Vietnamese modern poetry dinh minh hang

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This thesis has shown that on one hand, there have actually been some recognised interactions between Western ‘modern poetry’ and Vietnamese ‘modern poetry’. Western domination of culture in Vietnam through the Vietnamese wars, for example, may have caused an understandable connection between Vietnamese poets in the ‘Vietnamese Poetry Movement’ and French Symbolist poets from 1930 to 1945. On the other hand, there were indirect influences in Pound’s poems from Japanese Haiku poetry, and related concrete-image poems appeared in Vietnam after 1960. In a different way, however, there may be some cases of Western writers (for example, Gertrude Stein, Mina Loy and Peter Riley) who, according to my own reading and examination of Western poems, might have enhanced and stimulated understanding of Vietnamese ‘modern poetry’ and challenged traditional ideology. I think that such writers might be promoted positively, suggesting new types of writing for Vietnamese poets to follow. Such a stimulus might lead some Vietnamese poets to achieve important results by learning from the West. From my own perspective, I recognised qualities in Stein’s, Loy’s and Riley’s poems that Vietnamese poets were lacking. These qualities include ideas of freedom in writing that Vietnamese poets were prevented, by tradition, from thinking of, and some points of modernism as a theory that, due to the gap in time, Vietnamese poets were struggling to internalise.

I started doing this study from the point of view of a Vietnamese researcher who is very familiar with reading a poem from its meaning (its ‘content’), researching a poet from his/her biography, and considering Vietnamese poetry as a separate phenomenon that does not belong to the movements of either the West and the East. However, at the end of my academic journey, I realised that the disparity between modern poetry in the West and in Vietnam, even though it might involve a gap of more than fifty years, could become closer and better organised, not by proving actual specific influences between them, but by clearing up the misunderstandings on both sides. Therefore, I would like to propose some Vietnamese innovative poets and poems that, in my view, might be seen as initiators of modernism in Vietnamese poetry. I also propose that what they did in their writings were what I did in my thesis: to re-understand the differentials between the West and the East. Hence, with the perspective as a Vietnamese, I consider Vietnam an apt example to show how interactions between poetry of the West and the East initially happened. This can be demonstrated by looking into some examples of direct and indirect concrete poetry movements and groups as listed below:

  1. Ezra Pound and Haiku poetry

Haiku poetry was misunderstood as a poetic form derived from China.512 Even Pound, who made a collection of Chinese poetry in translation,513 and who had written Imagist poetry using the Haiku form, did not distinguish the differences between Chinese Haiku and Japanese Haiku. I imagine both of them as staircases with the same number of steps. However, with the coming of modern Chinese syllables and the development of social ideology, Chinese poets almost no longer walked in this way. The concept of ‘Zen’ became unfamiliar amongst modern Chinese. Some Chinese students I asked needed to look up this word in their ancient dictionary. Thus, Chinese Haiku had existed but had been discontinued. On the other hand, Japanese poets kept Haiku as one of their inspirations and spread it to the West.514 It could be explained that Haiku was presented for Japanese Bushido, Japanese Buddhism and Japanese beauty symbols (e.g. cherry blossoms, temples and Mount Fuji). Along with Tanka poetry, Haiku was a part of Japanese culture. In the East, a poem was the shadow of the poet. For example, if a Haiku poem was written calmly in a traditional way, its poet must be perceived as a monk.515

Thus, whereas Japanese Haiku poets strictly followed Zen ideology and the traditional Eastern concept of beauty, in my view, Pound wrote Haiku poems with the ideology of a Western poet. However, I found that Pound wrote Haiku poems in a way that was very close to Basho, a typical Japanese ancient poet. They both respected nature. Japanese people considered objects to have their own souls, and there were tangible connections between humans and objects, time and space, that made the ‘circle of life’.516 Pound might not have known about these but the invisible connectivity between images and ‘the beauty concept’ which derived from simple and small things could be seen from his poems. Thus, reading Pound’s poems from the perspective of an Eastern person helped me to identify ideas that might not have been reviewed through other methods of analysing Pound’s Haiku poems.

