Selections from Chẹc chech 30 poems in English
Bản chuyển ngữ của nhà thơ – họa sĩ Trần Đán
Copyright © 2010 by Nguyễn Đình Chính
Ghi chú: Thứ tự các bài thơ đã được sắp xếp lại theo ý người dịch, từ tuyệt vọng đến hi vọng
Selections from Chẹc Chẹc by Nguyễn Đình Chính
Selections from Chẹc Chẹc by Nguyễn Đình Chính
1. Những hạt bụi hóa đá (tr. 131) - Dust into stone
2. Bài thơ chết (tr.154) - The death poem
3. Trống rỗng (tr.114) - Emptiness
4. Tia nắng (tr.110) - Ray of sun
5. Nỗi buồn rách nát (tr.86) - Sorrow torn to shreds
6. Tôi cũng là người vô gia cư (tr.27) - I too am homeless
7. Tiễn biệt chó (tr. 89) - A dog of a goodbye
8. Bài thơ tủ lạnh (tr. 96) - The frige poem
9. Cục cứt thơ (tr. 60) - Bullshit poetry
10. Những bữa tiệc ăn thịt người (tr.62) - The cannibals’ feasts
11. Zê xe đạp (tr. 66) - Screw the bike
12. Thơ vĩa hè (tr. 70) - Poetry gone wild
13. Hà nội mùa rét cởi truồng (tr. 73) - Ha Noi naked in winter
14. Tự do ngoáy đít (tr.75) - Freedom shakes its buttocks
15. Bức tường (tr.107) - The wall
16. Nhai sự thật (tr. 156) - Chewing the truth
17. Bài thơ chẹc chẹc mùa Xuân ( tr. 25) - Smacking elegy for Springtime
18. Đi phượt em ơi (tr. 33) - Hey my love let’s go easy riding
20. Bay lên (tr. 40) - Up we fly
21. Cùng hát lên (tr. 23) - Let us sing
22. Thông điệp hoa hồng (tr.151) - Message of the rose
Selected Poems from Tsk tsk
by Nguyễn Đình Chính
Selected Poems from Tsk tsk by Nguyễn Đình Chính is a staccato spouting, street vernacular-jammed, angry smacking of the tongue that shines a light on present conditions in Vietnam. The selection ends with the poem “Message from the Rose” - a ray of hope.
Born to a famed father, Nguyễn Đình Thi, a writer dear to the Vietnamese Revolution, Nguyễn Đình Chính joined the North Vietnamese People’s Army at 18. He trained in the rugged but picturesque mountains of Yên Tử, Quảng Ninh, 125 kilometers west of the capital Hà Nội. It was there that, in the thirteenth century, King Trần Nhân Tông retreated to, having repelled the invading Mongols and forgiven his internal enemies. He later founded a Zen sect – the Trúc Lâm Yên Tử. The king’s ideas and practices on reconciliation and peace have earned him the honor of having a study center at Harvard named after him. Perhaps the benevolent spirit of the king looked out for the young soldier during the war. .
When the war ended in 1975, Chính returned home to Hà Nội. Over the next ten years, disastrous economic and political policies sent thousands of the defeated Southern soldiers into reeducation camps, drove millions of Vietnamese to the sea, and pitched Vietnam against two traditional enemies – Kampuchea and China. With the Soviet Union dismantled, the leaders of Vietnam embarked on their version of perestroika to save the economy – and ultimately their own power. Once the economy had been stabilized, the leaders turned their backs on their own people. All calls for true freedom and democracy were extinguished. Corruption was rampant; justice, a farce. The conspicuous accumulation of wealth by those in power led to an obscene gap between the “haves” and “have-nots,” unrivalled by that of the oft-condemned capitalist societies.
More than sixty years after the August Revolution, thirty years after the end of the war in 1975, the poet asks the question: What has happened to the ideals of liberty, equality, and humanity, for which his generation had fought so hard? What he sees is disheartening.
my people stripped naked
my wounded people
my people toiling in sweats
shackled feet to feet
crawling on all four
must beg for freedom
The Death Poem
What has become of his home-land?
