This major cultural and historical event features ancient Vietnames script and translations by premier American poet.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's WeeklyIt's the backstory more than the actual English renderings of these poems that has been generating pre-pub attention for this title, including a feature in APR--but it's a pretty good backstory. A poet and conscientious objector during Vietnam, Balaban (Locusts at the Edge of Summer: New and Selected Poems) nevertheless went in country during the war, advocating for better care for wounded children. He eventually became smitten with the poems in this book and perhaps with the mysterious poet behind them. Ho, who was born in the late 18th century and died in the early 19th, may or may not have been a concubine to a local official, but the speaker in the poems that have come to us in her name often wrote as one--employing strictly forbidden sexual themes via wry double entendres. The difficulty in translation, as Balaban's straightforward introduction notes, is compounded by the fact that Ho wrote in N m, a now nearly extinct writing system that maps characters onto the vernacular rather than the Mandarin of more formal writing. Her "sonnetlike lu-shih style" was a particular challenge, but the form and meanings come through clearly in poems like "Three-Mountain Pass": "A cliff face. Another. And still a third./ Who was so skilled to carve this craggy scene:// the cavern's red door, the ridge's narrow cleft,/ the black knoll bearded with little mosses?" Such contrivances can make for entertaining reading, but unless one can read the included transliterations and N m script (this book is one of the first successes of the N m Preservation Foundation), the translations, as tightly wound as they are, won't bear repeated perusals. (Still less so the book's cover, with its lame, bare-breasted attempt at titillation.) For all but the most jaded, however, the book's provenance and racy themes will hold interest enough. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Philip GamboneOne of Vietnam's greatest poets, Ho Xuan Huong -- whose dates, as far as we know them, roughly correspond to those of Jane Austen -- lived through a time of national upheaval and personal frustration. Ho's stature rests on her mastery of classical technique, her mordant humor and on what John Balaban, in his excellent introduction to Spring Essence: The Poetry of Ho Xuan Huoung, the first substantial anthology of Ho's poetry in a Western language, calls ''her exquisite cleverness.'' Ho delighted in puns and double entendres, tonal play, anagram-like subtexts and elaborate rhyme schemes that were even more intricate than the established formal patterns warranted. Many of her poems conceal an alternate meaning, usually sexual, sometimes obscene. In the simple landscape of daily objects -- jackfruit, river snails, a loom, a chess set, and perhaps most famously a paper fan -- Ho found metaphors for sex, which she turned into trenchant indictments of the plight of women and the arrogance, hypocrisy and corruption of men. Balaban's deft translations are a beautiful and significant contribution to the West's growing awareness of Vietnam's splendid literary heritage.
New York Times Book Review
- Copper Canyon Press
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Read an Excerpt
Thánh thót tâu tiêu mây hat mua,
Khen ai khéo ve canh tiêu so.
Xanh om cô thu tròn xoe tán,
Trang xoá tràng giang phang lang tò.
Bâu dôc giang son say chap ru'o'u,
Túi lung phong nguyêt nang vì tho'.
O hay, canh cung ua nguò'i nhi,
Ai thây, ai mà chang ngân ngo'.
Drop by drop rain slaps the banana leaves.
Praise whoever sketched this desolate scene:
the lush, dark canopies of the gnarled trees,
the long river, sliding smooth and white.
I lift my wine flask, drunk with rivers and hills.
My backpack, breathing moonlight, sags with poems.
Look, and love everyone.
Whoever sees this landscape is stunned.
Tu' tình tho'
Tiêng gà xao xác gáy trên bom
Oán hân trông ra khap moi chòm
Mõ tham không khua ma cung côc
Chuông sâu chang dánh có sao om
Truóc nghe nhung tiêng thêm râu ri
Sau giân vì duyên dê mõm mòm
Tài tu van nhân ai dó tá
Thân này dã han chiu già hom.
Gray sky. A rooster crows.
Bitter, I look out on thickets and folds.
I haven't shaken grief's rattle, yet it clatters.
I haven't rung sorrow's bell, though it tolls.
Their noise only drags me down, angry
with a fate that says I'm much too bold.
Men of talent, learned men, where are you?
Am I supposed to walk as if stooped and old ?
Mò'i an trâu
Qua cau nho nho miêng trâu hôi
Này cua Xuân Hu'o'ng mó'i quêt rôi
Có phai duyên nhau thòi tham lai
Dù'ng xanh nhu' lá bac nhu' vôi.
A piece of nut and a bit of leaf.
Here, Xuân Hu'o'ng has smeared it.
If love is fated, you'll chew it red.
Lime won't stay white, nor leaf, green.
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