  1. Experimental poetry: a misunderstanding in Vietnam

Experimental poetry has developed in various kinds in the West for more than a hundred years.517 However, from the time Vietnamese poets first knew about it (from the 1960s with the popularising of the English language and the coming of American soldiers) until now, Experimental poetry has not been considered as ‘poetry’ in Vietnam. Vietnamese poetry required poems to be understandable, but Experimental poetry challenged normal understanding. Vietnamese poets wrote according to themes (e.g. nostalgia or patriotism), but Experimental poetry refused such arrangements. Vietnamese poets considered poems to contain responsibility towards an aesthetic and educational orientation, but Experimental poetry set poems free: ‘anything could be art’.

Thus, having researched Experimental poetry, I suggest Stein as a model to help Vietnamese poets see new methods of writing from the position of an inventor rather than a moral propagandist. I also hope that from understanding Stein and her Tender Buttons, Vietnamese poetry could accept a different model of female and non-gender-specific writers. Thus, in Vietnam, those poets could raise their voices against patriarchal rules, even though they may be marginalised.
On the other hand, writing as a Vietnamese, I also considered some typical images that were used to create a link to Eastern people in the poetry of the West (e.g. Chinese, yellow and noodle). While I reject this use as a prejudice-based idea about the East, I also believe that the effort of escaping from being read as ‘Chinese poetry’ helped Vietnamese poets get closer to Western poetic ideologies.

  1. Symbolism and fighting for the ego

This research considered French Symbolism as a bombshell in Vietnamese poetry. It not only created professional poets, readers, publications and poetic language in Vietnam, but also confirmed the notion of personal identity in Vietnamese poetry, which had never appeared in Vietnam before 1930.

Vietnamese Symbolist poems used to be seen as powerless and sorrowful expressions of the bourgeoisie among a small group of Vietnamese intellectuals. However, placing those poems in the feudal and French-dominated society of the 1930s, with the strict censorship and authoritarian control of that time, the voices of Vietnamese poets, in Vietnamese language, with Vietnamese narrations, voicing whatever political views, were spirits for freedom in poetry. Thus, I have written about Baudelaire and French Symbolism not as a pioneering theory of poetry for Vietnamese poets to follow, but as a worthy human revolution in Vietnam through poetry in the first stage of modernism.

  1. Surrealism and the border of poem and painting

Making a comparison between Loy and Magritte suggested for me a broader view of how Surrealism could be understood. However, this research did not aim to show a common understanding of Surrealism. The contrast between Loy’s poems and Magritte’s paintings helped to point out Surrealism from each artist’s own perspective: as a stranger to (Magritte), and as familiar with (Loy), objects.

