Three bilingual poetry collections by Vietnamese poet Mai Van Phan were among the 10 bestselling poetry collections from Asia on Amazon.com in the middle of last month.
They include two collections in Vietnamese and English titled Ra Vuon Chua Xem Cat Co (Grass Cutting in a Temple Garden) and Nhung Hat Giong Cua Dem va Ngay (Seeds of Night and Day) and a Vietnamese-French collection titled Bau Troi Khong Mai Che (A Ciel Ouvert/ Firmament without Roof Cover).
The poet chats with Culture Vulture about his passion.
How were three of your bilingual poetry collections among the top ten best-selling collections on Amazon? Is it a coincidence or a result of your effort to "export" poetry?
This is a coincidence based on the selling records of Amazon, which update automatically every hour. I did not send my collections to Amazon. That was done by Page Addie Press [the publisher]. So it's not due to my efforts.
How did you have your poems translated and sell them online?
In early 2010, I met translator Tran Nghi Hoang, who has lived in the US for 30 years. He is one of my favourite poets and has written famous poems using modern language. He first translated my poem Cua Mau (Mothergate) into English then asked his close friend, poet Frederick Turner, to edit it.
Turner is a founding professor of Arts and Humanities at the University of Texas in Dallas. He was excited to edit the translation. He then agreed to edit the English version of my Mothergate collection free of charge.
When my first bilingual Vietnamese-English collection, Firmament without Roof Cover, was republished in July 2012 by the Writers Association Publishing House, I received an email from poet Susan Blanshard, a representative of Page Addie Press, inviting me to sign a publishing contract. According to the contract, the collection would be published in printed and e-book versions. The e-book version appeared on Amazon.com in 2012. The printed version was published in the US, Canada, Australia, the UK and other European countries.
Three months later, the collection was among the top 100 bestsellers on Amazon, which urged Page Addie Press to publish my next collections.
So far, I have had four collections translated into English and one in French. They include the three top selling collections last month and Out of the Dark, which was published in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and European countries and is available on Amazon.com.
So far, my works have been translated into seven languages (English, French, Albanian, Indonesian, Korean, Swedish, and Thai).
The 1990s seemed to be your most productive period. Could you briefly describe your poetry career?
Out literature in the early 1990s was in fact the "eye of the storm". Writers were entering a renovation period, where everyone aspired to live in a society with more justice and democracy.
My roots as a poet are in folk literature, then I learnt from the great poets of Viet Nam and China, India, Russia, the UK, France, and Latin America. In my recent works, I use modern and natural language.
Have you received any feedback from international audiences?
I have received lots of emails from people all around the world. Many comments on my collection were published on Amazon.com, like the ones by Raymond P. Keen (from the US), Katy Miller (UK), Amanda Evans (Ireland) and Rob Mars (Czech Republic). I was impressed the most with the essays by Keen and Gjeke Marinaj (an Albanian American).
The Writers Association has just established a Centre for Literature Translation. What do you think about this move?
I think we are on the edge of the world's literature stream, as most of our valuable contemporary literature works have not yet been translated. Most Vietnamese poets have been quietly composing without caring about "exporting" their works to other countries.
Our contemporary poetry has a unique Vietnamese identity. The centre will introduce domestic literature to the world in a scientific and professional way, which will encourage writers, including me, to write more and better. — VNS