Vietnamese modern poetry dinh minh hang

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Chapter 3

Experimental Poetry and its Effects on Vietnamese Innovative Poets

In my view, the implications of sub-conscious influences from Western experiments appeared in Vietnamese poetry from the very beginning of the twentieth century. Performance poetry, music poetry and picture poetry were quite familiar in the lives of working class people in the urban society of Vietnam from the 1900s. Some of these might have come from the habit of writing poetry by considering an object or picture as subject or inspiration, which had already been seen in traditional Chinese poetry. Some might have come from the traditional ways of reading and publishing poetry in Vietnam, through oral folk songs and poems. However, a few of them are likely to have come from the direct reading of modern Western poetry by translator-poets like Dương Tường. Given this background in terms of Vietnamese social conditions, Experimental poetry could have been introduced to Vietnamese poets as something which seemed to be familiar; on the other hand, from my own analysis, it seems it also appeared as something strange but suggestive.

  1. The Creation of Experimental Poetry

Robert Sheppard stated that:

A social aim (to broaden the appeal of poetry) coincided with an aesthetic aim: ‘voice’ in poetry was no longer a metaphor for ironic modulation; the voice was a performance instrument of communal gathering, and (often) the voice of political protest, which broke abruptly with the quietism of the Movement.118
In my view, poetry persistently seemed to be placed in the realm of abnormality, which challenged and attacked the thinking habits of readers and the community. With inspiration from Dadaism and Surrealism, there appeared to be ‘a visit to modernism at its source’119 throughout the 1960s. Thus, Experimental poetry could be marked as an underground exploration of the British poetry revival which came with Ezra Pound and James Joyce, whose poems and novels rejected traditional rhyme, syntax and narrative at the beginning of the twentieth century. Besides Experimental poetry, there was also alternative typography derived from Italian and German artists like Filipo Tommasio Marinetti and Kurt Schwitters, who aimed to blur the boundaries between poetry and other arts. In my view, the complex combination of poetic theories, different cultures and the desire for poetry that persuaded by disruption turned Experimental poetry into an abundant type of interactive art rather than poetry itself. I think that at that point, it might have reached the limit of the genre120.
Nevertheless, once the interactions between poetry and other genres like music or visual art had been distinguished, it was still possible to recognise some of the genre’s characteristics. Even if a poem’s identity was intentionally blurred, it still remained a poem, not a picture or music sheet. This could explain why, despite trying to widen its limits, poetry finally reverted back to poetry. This chapter aims to both systematise the main trends of Experimental poetry and to point out subversive changes that arose.
As I understand it, there were two trends for making Experimental poetry: through poetic form and through poetic language. The former included picture, computer and interactive poetry, sound poetry and prose poetry, whereas concrete poetry and some kinds of Japanese poetry applications seemed to belong to the latter. However, both trends tried to escape from the traditional narration in which the writer was placed in the highest position and had the ability to control what happened in their words, as well as to lead the understanding and emotions of the reader to what he had intended. Roland Barthes wrote about this in ‘The Death of the Author’:
Once an action is recounted, for intransitive ends, and no longer in order to act directly upon reality — that is, finally external to any function but the very exercise of the symbol — this disjunction occurs, the voice loses its origin, the author enters his own death, writing begins. 121
From this, it was clear that readers were considered to be the co-operators of writers in general and poets in particular. After ‘the death of the author’, the vitality of poems was proved. However, it could be said that in Experimental poetry, without waiting until the depersonalisation of the poem, the positions of readers and viewers were admitted. The interactions between creation and reception were vital and durable. Normally, poetry was written as a completed process, and could only become art in readers’ interpretations. In Experimental poetry, however, poets played the role of giving ‘specific directions for performance’.122 Neither fixed meaning nor clear formulae were displayed in such poems. They might become unreadable or at least ambiguous, with blank gaps in words as well as ideology, without the participation of readers. Suman Chakroborty wrote about readers in L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry:
For the reader, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Writers work as the openers of “the ways of making meaning”– they are those workers of Language, who force the readers to take active participation in the production of meaning. 123
Also in the production of meaning, in my view, the attitude of respecting the dignity of words and syllables played an important role in changing the syntax of poems. Sometimes, the juxtaposition no longer expressed any relation or communication. Therefore, syllables in the delicate syntax, and words in the visual structure, could be transferred into a note on a music sheet, a tone in a rhythm, a line in a painting, a symbol on a computer or visual poetry. Thus, Experimental poetry was no longer an exploration of how poetry could be expressed in different forms, though it was found helpful to revisit the ‘shape’ poetry from the sixteenth century, mentioned by George Puttenham.124

The interchange or intersection between these kinds of Experimental poetry, in my opinion, was sound poetry. As performance poetry, it had close relations to picture poetry and the beat movement, in which the effects of art were created by the impact of phonetic and abstract images. Similar to emphasising words and lines by deforming or exchanging their sizes in space, sound poets made poems louder or softer by tone and voice. This was also reminiscent of the process of compressing meanings through prose poetry, the aim being to ‘…compress many tones, by liberating or challenging the resourcefulness of the voice’.125