I recognised a misunderstanding in Vietnam about Surrealism, which was seen as an effort to make subjects and objects become surreal. Thus, whereas Vietnamese poets and painters tried to defamiliarise things and words, Loy and Magritte showed a contrasting process: things were derived from real images but in abnormal connectivity. I expected that by introducing Surrealism through the works of Loy and Magritte, Vietnamese poets could find a theory to follow, because while Surrealism had some common features with Symbolism (not refusing the use of metaphors), it could be a suggestion for Vietnamese poets to escape from the shadow of Symbolism which they had followed for half a century since 1930.
Along with writing about Surrealism, I aimed to point out the obstructions in Vietnamese poetry, which included the underestimating of the ‘ego’, the ‘self’ (which might be in contrast with the ‘community’ and ‘nation’) and the rejection of ‘nakedness’ and ‘sexuality’ (which was in contrast with ‘formality’ and ‘tradition’). Thus, I raised the question of how, without those two identities, a Vietnamese poet could write about subjects as they existed and objects as they naturally appeared. Without them, there could be nothing related to or similar to Western Surrealism.
Researching Loy’s poems and Magritte’s paintings also proposed a way of looking at a Vietnamese painter – Nguyễn Đình Đăng, who followed exactly what we had seen in Magritte’s work (sometimes including the concept of paintings). However, I considered that while on the one hand, Nguyễn Đình Đăng had followed Magritte’s surrealist paintings, on the other hand, he had used his Eastern ideology. In spite of seeing objects as they were, Nguyễn Đình Đăng drew from them an implied history, personal dreams and individual situation. Sometimes, he analysed some details in his painting through Vietnamese folklore or epic tales. His paintings were accepted as a product of Vietnamese ideology using Western techniques. Thus, he could be seen as an initial Vietnamese Surrealist painter, who followed Magritte in his own Vietnamese way. Studying Loy’s poems also suggested to me an exploration of modern Vietnamese women’s poetry in comparison with Vietnamese poetic traditions and Western modernism. I found that the relationship between Vietnamese feminist poetry and Western modernism was in some ways stronger and more innovative than what Vietnamese male poets had done through their ‘approved’ modern poems.
Thus, this thesis has helped to uncover an understanding of poetry and poetic theories of the West and the East from the beginning of the twentieth century. In my view, Western and Eastern poets might have thought that they understood each other, but actually, they did not. Hence, this research has identified some misunderstandings between Western and Eastern poets. It has also suggested a way to make them closer to each other by exploring the way Vietnamese poets like Chế Lan Viên, Hàn Mặc Tử, Trần Dần and Bùi Giáng have gone, and encouraging the new Vietnamese poet-generation of contemporary times to keep following in this direction.
In Vietnam, we have a phrase: ‘participate but not dissolve’. Coming from the wars, lacking a language of communication and being controlled by all means, Vietnamese poets were willing to keep their writings in drawers with no readers or publication. However, they all knew that by approaching Western theories and practice, combining these with Vietnamese natural culture, and removing misunderstandings between West and East, the border between Western and Eastern poetry could be blurred.


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Nhật Chiêu, Basho và Thơ Haiku (Basho and Haiku poetry) (Hanoi: Nhà xuất bản văn học, 1994)
Oliver, Charles M., Ernest Hemingway in Death in the Afternoon (New York: Checkmark, 1999)
Olsen, Flemming, Between Positivism and T.S. Eliot: Imagism and T.E. Hulme (Odense; Lancaster: University Press of Southern Denmark, 2008)
Pafunda, Danielle, ‘On Human Cylinders: The Pregnant Poet’, American Poet, issue 38 (spring 2010)
Paquet, Marcel, René Magritte, 1898-1967: Thought Rendered Visible (Ko¨ln: Benedikt Taschen, 1994)
Pearson, Roger, Stéphane Mallarmé (London: Reaktion Books Ltd, 2010)
Phan Trọng Luận, Ngữ Văn Lớp 11 (11th Grade Literature) Volume 2 (Hanoi: Nhà xuất bản Giáo dục, 2007)
Pound, Ezra, Literary Essays of Ezra Pound (London: Faber and Faber, 1960)
Puttenham, George, The Arte of English Poesie (Cirencester The Echo Library, 2007)
Qian, Zhaoming, The Modernist Response to Chinese Art: Pound, Moore, Stevens (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2003)
Reiss, Julie H., From Margin to Center: The Spaces of Installation Art (Massachusetts: The MIT press, 2001)
Resseguie, James L., The Strange Gospel: Narrative Design and Point of View in John (Leiden: Brill, 2001)
Rexroth, Kenneth, ‘Les Lauriers Sont Coupes No2: Mina Loy’, Circle, 1.4 (1994), 69-70
Richter, Hans, Dada: Art and Anti-Art (London: Thames & Hudson, 1997)
Roberts, Michael, T.E. Hulme (New York: Haskell House Publishers)
Rumens, Carol, Making for the Open: The Chatto Book of Post-Feminist Poetry 1964-1984 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1985)
Saito, Takafumi, and William R. Nelson, 1020 Haiku in Translation: The Heart of Basho, Buson and Issa (North Charleston, South Carolina: BookSurge, 2006)
Schmid, Julie, ‘Mina Loy’s Futurist Theatre’, Performing Arts Journal 18.1, January (1996), 1-7
Schmidt, Michael, Lives of the Poet (London: Phoenix, 1999)
Scuriatti, Laura, ‘Negotiating Boundaries: The Economics of Space and Gender in Mina Loy’s Early Poems’, Feminismo/s, N. 5 (jun 2005), 71-84
Shimer, Dorothy B., Voices of Modern Asia: Anthology of Twentieth-century Asian Literature (London: Signet Book, 1974)
Short, Robert, Dada & Surrealism (London: Laurence King, 1994)
Showalter, Elaine, ‘Feminist Critism in the Wilderness’, Critical Inquiry, Vol. 8, No. 2, Writing and Sexual Difference (Winter, 1981)
Shreiber, Maeera, and Keith Tuma, Mina Loy: Woman and Poet (London: National Poetry Foundation, 1998)
Smith, Richard Eugene, ‘Ezra Pound and the Haiku’, College English 26, no. 7 (1965), 522-27

