Ca Dao Vietnam: Vietnamese Folk Poety

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During the Vietnam war, John Balaban traveled the Vietnamese countryside alone, taping, transcribing, and translating oral folk poems known as "ca dao." No one had ever done this before, and it was Balaban?s belief that his project would help end the war.

The young American poet walked up to farmers, fishermen, seamstresses, and monks and said, "Sing me your favorite poem," and they did. "Folk poetry is so much a part of everybody?s life, my ...

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Overview

During the Vietnam war, John Balaban traveled the Vietnamese countryside alone, taping, transcribing, and translating oral folk poems known as "ca dao." No one had ever done this before, and it was Balaban’s belief that his project would help end the war.

The young American poet walked up to farmers, fishermen, seamstresses, and monks and said, "Sing me your favorite poem," and they did. "Folk poetry is so much a part of everybody’s life, my request didn’t seem like such a strange proposition," Balaban writes.

The resulting collection—the first in any Western -language—became a phenomenon within the American Vietnamese community, but the book slipped out of print after the original publisher folded in the ’70s. This revised, bilingual edition includes new poems and an eloquent introduction explicating poetry’s importance in Vietnamese culture.

The Painting
The stream runs clear to its stones;
the fish swim in sharp outline.
Girl, turn your face for me to draw.
Tomorrow, if we should drift apart,
I shall find you by this picture.

"In early dynasties, Chinese emperors used to send out officials to record the poetry of the common people because folk songs were believed to be the truest indicators of popular feeling. . . . Consider this book such a sampling. Take it as a guide and enter this world of Taoist sages, parted lovers, melon gardens, concubines, exiled kings, wheeling egrets, rice paddies, bamboo bridges, shimmering moons, and fishtraps."—from the introduction

"These oral poems are direct (though not beyond slyness), simple in language, poignant. . . . Recommended for all collections."—Library Journal

John Balaban is the author of 11 books of poetry, prose, and Vietnamese translations. His Spring Essence: The Poetry of Hô Xuân Huong, has sold 20,000 copies. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he teaches at North Carolina State University.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781556591860
  • Publisher: Copper Canyon Press
  • Publication date: 8/1/2003
  • Series: A Kagean Book Series
  • Pages: 100
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.20 (d)

Meet the Author

John Balaban is the author of a dozen books of poetry, prose, and Vietnamese translations whose prizes include the Lamont Award, the William Carlos Williams Award, and two National Book Award nominations. His work has been featured on NPR's "Fresh Air," New York Times, and Utne Reader. He teaches at North Carolina State University.

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Table of Contents

Preface to the Revised Edition
Introduction 3
Linked Verses 19
The Colonial Troops Transport 20
The Saigon River 21
The Pole at the Village Pagoda 22
Coins of Van-Lich 23
Leaving the Village 24
Harmony in the Kingdom 25
Autumn 26
Love Lament 27
Complaining about the Second Wife 28
The Body Is Pain 29
The Red Cloth 30
Lullaby 31
The Ship of Redemption 32
A Tiny Bird 33
Talking about Birds 34
Venturing Out 36
Mother Egret 37
Egret's Death and Funeral Preparations 38
Tao 39
Ke-Mo Village Girl 40
Across the Field of the Old Corporal 41
Difficult Love 42
Phoenixes and Sparrows 43
Looking Out in All Directions 44
Whisky Lovers 45
Replies 46
Testing Confucian Obligations 47
The Carp 48
The Painting 49
The Mandarin Who Couldn't Do Anything 50
A Woman's Heart 51
Husband and Wife 52
Impossible Tasks 53
The Girl with the Binh Tien Hairdo 54
Wicked Women 55
The Singer with a Bad Voice 56
The Arranged Marriage 57
The Homesick Bride 58
The Outpost Soldier 59
Evening 60
The Cat 61
The Concubine 62
Bare Rocks and Stars 63
Clear Skies, Clear Sea 64
From So Mountain 65
The King Star 66
At the Exiled King's River Pavilion 67
Notes 69
About the Translator 73
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