Moreover, sound poetry also inspired readers by the strength of the sound-image. Sound poetry did not only focus on how extraordinarily the poem was expressed or how profoundly it was understood. In my view, intense phonetic alphabets and sudden sounds at specific moments were themselves protagonists of the performance. It was like reading a concrete poem and filling nonvisual linking ideas with personal experiences and memories. Thus, language, sound or image was, as Julia Kristeva claimed, a ‘fundamental social code.’126
In sound poetry, the freedom from any syntax or formula was evident. However, the further poets moved it away from the basic condition of normal poems, the more it tended to turn back to its origins through rhythm. Rhythm not only implanted the sound moment but also assembled the disruptions and separated conditions of words and images. Sound poetry, therefore, delicately transmitted the complex chord of images by techniques of voice and reactions to individual moments.
In contrast, being based on the requirements of communication in a technical and rational society, and stemming from the traditional material of poetry-making with verse and line order, concrete poetry referred to visual forms organised by semiotics, linguistic signs and typography. The reason why I have grouped this with the ‘language’ trend of Experimental poetry is its reflection of the concrete poet’s attitude and view of the world in terms of physical reality. Content or meaningful usage were not standardised as criteria of this type of poetry because ‘the fundamental principles of communication become important, and more so than meaning itself’.127 However, the constraints of many layers of construction made concrete poems attain the higher level of a picture drawn by words. Moreover, this approach could also raise the question of compatibility between language and form in poems, such as how a poet may use restricted semiotics to achieve minimalistic language. This might lead to a domination of choreographic and perspective figures and a disadvantaged minority of semiotics or language. On the other hand, as Eugen Gomringer explained, the language in concrete poetry no longer consisted of long sentences or statements. These were replaced by letters and single words using abbreviation and restriction. He also analysed the effects of this kind of poetry in the commercial and social world, where in ‘the course of daily life this relationship often passes unnoticed’:128
Headlines, slogans, groups of sounds and letters give rise to forms which could be models for a new poetry just waiting to be taken up for meaningful use.
Jean-François Lyotard129 analysed the condition of modern society. In The Postmodern Condition: a Report on Knowledge, he mentioned three steps in postmodernism which included: 1. Experience of the contrast between realism in art and the experimentation of pioneer art movements; 2. Experience of the contrast between beauty and the sublime; and 3. Experience of modern art and aesthetics, which would further develop into philosophy. The first experience expressed a new conception of reality. According to Lyotard, in contemporary life, reality had lost stability so that it no longer ensured material for experience. However, it was enough to explore and experience because reality itself was only the shadow of realism. It created a virtual reality to comfort and mislead. Therefore, there should be a modern art which could reflect back on itself. At the same time, modern art had set its own rules by experimenting with forms, colours and styles, and opposing the art of consumption based on tastes and purchasing power. This experience was reflected in the second step, the contrast between beauty and the sublime. While the sublime could be predicted by thought or conception, it was never grasped or experimented with, for example as the absolute thing, the whole, the no-longer-division… It was close to something which was non-aesthetic, non-described. Meanwhile, beauty was based on what could be captured, described by concepts and experienced in consensus, harmony and aesthetic preferences. Thus, in my view, modern art was based on the ‘no-form’ of objects or the avoidance of any simulation. Such indescribable figures were also shown quite clearly in the crinkly structures of concrete poetry. Poems were written, drawn, collaged or installed in expressive forms. This reminded of The Arte of English Poesie published in 1589 by George Puttenham, in which poetry was displayed in geometrical figures:130

It seemed that the aspirations of renewing poetry did not only belong to the modern or postmodern condition; poetry from the sixteenth century had depicted itself in a highly interactive and visual form. However, the reason why this geometric poetry had not become established, in my view, was the retention of traditional verses and rhythm. Even though poets tried to space the words and letters to suit the intended shape, the seamlessness of the poem was still maintained by line and content. For example:


Of death

Nor of life

Hath Selamour

With Gods it is rife

To giue and bereue breath.

I may for pitie perchaunce

Thy lost libertie re store,

Vpon thine othe with this penaunce,

That while thou liuest thou neuer loue no more131

By complying with the rules of the English sonnet, this poem could easily spread and restore the original form of poetry. Thus, the pyramid shape, if it had any effect on the poem beside the visual impression, might contain the attitude of reverence and the feeling of minority when overwhelmed by the power of God. The word ‘power’ was placed on the top of the pyramid as the confirmation of its august position.

  1. Meaning or Nonsense

However, what could be suggested from the geometric shape of that kind of poem seems to have been based on its meaning. The boundary between content and form emerged as evidence of that binding force. In addition, readers had almost no role here. Feeling images as they existed in real life, reading poems in the flat space, the vertical of time, according to Eugen Gomringer, was the simple ‘line way’ of making poetry. Thus, Gomringer introduced the process ‘from line to constellation’:

The constellation is the simplest possible kind of configuration in poetry which has for its basic unit the word, it encloses a group of words as if it were drawing stars together to form a cluster.

The constellation is an arrangement, and at the same time a play-area of fixed dimensions.132

It could be said that the constellation model, of which Eugen Gomringer was considered one of the pioneers, was totally different from visual the sixteenth century poems. By observing poetry from a mixture of directions and dimensions, bending the line vision into a 3D vision, merging the boundary between shape and content, grouping all of them into a cluster so that no star was in the centre, the poet presented a maze or matrix that was both mysterious and attractive to readers. It was no longer a case of playing with signs, words and semiotics. It gave readers the opportunity, and invited them, to explore concrete poetry. As Lyotard133 pointed out about the virtual reality of realism, in the constellation there was no need to cite any real objects as prototypes of poetic images or ideas. The poem itself created reality and, whether it was accepted and understood or not, it still existed as a possibility among unlimited possibilities that could be assigned to it. The opinion of rule and law for making poetry, according to this, was further overstepped. The law was no longer a super-personality factor which was formulated, generalised from reality and universally imposed upon all. The laws and rules themselves were the creative, present personalities of the artist, with ambitions to become unique. Moreover, the laws and rules did not aim to create a simulation of a model that had existed before; they aimed to structure a model that had never existed. After that, games in modern/postmodern poetry started by setting up new conventions, laws and unspoken agreements among poet, text and reader. This explained why contemporary poetry could take profoundly different forms to traditional approaches. Poetry could become meaningless sequences like the compositions of the Dada poets. Poetry could deny the existence of text as in the experience of sound poetry and performance poetry. Poetry could reject all words, syntax and rhetoric as in concrete poetry... The personalisation genre not only made specific categories blur but the boundaries between poetry and other art forms also became ambiguous. In conclusion, it could be said that it was only through playing that poetry could maintain its existence. The function of poetry was to stir up central discourse, to open up potential meaning and potential expression; in other words, it was the function of play.
However, in my view, considering the creation of concrete poetry and other Experimental poetry as taking part in play did not mean that poets chose a purposeless or rebellious attitude. The purpose of concrete poetry was not the minimising of words ‘but the achievement of greater flexibility and freedom of communication’.134 I think this communication should be divided into two trends. The first, under the pressure of language, hid itself in using the monologue form. In the second, discontent with the fragmentation of reality and the disintegration of social relationships in modern life was exposed through the proliferation of signs, semiotics and letters that made readers impossibly find the original words and collage them into meaningful language. This could be considered as a way for poets to search for dialogue in this solid community.
In the first trend, for example, Bob Cobbing expressed extreme loneliness in a monologue with an imaginary interlocutor, ‘Sockless in Sandals’:
Sockless in sandals,

gibbering his wares

in unintelligible shrieks and hisses,

a 'poet' merely disrupts

the solid, sensible business

of the night.

the people hear gibberish;
Poets: how can nothing be said

with all that noise?135

The poet places himself in opposition to the night, places his quiet situation in contrast with the noise of the night: ‘gibberish’ and ‘unintelligible shrieks and hisses’. Sound is used to highlight the no-word condition. The final question is left opening for the participation of readers.
Similar to the attitude of Bob Cobbing, Alan Riddell, in his poem named ‘Help’, communicated with others through the feeling of loss and despair:










All the lines of ‘Help’ open a question the poetic character seems to ask himself: ‘Could I name some of my best friends?’ but there is no answer. The same structure is repeated over 22 lines. After each non-response, a letter is dropped. Finally, he receives nothing and the poem loses itself in a single silence: ‘s’ – ‘shhhhhhhhhh’. The poem is structured in quite a simple shape: a triangle with the top beneath (with the maximum restriction in terms of making new words); thus, it is strictly a concrete poem that shows the forgotten position of the human being in modern life.