Specer, Michael C., Art Criticism of Théophile Gautier (Genève: Librairie Droz, 1969)

Stein, Gertrude, ‘What are Master-pieces’, Gertrude Stein: Writings and Lectures 1909-1945, ed. by Patricia Meyerowitz (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967)
Stephan, Philip, Paul Verlaine and the Decadence, 1882-90 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1974)
Stevenson, R. W., Modernist Fiction (London: Prentice Hall, 1998)
Stoltzfus, Ben, ‘Magritte, Cladel, and The Tomb of the Wrestlers: Roses, Daggers, and Love in Interarts Discourse’, University of Nebraska Press, Vol. 19, No. 1-2 (2011), 173-90
Stringer, Jenny, ed., The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Literature in English (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996)
Sylvester, David, Magritte (Houston: Menil, 1992)
Thurston, Scott, Hold: Poems 1994-2004 (Exeter: Shearsman, 2006)
Torczyner, Harry, Magritte: The True Art of Painting (London: Thames and Hudson, 1979)
Waldberg, Patrick, Surrealism (London: Thames & Hudson, 1965)
Waugh, Patricia, Literary Theory and Criticism: An Oxford Guide (Oxfort: Oxfort University Press, 2006)
West, Thomas G., Symbolism: An Anthology (London: Methuen, 1980)
Whitfield, Sarah, René Magritte Newly Discovered Works: Oil Paintings, Gouaches, Drawings, Volume 6: Catalogue Raisonne (London: Philip Wilson Publishers, 1993)
William, William Carlos, ‘Mina Loy’ Lunar Baedeker and Time Tables, ed. Jonathan Williams (Highlands, NC: Jargon Society, 1958b)
Winant, Johanna, 'Gertrude Stein and the Contingency of Inductive Reasoning’, Journal of Modern Literature, Volume 39, Number 3 (Spring 2016), 95-113
Wordsworth, William, A.R Jones, Samuel Taylor Coleridge; R.L Brett, Lyrical Ballads (London: Methuen, 1963)
Unquoted Reading
Bagchee, Shyamal, T.S. Eliot: A Voice Descanting : Centenary Essays.. (London: Macmillan, 1990)
Bosley, Keith, The War Wife: Vietnamese Poetry (London: Allison and Busby Ltd, 1972)
Bowra, Maurice, The Romantic Imagination (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961)
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, Biographia Literaria (London: Dent, 1906)
Dinh Minh Hang, ‘Có Một Mùa Xuân Việt Bắc’ (There was A Viet Bac’s Spring), Literature and Youth Journal, Volume 135, 3 (2007)
Dinh Minh Hang, ‘Chất Dân Gian Trong Thơ Trần Dần’ (Folklore in Tran Dan’s Poetry), Vietnamese National Seminar: The Relationship between Folklore and Written Literature, 11 (2009)
Dinh Minh Hang, ‘Diễn Ngôn Tính Dục Trong Thơ Trần Dần’ (The Discourse of Sexuality in Tran Dan’s Poetry), Vietnamese National Linguistics and Literature Seminar, 11 (2010)
Dinh Minh Hang, ‘Hình Tượng – Những Ý Niệm Của Nghệ Thuật Sắp Đặt Trong Thơ Trần Dần‘ (Imagery – The Concept of Installation in Tran Dan’s Poetry), Young Scientific Researchers Seminar, Hanoi National University of Education, 4 (2010)
Dinh Minh Hang, Nghệ Thuật Lạ Hóa Trong Thơ Dương Tường (Defamiliarsation in Duong Tuong’s Poetry), Hanoi National University Scientific report, 2007
Dinh Minh Hang, ‘Tây Tiến – Sự Thăng Hoa Của Một Tâm Hồn Lãng Mạn’ (Tay Tien – The Sublimation of A Romantic Soul), Vẻ Đẹp Văn Học Cách Mạng (The Beauty of Vietnamese Revolution Literature (Hanoi: Education publishing house, 2006)
Dinh Minh Hang, Trần Dần Từ Quan Điểm Nghê Thuật Đến Những Thể Nghiệm Thơ (Tran Dan – From Concepts of Art to Experimental Poetry), Bachelor thesis (Hanoi National University of Education, 2008)
Dinh Minh Hang, Thơ Trần Dần Nhìn Từ Lý Thuyết Diễn Ngôn Của Michel Foucault (Tran Dan’s Poetry – Viewed from Michel Foucault’s Discourse Theory), Master thesis (Hanoi National University of Education, 2010)
Dinh Minh Hang ‘Từ Thơ Như Huy Tìm Hiểu Về Một Khuynh Hướng Của Thơ Việt Hiện Đại’ (From Nhu Huy’s Poetry to An Important Tendency of Modern Vietnamese Poetry), Hanoi National University of Education Scientific Journal, Special issue (2009)

