’s returning, but I hope it will be before I leave. In the south, though, I will be in good hands. Ly Lan and Mai Tran have promised to introduce me to all their friends, so, ironically, while I thought most of my work was in Hanoi, going forward it may be that most is in HCMC and Hue. I also have wonderfully rewarding and ongoing friendships at the publishing house (The Gioi / The World) that sponsored me on my Fulbright, but they are journalists and editors, who, while wonderfully helpful, can’t really help me make the contacts I need in the poetry world. It has been a frustrating, though not completely worthless couple of weeks in terms of my specific project; but then I’m in the lovely city of Hanoi, which takes some of the edge off the frustration.


Powering up the Vietnamese software to refresh my (very modest) language skills. It now looks as if I’ll be going to VN in the spring to research & collect material for an anthology of contemporary Vietnamese poetry. I will have the able assistence, thankfully, of my friends Ly Lan & Hoang Hung. What I envision is an anthology with extensive notes, interviews and an “ethnographic” essay that treats Vietnamese poetry as a cultural text. Because of the rapid & radical social & cultural changes in Vietnam over the last thirty years, the country is itself an experiment in cultural change; and the Vietnamese have always put poetry at the center of their culture. Poetry still seems to matter in Vietnam. My working thesis is that Vietnamese poetry can be read as a sort of genetuic code.