May, 10 2011 09:09:03

Poet promotes nation's literature abroad

Lam Quang My is steadily bridging the gap between Polish and Vietnamese literature. He talks with Minh Thu about his work.

Poet Lam Quang My was born in the central province of Nghe An in 1944. He left Viet Nam 20 years ago in order to study and work in Poland. My composes poetry in Polish and Vietnamese and translates literature into both languages. His poems have been additionally translated in English and Czech. His Anthology of Vietnamese Poetry between the 11th-19th centuries, published in Polish, was highly praised as the poetry collection of 2010 by Polish literary critics.

Inner Sanctum: You studied electronics and have a PhD degree in physics from the Physics Institute of the Polish Academy of Science. Why did you decide to become a poet and dedicate your life to literature?

Although I studied science and researched applied physics, poetry has always been my biggest passion. Writing a poem comes natural ally to me. Poetry gives me extreme satisfaction, endless pleasure and meaning to live.

I love Vietnamese poetry in particular. Tens years ago, I and some fellow-countrymen established a club for Vietnamese poetry in Poland. When I discovered that my Polish friends were interested in reading Vietnamese poetry, I translated as many Vietnamese poems as I could into Polish. I even travelled around Poland reading Vietnamese poetry.

Inner Sanctum: How did you start off translating Vietnamese poetry into Polish and why did you choose 28 Vietnamese poets from the 11th century?

During my years living in Poland, I spent an enormous amount of time visiting libraries where I came into contact with countless books from the UK, Russia, China, Japan and India etc., but none from Viet Nam.

Puzzled by the fact that Vietnamese literature had not yet been introduced to the world, I spent years collecting and translating different works by Vietnamese authors in order to offer them the exposure they have always deserved. I wanted to make sure that Vietnamese books would become available at libraries and even in family homes throughout Poland. After two years spent working with Polish poet Pawel Kubiak, I completed a collection of classical poems dating from the 11th-19th centuries. The collection starts with Ly Thuong Kiet (1019-1105) and concludes with Tu Xuong (1870-1907).

Inner Sanctum: What were the difficulties and advantages you faced when translating poems for the collection?

When I started translating, I realised I had no Vietnamese poetry with me. Thanks to the internet however I soon had enough material.

Translating classical poetry into Polish was no mean feat. You have to remember that Polish is not my native language. I also had to deal with countless old words and terms which were no longer used or even relevant. Translating the work of poets living a millennium ago requires expert knowledge on language and a good command of history.

I could not have done it without the support I received from Kubiak, a poet, a literary critic and the organiser of literary activities in Poland. He enthusiastically joined in with Vietnamese poets in translating poetry into Polish in order to increase his own experience. Kubiak helped me edit all the work in order to make it suitable for Polish readers while still retaining its original intent.

Inner Sanctum: Do you have any future plans to enhance the relationship between Viet Nam and Poland in terms of literature?

With Pawel Kubiak's help, I will continue to translate Vietnamese poetry into Polish.

I also plan to translate tho moi (Vietnamese poetry from the 20th century) into Polish. I would like to especially concentrate on Vietnamese female poets from the 17th century.

I look forward to support and advice from writers and poets currently in Viet Nam. One of my biggest desires is to bring the Anthology of Vietnamese Poetry between 11th-19th Centuries to Viet Nam in to get feedback and advice for my future projects.

Inner Sanctum: Do you have any comments on the status of Vietnamese literature abroad?

I can't comment much on the status of Vietnamese literature outside of Poland. I do believe that the demand for Vietnamese literature has by no means been met however. Only a handful of classical books such as Truyen Kieu (Kieu's Tales), President Ho Chi Minh's poems and my anthology of Vietnamese classical poetry has been translated.

When I invited a Polish writer to join in the second conference in promoting Vietnamese literature to foreign countries, held in Ha Noi last year, he was both delighted and surprised. The fact that this was only the second conference held in promotion of Vietnamese literature is one of "..the reasons why [Vietnamese] literature is not yet popular around the world," he said to me.

Inner Sanctum: So how do we bring Vietnamese literature to the rest of the world?

There should be a particular policy set up for selecting and translating the very best Vietnamese literary works. Translators should understand and be passionate regarding what they intend to translate in bringing Vietnamese literature to the world. — VNS

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