Eliot, T. S, Collected Poems 1909-1935 (London: Faber and Faber, 1936)

------------, Selected Essays, 3rd edn (London: Faber and Faber, 1951)
Glover, Jon, Glass Is Elastic (Manchester: Carcanet, 2012)
Goscha, Christopher, The Penguin History of Modern Vietnam: A History (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2016)
Hill, Geoffrey, Collected Poems (London: Penguin, 1985)
Kant, Immanuel, Paul Guyer, and Allen W. Wood, Critique of Pure Reason (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998)
Minow-Pinkney, Makiko, Virginia Woolf & the Problem of the Subject (Brighton: Harvester, 1987)
Moi, Toril, Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory, 2nd edn (London: Routledge, 2002)
Oakeshott, Michael, Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays (New York: Basic Books Publishing Company, 1962)
Paterson, Don, Reading Shakespeare's Sonnets: A New Commentary (London: Faber, 2010)
Prynne, J. H., News of Warring Clans (London: Trigram Press, 1977)
Pye, Stella, ‘Calliope Come Lately: The Continuing Relevance of Poetic Form from the Renaissance to the Present Day’ (Bolton: University of Bolton), 2015
Riley, Peter, Messenger Street: To the Memory of Douglas Oliver (Cambridge: P. Riley, 2001)
---------------, Alstonefield: A Poem (Manchester: Carcanet, 2003)
Will, Barbara, and Inc NetLibrary, Gertrude Stein, Modernism, and the Problem of "Genius" (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000)
Woolf, Virginia, The Essays of Virginia Woolf, ed. by McNeille and Stuart Nelson Clarke (London: Hogarth, 1986)

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