Still on the first trend, in other concrete poems of the mentioned volume, Bob Cobbing used many phonetic aspects. This was reminiscent of his ABC sound poem, which was performed in ensemble at ‘The Other Room’. The attraction was that, in both sound performance and silent reading, his phonetic poems proved their total difference from any dictionary expression or anything found in the introductions of guidance books. Since one of the aims was that concrete poems would be as easy to understand ‘as signs in airports and traffic signs’,137 it would have been easy for this kind of poetry to fall into naturalism and then lose the poetic figures. However, Bob Cobbing, by taking on this challenge, kept his poems far from the temptation of depiction of normal life. For example, he created a poem from a list of Californian fishes138 analysed as ‘A – nan an’ nan in a dictionary format,139 he described mushrooms with various names, kinds, shapes and materials140 or used the letters in the word ‘rainbow’ as initial consonants for creating new compounds141 and many other cases. However, they did not become phonetics lessons or crossword puzzles. The poet showed that this was an exploration rather than unconscious play. In each poem, the concern of the artist to find the right letter and organise the correct word structure was evident, as was the aspiration to create new words and unpredictable transplants that would never be found in a dictionary or in real experiences. The poem ‘Rainbow’ was an integration of innumerable images which seemed to have no relation to the meaning of a rainbow but were born from the actual word R-a-i-n-b-o-w. The poem included the beauty, the ugliness, the logic, the illogic, the unexplainable combination and the curiousness of exploring more about the unlimited associations arising from the specific word Rainbow in a limited form. As such, the poem bloomed like a kaleidoscope of the rainbow itself.

The other trend expressed the desire for two-way-communication by inviting readers to contribute to poems which were incomplete and which lacked the basic components to be simple to read. The poet, in this case, explored the possibilities of poetry by cutting words into pieces, mixing the orders of letters, blurring language into a shape or even using non-linguistic components.
For instance, with the poem ‘Spectrum Shift’142 and its content made from repetition of the seven words red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet with an alternate arrangement of typography, Alan Riddell created the visual effect of a spectrum in the shape of a crossed line throughout the poem. In my view, this kind of visual feature influenced Dương Tường, one of the first Vietnamese poets to experiment with concrete poetry, especially picture poetry, when he published his second volume named Musical Instrument. This was a ‘non-word’ volume which used images to indicate an autobiographical chart of human life in communication with the universe. Before Musical Instrument, following the influence of concrete poetry, he disrupted the structure of language, giving verbal expression in a form which was constantly moving, changing and forcing readers to integrate into the poetry, perceived by every possible sense. Like Bob Cobbing, he was concerned about:
The extent to which syllable-structure plays a crucial role in determining the choice between 'ae' and 'e' is dramatically revealed by considering post-vocalic consonants other than 'n' or 'm'. 143
3. Some followings from Vietnamese poets
In my view, Western experimental poems came to Vietnam before Vietnamese poets really understood about Experimental poetry and its theories and experiences. Most knowledge about Experimental poetry had come from translation, and thus it was not strange that many modern Vietnamese poets had been translators. I think it was only by this means of transforming Western poetry collections into Vietnamese that Vietnamese poets had some typical examples to follow. The Vietnamese poet that I mentioned as an apt example of modern poetry in Vietnam, Dương Tường, is a translator. He has translated many poetry collections and novels in French,144 which had been the main language in Vietnamese schools before 1945, and in Russian,145 which used to be very popular in Vietnam from 1975 due to political views. However, English was the language that helped Dương Tường become a poet. He translated Bronte’s novels and for the first time introduced Shakespeare’s plays to Vietnamese critics and readers. Being familiar with reading and listening to modern American artists (e.g. Bob Dylan), Dương Tường became the first of a generation of Vietnamese experimental poets. He created poetry in music and painting. He tended to ‘perform’ his art rather than printing it in normal paper form. The first volume, Thirty-six Love Poems,146 was published in 1989, three years after ‘Đổi mới’ in Vietnam contained many modern poems that Dương Tuong had written in the 1960s. After another collection, which only had a limited publication, he wrote Mea Culpa and experimented with defamiliarisation in Vietnamese poetry.
It [defamiliarisation] is the creative distortion of a familiar word or concept to make it seem strange, unfamiliar, or in some way odd. The purpose of defamiliarisation is to strip away ‘the film of familiarity’ that blurs everyday perception in order to awaken the reader or hearer from the lethargy of the habitual which hobbles thought.147
In my view, defamiliarisation was used to make described objects unfamiliar, to arouse new feelings in readers, and to prevent them from being governed by existing habits and unconscious prejudices about cognitive objects. This process was suited to the purpose of art, which is:
…to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar,’ to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. 148
In his own way, Dương Tường changed the fixed consonant in Vietnamese words to refresh its sound, and transformed some other meanings in combination with the context of poems. Similar to the way Cobbing did with his alphabet, Dương Tường chose consonant pairs to change using criteria such as competition between the lightness and strength of similar sounds like: ‘s’, ‘z’, ‘d’, or the matching phonetics of letters like ‘c’ and ‘k’, which are dorsal unvoiced stop consonants, both being at the same utterance position. Therefore, verses were expressed as forms of notation and the poem was like a song. Concrete poetry forced readers to forget their old verbal experiences, and this factor challenged the inertia of poetry. For instance, from a visual direction, it turned to hearing, and from words, it turned to sound full of musical characteristics.
Moreover, Dương Tường also disrupted the structure of language, giving verbal expression a form which was moving, changing, forcing readers to integrate into the poetry and perceive it by every possible sense. Language, words and phonemes were accompanied with the rhythm of contemporary life. He established a principle of changing orthography through consonant changes, such as the sounds ‘p’ and ‘b’. In phonetics, the former is an unvoiced stop consonant, the latter a voiced stop consonant. In addition, there were some specific changes such as double consonants: ll (e.g. ‘luênh’, ‘lli’, ‘lluâng’ ...)149. The rhymes became inactive: (e.g. tr' and kh^) to evoke the feeling of having no rhyme: ‘kh^’.150
Making sound impressions was also a target of Dương Tường in his approach to sound poetry. In actual use, sounds are spoken continuously in time. Language signals, therefore, are linear. They appear in turn, each following the other to form a chain. This one-dimensional characteristic of language also applies in music. However, a melody cannot be considered merely as single sounds in a sequence one after the other. To create fluttering over several dimensions in poetry, Dương Tường separated letters from words. The letters (which were separated) often expressed feelings and evoked images. Their meanings appeared not only through imagination but also in the spacing of words. Language was perceived as both linear and multi-linear in polymorphic routes and multidimensional space, regardless of the order of time and space. Dương Tường tended to spread letters on the surface of the paper in a certain order depending on the content of the word or verse in order to create a sense of intuitiveness for readers.