I want to share with you
this sorrow that no words can express
that belongs to no one
the homeless sorrow
like a whiff of wind
within the walls of my homeland
Let Us Sing
Everywhere he goes, the poet stumbles upon the horrors of the “cannibals’ feasts,” the savage dog-eat-dog decadence that the communist rulers vilify, yet practice.
where your soul’s spread-eagled on the banquet table
& chopped into pieces to be steamed
baked & roasted
You tie a napkin around your neck & lunge at it
& devour it voraciously
smacking your lips
The Cannibals’ Feast
Alas, this time the enemy is not the easily identifiable Other: the continent-grabbing, resource-exploiting, bomb-dropping, herbicide-spraying colonial conquistadores. To the poet, the enemy hides in
the arrogant face of the filthy rich son-of-a-bitch
(he doesn’t steal, he just grabs)
the intellectual covering his ears shut
the writer writing in fear
while the vain and the empty-minded proclaim themselves kings
and the iron fist rules.
This time the enemy is within: the corrupted revolutionaries, the cowed intellectuals, the frightened writers. He was once among them.
conscience watches over half-heartedly
& a false morality a thousand years strong smiles sheepishly
while you [satyr] erect a memorial for your soul
To Chính this constitutes the ultimate betrayal of the ideals of the Revolution. In such a state, the poet and his kindred souls are submerged in despair.
specks of dust we are
unable to die
& even worse unable to live
in the paradise of our homeland.
Dust into Stone
A sense of existential homelessness pervades.
i’m homeless in my own homeland
every time I mourn my people in songs
like casting a bowl of steamed rice throughout the sky
to feed the sea of starving souls
my people died in vain
in a senseless war that only blesses power
& riches upon a bunch of faceless scoundrels
I Too Am Homeless
The poet can no longer stay silent, and must raise the voice of the “old soldier of yonder years/betrayed” (The Message of the Rose.) Scorning the safe subjects of the
the day – love, beauty, heroism – Chính fearlessly and unabashedly tackles
taboo subjects such as corruption, sex, and cowardliness.
At times his dark and cynical vision is reminiscent of Sylvia Plath.
nothing to panic about
death’s not so bad after all
granted a funeral’s a bothersome affair but thereafter
your flesh’s gone (can’t consume any more)
your soul will run away to a mysterious world of
illusions scrambling the real unreal christ buddha
(can’t be a sacrificial lamb any more)
The Cannibals’ Feasts
At other times he’s full of fury as Vladimir Mayakovsky.
once in a mad drunken dream
you [satyr] caught freedom by its balls
wiggling its oily slithering body
she coughs like mad
shakes her buttocks furiously
gasps desperately for air
causing you [satyr] to gulp & swallow wildly
(what you gulp & swallow no one knows)
as you grope for a way out of the triple-locked dog cage
as you try to save your soul from
the dizzying dark strangling chest-crushing
Freedom Shakes her Buttocks
The enemy is also the stale condition of poetry, a poetry made subservient to the one-party state, bent on embellishing reality, a practice he himself once engaged in.
that’s why your poetry [satyr’s] must crawl on all fours
must beg for a living
in torn clothes & wearing shit-soaked shoes
must steal food (steal, not take)
howl like a stray dog,
puke up all kinds of poison (the plague.)
Thereupon Chính unleashes a street-born poetry, full of street angst.
your poetry not your miserable body is kicked out onto the pavement
out of its asskissing sugarcoating habits
all for the sake of planning guiding educating securing enslaving
(but if your poetry makes the Man mad he swears
he’ll beat you silly with his baton
zap you with his electric whip)
Poetry Gone Wild
To describe a reality so incomprehensibly obscene, Chinh employs new literary devices and experiments with new forms of language.
Defying literary norms he jams street language into poetry, a street language full of vulgar obscenities.
sleep well my piece of shit
dream sweet dreams
grow yourself a pair of wings so clumsy so sorry at first
but soon swinging to rhythms
of the vaginal soul
To critics from the establishment who accuse him of debasing poetry, Chinh turns Lenin and Mao’s contempt for intellectuals on their heads: if Lenin and Mao had cast intellectuals as worthless shit, bound in their ivory tower, running away from reality, then Chinh is bringing reality into poetry.
