The 2015 Swedish literary Cikada Prize has been granted to poet Hoang Thi Y Nhi in recognition of how she has defended the inviolability of life in her poetry. The prize, which established in 2004 on the occasion of the centennial of the Swedish Nobel laureate Harry Martinson's birth, is given to East Asian poets in recognition of the importance of East Asian poetry. The first Vietnamese poet to receive the prize talks with Thuy Hang about her writing.
You haven't written poems for a couple of years, so how did you greet the news that you were the winner of a Swedish prize dedicated to poets?
When I received the letter from Swedish Ambassador Camilla Mellander, who informed me that I was the prize winner, I was flabbergasted for a few seconds. The prize was not just good news, but also a very big surprise that I've never thought I could have achieved while I'm in the last "phase" of my life. At the age of 72, I'm now mainly dealing with domestic work and taking care of my husband, who is not in good health.
Of course, I'm quite proud of being the first Vietnamese poet to win the prize. Especially, I'm deeply impressed by the norm of the prize, which is "his/her poems must defend the inviolability of life" – a very beautiful and human criterion.
However, I think the prize is more than just recognition and encouragement. It also means responsibility and commitment.
How did your poems become well-known in Sweden, thus leading to your Cikada Prize?
I am known to Swedish readers thanks to the Swedish publishing house Tranan, which published For Yesterday – Twelve Vietnamese Poets in 2009. Alongside my poems, the book also presents works by veteran poet Huu Thinh and some others from younger generations such as Phan Huyen Thu and Vi Thuy Linh.
The book is part of cultural co-operation agreement between Sweden and Viet Nam. Thanks to this long-term co-operation, the works of numerous Vietnamese authors have been translated into Swedish, and people in Sweden will get an insight into Vietnamese culture and daily life. They will also be able to relate the poems to their own thoughts and experiences.
Do you have any plans on how you'll spend the SEK20,000 (about US$2,300) prize?
I will give a part of the prize to my grandchild, who is going to study abroad. I will use the remainder to support the website vanviet.info, which promotes Vietnamese literature.
Nowadays, compared with other literary genres, it seems that it's not very easy for poetry to find readers. What do you think about this?
It can be said that poetry is very picky in choosing its readers. This matter is in being not only in Viet Nam but also in other countries. However, the smaller number of readers doesn't affect to the role of poetry in general literature. Poetry still exists as a part of life. In my eyes, every poem has its own life.
Since you stopped writing poems, you have started writing short stories. What is the different between writing poems and short stories?
For me, very strong inspiration is needed for poem, while living experiences are important ingredients for short stories. In the case of a poem, whenever I have the inspiration, which mostly comes unexpectedly, I could finish a poem very quick, and I often feel quite satisfied with whatever I've just written down.
For a short story, I can take my time, day by day, week by week, even month by month, to produce it.
After releasing the Y Nhi Poem Collection in 2000, I've focused only on writing short stories. I'm now in the "recharging" process. I hope I will regain some inspiration for poetry soon. I still love poetry very much, because it is my life.
Last year I released the collection Co Gio Chuong Se Reo (The Chime will Sound Once It Gets Wind), which consists of 27 short stories. The collection has received positive reviews from critics and readers. Some people even commented that my stories bear a slight resemblance to poetry (Smile). — VNS