Chìm ọ đời



sink l ife :



Mùi v-



g trắng

smell of e-




y white151

On the first line, the words ‘along’ and ‘sink life’ seem to be configured to represent loneliness. This feeling is spread, broken into many stages, which helps to create an empty space. Something is likely to fall off or become lost. Separating letters from their words made the words slide from their original meanings and carry the concept of space as they created shapes, lines and sound effects.
Among the consonants, the position of ‘z’ was changed most in Dương Tường’s poetry. In Vietnamese, ‘z’ is similar to the sound of ‘d’. The change expressed the idea that both words and verses could be read from the page without the external effects of sound. Language, therefore, emerged on the surface, and came alive above all. In my view, this was consistent with Dương Tường’s concept of poetry form; he wished his poems to be read as songs with quiet and bass notes in extraordinarily spaced lines.
In addition to affecting the form of poetry, the changes in orthography suggested meanings in a musical sense. In Mea Culpa, the poem ‘Moment’ uses the dominant ‘k’ at the end of a word instead of ‘c’. ‘K’ is a stop, which relates to the steady beat of a clock counting drops of time. This feeling of time is matched with space where the poet uses ‘b’ repeatedly as the final consonant instead of ‘p’ as usual. It blocks the sounds from coming out. This method is used consistently until the end of ‘Moment’:
Tinh (Semen)

Chẳng thể nào xuất

Can not be produced

Thần (Mental)152

This is no longer a choice about finding a single acceptable way. There are three dimensions to the diagram by the end of the verse. In my view, the overall achievement expresses a sense of extreme impasse in everything: love, life and art. It is the social or living space which cannot not accommodate all three aspects. The whole poem is a ‘shocking’ awakening of a ‘civilized box’ in human life.

In my view, the combination of different phonemes also featured meanings. A phoneme itself did not contain meaning, however when it was placed in clusters of phonemes, it might evoke something. A paradigmatic relationship was created among elements that could be substituted for each other in the same location of the speech string. The selection of appropriate phonemes usually took place in thought. When a phoneme already existed in a cluster, its stability contributed to create the meaning of the word. Thus, in Mea Culpa, such a paradigm was a choice for renewing language. Numerous options for choosing phonemes were being realised on the surface of the paper, but the poet himself seemed not to participate in the final selection. Therefore, letters and words were expressed for their own inherent ability to create tone and meaning:

Kể cả không miền (Despite no area)



This poem is written just below the line: ‘I did not choose’. On one hand, this is an image of choice: ‘e, o, i, a’, while on the other, it is disregarded by ‘Despite no area’. Thus ‘o’, by different tones of reading, is renewed.
In response to concrete poetry, Dương Tường tended towards visual images, including visual emotions. For example, through ‘exponentiation’ in polygons, he talked about feelings:

Lũy thừa yêu

Lũy thừa nhớ

Lũy thừa đau


exponentiation love

exponentiation miss

exponentiation pain)154

The repetition of ‘exponentiation’ multiplies those emotional states, swirls and links them to each other. Each is the consequence of the others. Three exponentiations contribute to a whole ‘I’ – the ego. In contrast, ‘I’ was written about as a non-ego in another poem (‘I am still non-I’) when he described himself as a ‘silent bass polygon’. Thus, Dương Tường, rather than shaping poems in blocks or cubes or triangles as Western poets did to bring new sense to the form of poetry, shaped them around himself as the ‘I’ inside. I consider this process a somewhat destructive way for him to renew Vietnamese poetry – by renewing the ego.
Dương Tường also perceived space horizontally and time vertically. For example, ‘Stratigraphic Memories’ in Romance 3 enabled readers to feel and touch mysterious memories. In another poem, ‘America’, he brought in another dimension, the ‘diagonal’:

I look at America


your perversely di tenderness

your vulnerably a gynecology

your frustratingly g sensuality

your waywardly o friendliness

your hopelessly n dynamism

your puzzlingly al pussy


I met you, diagonal girl

in diagonal Broadway

and I realize

you’re America155
Thus, I think that while other Vietnamese poets were struggling to find honest words to express something, Dương Tường, as a poet exploring Experimental poetry, could express an idea through a shape, or simply an assembly.
Dương Tường, in my view, refused meaningfulness but saved something which belonged to human existence. In a very loose relationship to modern life, he tried to catch images going through his mind by using defamiliarised metaphors such as ‘Ngực thời gian’ (chest of time);156 ‘Mười hai lớp thịt tháng năm’ (twelve layers of meat in time);157 ‘mủ đêm’ (latex of night);158 ‘mùi mồ hôi ba năm chờ’ (the smell of three-year-waiting sweat);159 ‘Những bản thảo jà chin tháng mười ngày’ (the nine-month aborted manuscripts);160 and ‘thời gian như một cái nhìn vàng’ (time as a golden look).161 Such images were arranged in a conscious and evocative way. For example: ‘chest of time’ could be time measured by the flaming of youth. ‘The nine-month aborted manuscripts’ could be the birth of art inside the birth of man, the pain of art in the pain of life. These could be understood by the idea of time in Dương Tường’s poetry: time of in the measurement of art. I also focused on the way he talked about rain - ‘Những ngón tay mưa’ (rainy fingers);162 ‘mưa giọng sắt’ (iron voice rain);163 ‘mưa bémol’ (bémol rain);164 ‘mưa tôi’ (rain me);165 and ‘dương cầm mưa’ (piano rain)166 - with an invisible connection to music, serenade and romance, which were far from the school of nature. Sometimes Dương Tường was close to Surrealism in creating a fancy realm of concrete objects: ‘búp hôn đầu’ (first kiss bud),167 ‘đám ma lá chết chiều nay’ (dead leave funeral this afternoon)168 and ’24 mùi hoa violét’ (24 smells of violet).169 These objects were associated with nature but immersed in nostalgic memories of lovers regardless of time or space.
In his poems, Dương Tường experimented with defamiliarising musical features within poetry structure. He used words as leading sounds. There was usually a basic chord first, then the resonance was produced in a certain sequence. It was ‘24’ in ‘Tình khúc 24’ (Love song 24) 170, ‘những ngón tay mưa’ (rain fingers) in ‘Serenade 1’171 and ‘khe khẽ’ (softly softly) in ‘Chợt thu 2’ (Sudden Autumn 2).172 The sequence was often timeless and non-space, formed by the logic of mood and memories. Because there was a dominant sound, the poem might follow an illogical, non-conventional sequence. Poetry using music structure was inextricable from a form of contemporary social consciousness. It might be jazz, a richly toned kind of music which allowed full impromptu performance. I consider the collections of ‘Serenade 1, 2, 3’ to be more like real music than poems. The mainstream sound here not only creates the poetry’s structure but is also positioned as a chorus:
Những ngón tay mưa