Reproducing the chaotic din of the streets, Chính powers his poems with sounds of dog barking - woof woof woof , ruff ruff ruff - and untranslatable teenage music sounds - xap xinh xap xinh. Chính is no doubt inspired by the heavy metal music played by his 8X daughter and her band, the Gỗ Lim.
To further rile the old guard of language, Chính rigs his poems with 8X generation slang such as đao mèo(fuck it,) thắng chí ẩu (what’s the hell).
As blunt and in-your-face as he can be, Chinh is also as adroit at the uniquely Vietnamese linguistic sleight-of-hand known as nói lái. The writer or speaker starts with a word-pair whose meaning he seeks to obfuscate. The original word-pair is usually socially subversive - sexually or politically. By recombining the vowels, consonants and accents , he generates several word-pairs that are either socially acceptable or meaningless. Thus, thơ lồn (poetry of the cunt) becomes thờ lôn (elegy to the meaningless lôn,) and đeo mào (fuck it) becomes đao mèo (a cat’s saber.) This is a very common practice used by both the highly educated and the common people when they aim to mock a powerful establishment. Deciphering the double entendre is a challenge thrown at the foe. Hồ Xuân Hương, the nineteenth-century poetess revered for her unrivalled sex-laced innuendoes, is a master at such technique. Both Huong and Chinh share a deep contempt for the stale state of language to describe reality, as well as the desire to taunt censors.
With the same impatience he does away with punctuation as an unnecessary linguistic encumbrance. The only punctuation he allows is the end-of-poem period. His poems read thus as one fast-tempo breath, not unlike those of Alan Ginsberg.
In the end, the poet refuses to let despair have the upper hand. In the “Message of the Rose,” he looks towards the coming of “the rose storm “- the ultimate soul-redeeming, poetry- liberating tsunami.
tip toeing with the news of the coming
of the rose storm
rising at the horizon
burning to sink the whole world under her feet.
Message of the Rose
This awakening has not come easy to Chính. After the war he wrote and published several novels, most of which he later called “utterly tamed.”
In 1999, he executed an about-face. His one thousand odd page novel Night of the Saints shook the literari scene. His readers could hardly recognize the old Chính. In a complex web of tales crammed with misfits, the downtrodden, the mentally ill, who are at every turn preyed upon by corrupt officials, rapacious opportunists and sex-crazed exploiters, Chính painted a society in decay. Despite his denial, the style is unmistakably magical-realist – the most appropriate style for the exploration of the psycho-socio-political landscape of a contemporary Vietnam. Perhaps in recognition of the sheer creative power of his fiction, the government-backed publishing house Literature decided to publish the first of two tomes in 1999. Backpedaling one month later, it rescinded its decision and withdrew the work from circulation, banning all publication until 7 years later. In 2007, the Vietnamese Writers Association published his novel Online Backpack. The novel sold out. One month later, the Association denied his request for a reprint.
Imbued with a new spirit, Chính took on theater, film and poetry. Like his work in prose, his other work has not fared any better with the cultural censors. Of the 15 plays he wrote, only two have been approved for production. Of the four scripts he authored, only one has made it into film. To circumvent censorship, Chính took to the Internet highway. He published poems on sympathetic blogs, and made them available on Kindle. A collection of 75 poems in Vietnamese were finally published in the U.S. in 2010. Twenty-two of them are translated into English in this selection.
In today’s Vietnam Chính is the Rimbaud of the Internet age, the indomitable rebel of poetry, the raging bull of beat culture. He rails against oppression under any form – political, economic or sexual. He liberates poetry from its old stale form. He drags poetry down into the gutters of life, makes it stare straight into deep-pocketed eyes and fractured skulls, and has it listen to soul-wrenching wails. A German shepherd who swears allegiance to literature alone, he sniffs, scratches, howls, until anything that smells of hypocrisy is spilled onto the streets into broad daylight. In the end, the only thing worth saving from the sewer is bits of truth - remains of broken promises and broken dreams that refuse to die.
In exploring the lows of modern-day Vietnam, Chính takes Vietnamese poetry to new heights.
Trần Đán is an American-Vietnamese writer & visual artist living in the US.
Tuyển tập thơ Chẹc Chẹc
Nguyễn Đình Chính
Hà Nôi, Việt Nam