Dương cầm trên mái

Những ngón tay mưa

Kéo dài tai quái

(Rainy fingers

Piano on roof

Rainy fingers

prolonged mischievousness)

(‘Serenade 1’173)
Each time the chorus is repeated, a new space is opened and absorbed in the sound of floating rain. Sometimes, it is like continuous legends as in a Scheherazade night:
Ngã tư

Cột đèn

Ô kính

Những ngón tay mưa

Xập xòe kỉ niệm


glass window

Rainy fingers

ambiguous memories)174
Moreover, the end of this poem is also an open-ending of a song, which gradually blurs. The music becomes smaller and lighter but has not gone. It turns to be an echo in the mind:

Những ngón tay mưa

Những ngón tay mưa

(Rainy fingers

Rainy fingers)175

An example of harmony in the changes of orthography is displayed in the poem ‘Noel 1’:

Em về phố lặng (you come, street’s quiet)

lòng đổ chuông (heart strikes)

lluềnh luềnh nước (pouring pouring water)



lloang llưng

lliêng llinh lluông buông boong

adlllibitum 176

There is a transformation from the visual to auditory sense. The double ‘l’ sound in every line makes both letters and words cohere together. The ringing tones radiate in harmony with water like continuous overlapping waves. The Noel bell is deployed in a whirlpool and thus, the space belonging to the bell, water and you/the girl becomes even more echoed and faded.
It could be said that the Vietnamese poetry written from 1963 that possibly bore influences from Experimental poetry and American New Formalism was not published until 2003. Dương Tường missed the period for creating a revolution in poetry in Vietnam. However, his efforts to introduce Experimental poetry to the young generation of poets are worth recording among Vietnamese poetry.
In addition, creativity did not stop at concrete poetry. The more poetry was experienced, the more possible it was to push it into other extreme kinds of poetry. One of them was L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poetry. It was not only Tristan Tzara who showed how to create a Dadaist poem; the ways of writing Language poetry diversified and separated into many trends. Jerome McGann wrote:
Oppositional politics are a paramount concern, and the work stands in the sharpest relief, stylistically, to the poetry of accommodation.177
In addition, Bruce Andrews pointed out that the role of meaning in Language poetry was a way of opposing the traditional harmonic ideology of making poetry:
The distinguishing quality of writing is the incessant (& potential) production of meaning and value. […] Meaning isn’t just a surplus value to be eliminated – it comes out of a productive practice178

Furthermore, if Cobbing had a poem in the shape of dictionary or a discount advertisement,179Bernadette Mayer in ‘Experiments’ offered the possibility of composing a poem as a writing index. In these cases, Language poets blocked the gates for the reader to penetrate into the realm of poetic works. Typography, semiotics, letters and signs developed from materials within concrete poetry to become the poems themselves. The life of each letter or semiotic was so sturdy that even if a poem contained only uncompleted words, it was still a completed art product in interaction with readers. The poem by Clark Coolidge could be mentioned here, in which each person, through his own experiences and feelings in a certain moment, could fill the blanks:







a ture

the ing180

Although born from Experimental poetry and influenced partly by Concrete poetry, Language poetry seemed to explore a new line that was initially recognised as radical efforts at a watershed. Its records needed to be proved by time and further experience. Thus, taking into account the complex literary context of Vietnam after two wars, Language poetry itself could not have had a true and absolute follower in Vietnam who could contribute to its unofficial manifesto and be accepted as a true modern poet. However, similar to the case of Dương Tường with concrete poetry, Trần Dần was considered to be the rare Vietnamese poet following the trend of Language poetry.
The reasons why Trần Dần and Dương Tường but no other poets could be regarded as poetic leaders in Vietnam were their own life experiences as well as political pressure. Trần Dần was a Western intellectual and Dương Tường, who had translated many classic novels, was a well-known poet. They wrote poetry in three languages: English, French and Vietnamese. Trần Dần’s poems dated from the Vietnamese wars against the colonial French (1945-1954) and the Americans (1955-1975), especially the period from 1955 when Vietnam was divided into North and South. The urgent request of the nation at that time was for poetry to serve the revolution. In contrast, Trần Dần demanded freedom and democracy for art, and opposed politicised poetry with the traditional techniques which dominated at that period. From 1955 to 1958, Trần Dần established the ‘Nhân văn giai phẩm’ group, which announced the innovative poetry of new poets. However, the requirement of his group for freedom of expression was extinguished; the artists were sent to ideological school and banned from writing after 1958. Nevertheless, Trần Dần continued to write ‘in the dark’ for more than 30 years. In 2008, his achievements, created over half a century previously, were recognised by the Vietnamese state. There were two major innovations in Trần Dần’s poetry. The first was the trend for ‘dòng chữ’ (line of words). He focused on exploiting emotional forms of language such as sound and image, while he disregarded or even destroyed the semantic relationships that were similar to the Language trend in contemporary American poetry. The second innovation was that he advocated that poetry should involve synthesis and an interdisciplinary approach, which included poems, art and music, at several levels and dimensions using both visual and auditory senses. This was expanded and realised into visual poetry and ‘harmonique’ by Dương Tường. In this type of versification, the major poetic material was sound rather than words. He worked on the side of significance rather than denotation, using ‘tilted’ words instead of ‘straight’ ones.
Besides sonnet poetry, folk poetry and epic poetry were made to suit the requirements of Vietnamese government propaganda for the war. Such poems proliferated with incredible and increasing fierceness during the period 1954–1968 through the media of national politics. Thus, the other poetry of Trần Dần was hidden and almost forgotten until 2008. Trần Dần’s poems were published in 2008, especially the collections of mini poetry (in which each poem had only two to three lines and contained from only one letter to around 17 syllables) and more than 20 pictures – visual poems. His volume was a shock to readers and caused much debate from critics. Most of them were confused whether these kinds of poetry should be considered as poems, and if so, which group or school they could be categorised in. Some poetry extremists even asked for Trần Dần’s poetry to be removed from Vietnamese literature forever because of its madness, darkness and unexplainable figures. That was the reason why soon after publication, the collection of Trần Dần was withdrawn However, its pervasiveness and leading attitude for young Vietnamese modern poets were irrefutable. In my view, his poems could be analysed in the light of Guillaume Apollinaire during the 1910s, the Dada poets in late 1910s and early 1920s, and Jacques Prevert in the years after the 2nd World War. However, the mini and visual poetry could not be reasonably explained. That might have been because of the common standing position between many different theories at the time he wrote (or drew) in 1982.
Until I explored Concrete and Language poetry, it seemed that I had found parallels between Trần Dần and some poems in the later volumes of Bob Cobbing, the consciousness which was familiar in Eugen Gomringer’s work and especially, the way of making poetry in the spirit of Ron Silliman and some other Language poets.
For example, Trần Dần created a saga in the poem ‘Jo Joacx’181, which described the life of a person named ‘Naked man’ who had unusual and abnormal activities in a day of his life. The poem had 17 chapters. Here it is introduced in summary, placed in comparison with ‘The Jack poem’ by Cobbing:182

The Jack poem

Jo Joacx

I. Naked man wandering in naked room Naked man met 17th scar woman 10pm date II. Naked man sheltered the rain scared wine scared rain scared constellation III. Memory is fresh scar IV. Naked man broke the umbrella virgin summer naked wall V. Jo Joacx corridor 10 pm date VI. JA JACC SSS JU JICSSS JU JUSSS JA SSS SSS SSS Death in the station From the rainy scars JA JOC XXX (…) XVI. Universe need furniture Cock napes XVIII. Chirping rain morning newspaper scar news Ja Jươc xxxxxxxx

I then recognised some similarities between the journey of Jack and the life of ‘Naked man’, such as the same consonant ‘J’ used in the titles ‘Jack’ and ‘Jo Joacx’. Both could be a story or single activities; both could contain meaning, or might not. However, both Jack and Jo Joacx show the poets playing with words. Jack could be any person or could be no one, and so could Jo Joacx. The poets tell readers, through long poems, a story without a beginning or end. They are flexible enough to add any verbs that we think the character could do, as well as any places that he could go. There is no boundary for reviewing whether anything is good or bad, clean or dirty, pure or having been stained. The play with Jack or Jo Joacx could last forever depending on the patience of readers. However, they show a hidden meaning, especially in the case of Jo Joacx. Traditional narrative, when telling a story, must have a certain character with specific characteristics. It would be regarded as useless to tell an empty story like this. Most importantly, the language related to sex would be banned immediately in Vietnam. The same conclusion would happen to a Vietnamese poem written about the negative aspects of life, the side that was not smooth but rough, full of scars and being hurt. That might the reason why Trần Dần wrote some poems that seemed to relate to Concrete poetry to express another person, ‘Jo Joacx’, the person who did not belong to any certain place. He was the universal citizen.

This also evoked the attitude of the poet in society. In another poem named ‘Légende’, Trần Dần drew only one letter: ‘i’, in different sizes, with the comment ‘Tôi không phải thổ zân quả đất’ (I am not the citizen of the earth).

In my view, ‘i’ in that shape, could express the moon and stars, two favourite images of Trần Dần in his writing, it could be the dream of living in the universe, or could be seen as tears when the letter ‘i’ is separated into two parts: the round and the comma. Above all, however, ‘i’ seems to be the cry of a person forced to lose his ego, who has to define himself as having a marginal position in this society. This was a familiar reaction to the world by Language poets. It could also be said that when Ron Silliman named his memoir ‘Under Albany’, he also identified with and accepted the attitude of a Language poet.

The above kinds of Experimental poetry supplied readers with a portrait of innovative poetry that was almost a distortion of traditional poetic forms and functions. Most of their effects were considered in terms of the effort to renew and remove the boundaries between poetry and other art types. The artist, on one hand, tried to have his poem performed interactively and visually, while on the other, he implicitly kept the lyrical characteristics that made their performance remain poetry. This contradiction was most marked in prose poetry, a poetic genre that seems to have arisen in the nineteenth century in France and quickly became one of the mainstreams in Experimental poetry, with the ‘conflict in which presumably every literary text participates, but which was here intensified and foregrounded’183. This conflict, then, was no longer an obstacle or cause of segregation for prose poetry, which was on its way to becoming an accepted genre.
4. Prose Poetry in the Case of The Dance at Mociu184
Reading Peter Riley and The Dance at Mociu, in my view, helped to answer the question of how prose poetry could be read from a Vietnamese perspective, and how it might help to enhance the writing of prose poetry in Vietnam. Unlike other Western poets mentioned in the above chapters, Riley is a contemporary poet who has not been much concerned with national wars and poetic revolutions. That might mean that, if Vietnamese poets read Riley’s poems, they will not focus on ‘revolution’, ‘new methodology’, ‘ideology’ or ‘critical views’ in the way that they have been forced to concentrate on poetry written from a Vietnamese communist perspective. Thus, prose poetry could be introduced in Vietnam in an aesthetic rather than a social way. Moreover, through my own reading of The Dance at Mociu, what Riley wrote about was very familiar to Vietnamese rural traditions, which may bring his prose poetry (which I call a prose life of poetic Transylvania) closer to Vietnamese modern poets.
Prose poetry was not simply the connection of prose and verse, in which prose played a role as the form and verse was considered to be the content. All efforts at collaging or extending free verse by using long sentences or unexpected punctuation would turn such poetry into the realm of visual arts. To create a balance, the prose aspect showed specific features, one of which was instant narration. This not only retained the spontaneous nature but also participated in making images. The narration distinguished prose poetry from normal prose because of the avoidance of preceding details and order, which was similar to the mechanism of Imagist poetry, while the ‘direct treatment of ‘thing’ whether subjective or objective’185 was featured as the first criterion. As such, the improvisation in prose was effective in creating unpredictable images, promoting automatic writing and linking of discrete space and time in an installation art of words.
Clearly, breaking the sustainable narrative structure of prose did not mean that prose was assimilated into other kinds of Experimental poetry. It seemed to be impossible to require prose poetry to include refined metaphors or hidden layers of meaning beyond instantaneous nouns. The lull between words which used to be the privilege of poetry in compressing meaning and evoking imagination was now intended to be filled by the adjectivalisation of narration. This, together with effective cadence, would keep on capturing moments in images, which lengthened the poems to an endless symphony of words and expressed metaphor in a simple, naked and natural way. Sometimes, overlapping lines of thought represented liberal non-ordering. Therefore, prose poetry could be described as ‘poetry lacking rhyme, meter, or stanza form – as, for instance, painted tableaux, or musical compositions’.186
Prose poetry, in fact, was not a case of ambiguity between prose and verse. It could expand the poetic repertoire, release the unpredictable form, reconstruct the discourse of poetry and resolve the conflict between perspectives and narration in prose; above all, however, it presumably should not lose the intrinsic lyricism and cadence which encloses the soul of poetry. Riley, in conversation with Keith Tuma, suggested the direct way for readers to approach his poems when he said: ‘You don't take an interest in that kind of music but it reaches you whether you like it or not, and you're stuck with it’.187
The Dance at Mociu was a story written in poetic vibration. The aim might have been to refuse to recognise any poverty or retardation in the less modernised ways of Transylvania, and correspondingly the people here were mentioned despite the fact that they spent their life in the field and did not care about things happening beyond their home village. Thus, these people, including a gypsy family, the man playing a wooden musical instrument for money, a poor couple, the girl at a bar at Breb, people working in cultivation strips, the uncle named Uchi and the new widow in the churchyard, were embodiments of an Old European spirit which had mostly been hidden or had vanished in the modern treadmill.
With unhurried rhythm, each prose poem made daily souls osmotic and drew them in, rolling them step-by-step into a participatory role: ‘If you climb (…) you find’, ‘If you turn round (..) you are’, ‘If you see it’, ‘If you know’, ‘If you don’t know’ (‘The Brancusi Monuments at Tirgu Jiu’). Conditional clauses were used to guide the stream of thought in front of the natural beauty of Tirgu Jiu. Nevertheless, what remained in the end was nothing, because it was impossible to get any specific answers to the reason, source or definition of the attractions here. This could be seen in negative sentences such as ‘but you don’t see it’, ‘can’t see’, or rhetorical questions, for instance, ‘where are we, and how does this place exist?’ (‘Arnota’). Those appeared while the viewer was in the depths of the living quiet of the seventeenth century Romanesque church:
There is no sign whatsoever of a second inhabitant. It is quite warm in the late afternoon, the quarry sounds are distant, an even wind moves across the compound, stirring slightly the outside trees.188
Riley created conflicts between movement and stillness, outside and inside, present and past. It was the music of dark and quiet nature. Last but not least, many questions were raised, both to find the answers and to open the imagination:
And what about the night, and what about the depths of winter? Who or what comes to this site then? (…) – alone? Is that right? - one church one guardian one cow? (…) Who are the visitors then?189
Just appearing in the visitor’s mind, those questions did not change or help to explain anything; on the contrary, they were like sounds falling into an enormous silence and failing to evoke any echo, which made the place become mysterious and unexplainable. This could lead to the idea that readers were envisioned as gently tiptoeing on the filaments of silence and imposing past with curiousness as well as fear of waking it up. The imagined candle that the reader might have held gradually only lighted his or her steps, not every corner of the church. Therefore, the poem ended like its poetic opening.
With regard to ‘the literary genre with an oxymoron for a name’, as M. Rifaterre referred to it when talking about Paris Spleen, The Dance at Mociu could be seen as having the stature of an oxymoron from a noun at a minor level to the whole collection at a higher one. The book mentions gaps between richness and poverty, between strangers from faraway lands and villagers of whom most have never been outside their own area. However, those boundaries, like the distinction between prose and poetry, come from conventions that are never stable or common in any case. People could be poor, some of them even the poorest in this rural area and they may, or actually did, go begging as a job, but Riley never mentions them as beggars. He silently observes the unresponsive look of the poor woman at the closed post office when she comes and hopes for some money from the State (‘The Poor Couple’); or the two little boys who ask for breakfast and enjoy it so joyfully that ‘The day was now before them. It shone on them’ (‘Breakfast at Sibiu’); or the gypsy family who are considered as neighbours. These are depicted with an objective but affectionate attitude. It could be said that even if poverty is implied here, it is only as a symbol of purity and innocence, as though these human beings are in need of things, but not dependent on them. They shine through what they are living with. For example, in the dance at Mociu, visitors pay money after the performance but it is not for music because ‘music is free’; likewise, the clarinet man is not given anything but it does not affect his sound. Sometimes the unplanned popularity (which could be seen as the main reason for poverty) is expressed in a reverie:
And to the young kids who were told this it was a far more mysterious and wonderful thing than any baby, a strange big white bird floating in the blue-black starry sky of a printed book holding a cloth bundle in its nest. And here they are, in person as it were, standing in big woody nests on posts and roofs, bending their necks and peering down at you. And clacking their beaks, for it is the mating season. There are children everywhere.190
Here the poet seems to blur the image of the railway as a dangerous crossing in life with the idea of having currently forgotten poverty and any other issues of modern life that might be imposed on this area to make them miserable. The only thing finally left is the beauty of childhood and fairy tales that, incredibly, appear before our eyes. ‘There are children everywhere’; life still continues as it was born to be, forever and ever. Those who belong to the purest status are those that have never awaked any concern from the villagers, unlike the visitors. This poetic characteristic keeps Mociu as an apt example of the Old Europe, which used to be quite vague and difficult to identify.
Above all, the prose poems from The Dance at Mociu could be considered as a river of words, a stream of thought, flowing smoothly while holding the village and wooden houses. In my view, Riley wanted to end this story of wild beauty and friendly people by using lots of complex sentence structure and descriptive nouns, and by letting his mind turn to directions that he could not have aimed at before:
The young people went away, leaving their parents to work the fields. Became migrant workers, drivers of long-distance lorries, with the same patience, the same carved gateway into hope, gable-end elegance, a radiance of graceful gestures cut through necessity. (‘Kalotaszeg)191
Furthermore, music plays a vital role in smoothing the prose and transforming it into poetry. The power of music seems to be discovered in both significant and lyrical layers. The music is described in terms of instruments and sounds themselves, as well as by the feelings of lyricism in the texture of the words and sentences.
Examples of the former include the ‘strange musical noise’ from the clarinet of a small man in ‘The Taragot on the bridge at Tirgu Lapus’; an uncle with the appearance of having derived from Popic’s musical business in ‘Unchi’; the bar at Breb; the loudness of the stream in ‘The oldest house in Budesti’; the guitar and drum sound at the wedding; the circle dance on stage in an ‘Event at Desesti’; and the most boisterous music of the dance at Mociu. Although Peter Riley did not focus on describing any specific sound, Kelvin Corcoran enhanced the music of Maramures, which was
…alive and embedded in the shared lives of the villagers. It is, suggestively, an element in lives which are not lived separately, and draws the common experience into a different significance192.
The writer himself, however, paid far more attention to the environment of the music, the interactions between musicians and audiences, villagers and visitors, from which the sounds are truly and emotionally transferred. For example, the beauty of the music that the small man on the bridge at Tirgu Lapus brings to life is not evaluated by the indifferent attitude of the audience or any payment that he might receive after the performance (actually there was nothing given). It is considered in terms of the beauty of a precious, rare moment that appeared to community. It is described as ‘woody, breath-laden reed sound’ and a ‘melodic line’193, which is evidence of the fragile nature of beauty. All the details of this story are told in neutral language, but the regular tone itself is enough to create a slow and gloomy melody.
However, the latter held advantages in terms of maintaining the poetic characteristics of Peter Riley’s prose. Here he did not need to write directly about music. The lyric itself was fulfilled in each sentence. For instance, the description of the monk in Arnota as ‘old and slightly bent, and wearing a black felt cap and a brown gown. (…) He moves slowly to the gate and stops near a small pile of logs’,194 is one of the first images captured in the journey. This character would not reappear throughout the whole book; he just slides through the silence and darkness of this area and is easily dissolved in rhythmic meditation in the following rhetorical questions:
And what about the night, and what about the depths of winter? Who or what comes to this site then? In snow and blizzard and darkness, the tree threshing in the wind or standing frozen, living in the wall with a three-month store of fuel and food, alone, a candle under a crucifix in a wooden room in a stone wall – alone? Is that right? – one church one guardian one cow?195
Each question is an echo of nature resonating in the empty spaces of Arnota, which is opened in three dimensions: height, width and depth. The sound of the blizzard and threshing wind are placed in opposition to highlight the overwhelming silence. Similarly, the flickering light of a candle in the wooden room is used to show the absolute domination of darkness. The meditation is made to seem endless by continuous actions such as ‘threshing’, ‘living’, and after that ‘standing’, ‘reading’ and ‘saying’. It may be supposed that this melodic chain only reaches the end with the word ‘alone’, which could be considered as a bass note in this high vocal musical score. The alliterations ‘what about’, ‘in the’, ‘in a’, ‘alone’ and ‘one’, with the hyphens as temporary silence and the repetitions of rhyme turn this paragraph into a lyrical poem.
Thus, music is absorbed into ‘The Dance at Mociu’ naturally. The writer seems to have made no effort to create metaphors or arrange verses in order to make rhythm. He simply uses grafted sentences, subordinate clauses and widened imaginative associations:
The column, if you see it or if you know, over there beyond the buildings the other side of the railway, is a sign of ultimate belonging, the cross of “here” reaching into the sky. If you don’t know, or can’t see, you are left with the town.196
In conclusion, in terms of form, ‘The Dance at Mociu’ is prose full of narration. However, through the arts of rhythm and lyric, it satisfies the conditions of poetry. The integration of prose and poetry, in this case, reaches the highest aim, as Peter Riley stated:
I'm interested in prose as a support to poetry, a ground to it and a guarantor. Indeed my notion of the originary function of poetry is as a song interlude in a narrative, as in the Scandinavian epics, or an interlude of ecstasis and consolidation in a narrative called living. 197
In Vietnam, the consciousness of prose poetry was considered separately, as poetry in the form of prose. This one-way interaction invisibly elevated the basic criterion of poetry but neglected the contribution of prose. Therefore, it was not very difficult to decide whether it was a prose poem or not by trying to rearrange it into traditional verses and deleting spaces and interruptions between images and words. Apart from the revolution in form, poetic features seemed to be inviolable in Vietnamese poets’ mind, while the power of prose itself would take an equal position in revising language and releasing ‘untapped creative potential through experimentation’.198 The requirements of eliminating sequential description, diversifying perspectives, abstracting reality and enhancing imagination were posted as urgent in Vietnamese prose poetry.
However, there were some Vietnamese pioneering cases who were trying to explore some characteristics of prose and apply them to poetry; they were also attempting to turn specific criteria of poetry into prose form, especially cadence, in order to discover whether poetry could be released from its traditional periodicity by refreshing its lyricism. Như Huy was among these cases. He did not start his poems by organizing their structure and verses. Instead, he used words as the origin. Instead of discrete entities, he turned them into dual and collaged extraneous nouns. For example, in the poem named ‘Một-bài-thơ-đi-qua-khung-cửa’ (a-poem-passing-by-door-frame), there are six syllables in the name but together they show just one word. Those syllables exist harmoniously. Therefore, the poem had turned into a ‘broken word’ or ‘sound’, and this process would not end until it had no relation to a visible entity. From that point, what could be remembered about it was that it was a polyhedron or unshaped thing. As a result, the poem came back to its origin, before it was made straightforward by readers’ experiences. To Như Huy’s conception, each poem had its own life; there was beginning and ending as well as birth and destruction in it. However, it never led to the death of a word before experimenting with different meanings – with the exception of dictionary meanings. Those belonged to a different kind of reader, environment, place and time. The most interesting aspect was that what readers believed to be true may not be the same as, or may even be opposite to, the opinion of writer. I think that was alright, because the more points of view the poems achieved, the more the beauty of them was discovered. It was the writer’s own word-game. Using unlimited numbers of words, ignoring the rule of verse and letting the stream of consciousness flow unexpectedly were some of the efforts Huy made to renew Vietnamese prose poetry. It helped him to erase the poetic subject, which used to be considered the controller of a poem’s direction. In some poems, he called himself by the first letter of his name, ‘H’, but more usually, particular qualities were used as names, such as ‘the innovator’, ‘the rebel’ or ‘an out-going person’. All were different aspects of the writer’s soul. No matter what it was, the poem had to turn back to the origin of the person as well as meet the requirements of the words mentioned before. Nevertheless, the writer would always take care to avoid ‘empty words’ because writing was never meaningless or inhuman.
To introduce such innovation to Vietnamese poetry, Huy used a special technique of grafting sentences. That meant there may be more than two subjects or actions, times or places in one sentence, and it could last endlessly depending on the purpose of the writer or feelings of the readers. Sometimes, even the poet could not control the poetic vein. The words, not the arrangement, led the writer. Therefore, it was not strange when some grammar mistakes occurred, or wrong connectives were used, because a poem had an independent active life. This poet also caught the common trend of Experimental poetry by combining music and visual art into his poems. The most impressive was the use of refrain in his works. Thus, Huy created a new way for Vietnamese literature with his special and dangerous conceptions and experiments, which continuously led others to philosophise about words, poems and poets using prose poetry as material.

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