Viet Nam News
New Zealand-based poet Huyền Thư has become popular among readers recently. She was the first runner-up at the 2016 National Schools Poetry Award, organised by the International Institute of Modern Letters, under the Victoria University of Wellington. She talks with Minh Thu about the inspiration behind her writing.
Inner Sanctum: So, how did you become a poet?
I have been in New Zealand for five years. I am studying for a bachelor’s degree in Urban Planning, at the School of Architecture and Planning of the University of Auckland. You may not think that there’s anything in common between an urban planner and a poet. Maybe don’t call me a poet because it sounds a bit weird to me.
I started writing poems more than a year ago. It hasn’t been very long so I hope in the future I can do better and improve my writing.
I am interested in poetry because they are brief, and also have rhythm and rhyme like a song. How amazing it is when you can depict a lively picture with only a few words! Especially, they don’t require a long time to write like short stories or novels. You just grasp the ideas, images and get them written down as soon as they come to your head. I am sure random things sometimes create amazing verses. "Whatever will come, will come. And we will have to meet it when it does." This matches what I think: join words together and wait for the resulting poem.
For me, poetry is one of my passions. It keeps me calm in this busy life. Especially, writing about my childhood and the characteristics of Việt Nam makes me feel happier. They remind me of wonderful memories with my family when I was little.
It is a great way to express my feelings and emotions because I don’t usually tell other people about these things. In addition, writing a poem is the moment I can return to memories of some family members who are not in this world anymore. I think the words keep them alive in my heart and soul.
I’m also writing poems to express other people’s feeling. For example, my close friends and readers sometimes share their stories with me. Indeed, all of us have gone through a period of time in our life where we had to overcome difficulties and suffering in family life, at work or even amongst our friends. I am pretty sure everyone has been through this at least once in their lives. However, not many people can actually say what they think or express their feelings clearly. From my perspective, I definitely think that sharing is a way to get people to understand each other and resolve problems. It doesn’t matter which way you use. I’m writing poems as a way to share my stories as well as other people’s.
Inner Sanctum: A lot of your poems focus on the theme of nostalgia. Is that the main inspiration for your writing?
I think you’re right. Nostalgia is a part of my writing and also my inspiration because I have been living away from home from a young age. It can be considered as the main inspiration for my poems. However, there are many other things that come to mind when I write. Those include my surroundings, the stories I hear from other people, and also things I witness.
I really hope that my poems have an influence on readers. I think everyone in Việt Nam has heard of the novel Give Me a Ticket to My Childhood, written by famous children’s author Nguyễn Nhật Ánh. We know that we can never return to our childhood, however, the memories will always live in our hearts. As we grow up and begin a busy life, we have less time for our parents and for coming home, we start to regret our time in the past. Especially, for me, the family with mom and dad is an important part of my life. This is what I think at the moment. I don’t know if this thinking will change later when I begin new relationships. Therefore, now, childhood is still one of the main inspirations behind my poetry. I hope my childhood memories and images in my poems have an influence on readers and help to bring them some calm.
Inner Sanctum: Could you explain the inspiration and context behind the poem "How much is too much for remembering?"
It was a rainy winter day in New Zealand. I looked at the rain thinking about my childhood and wrote this poem. I grew up in Thái Bình, a northern delta province of Việt Nam. There, the weather is clearly different each season and extreme in summer. I remembered the rain always came unpredictably and sometimes the road was flooded. This image came through strongly in my poem as well as other images of people I knew such as “the neighbour boy, the old woman waiting for her son, Grandpa” and also Vietnamese natural features like a “cobblestone path on a rainy day, flute sounds, cicadas”. If you are reading my poems often, you will find some very similar features running through them.
Inner Sanctum: The judge of the New Zealand poetry contest said that your poems are beautiful and you use art and beauty to ease the sorrow of the world. What do you think about this remark?
I want to say thanks to Anne Kennedy, the judge at the National Schools Poetry Competition 2016 in New Zealand for her thoughts on my poem. She wrote: "This poem does something tried and true but very important in how art can help us process trauma: it asks us to compare tragedy with beauty, the beauty of the lyrics and the images."
The main disaster in this poem is the flood in the village. Even though following this trauma, the village is devastated, I want people to notice that there are still many beautiful images of our lovely people and nature. That is what we should treasure to build up a better village and a better life.
At least one time in our lives we will have to overcome suffering and difficulties. I really hope that my poems can make life better and soothe sorrow and pain. We live in reality, not in a fairytale. So I think experiencing troubles and even negative emotions sometimes is the right thing. But from that, we need to find a way to stand up and be positive about life.
Inner Sanctum: Can you describe an ordinary day in New Zealand?
I love the feeling of welcoming and warmness that Wellington brought me since I came here. Unlike other countries, New Zealand is a multicultural country so this gives me lots of chances to get to know friends from different backgrounds and cultures. For me, coming to New Zealand is a great experience of having strong senses of natural beauty and a fresh environment.
Life here is quite relaxing as school work and afterschool activities are very balanced. I have a normal routine of going to and from school like other students. Apart from that, I sometimes spend time at home writing poems. It actually depends on my mood; therefore, I can’t plan the exact amount of time I spend writing each day.
Inner Sanctum: How often do you return to Việt Nam? Each time you visit, do you realise changes in your homeland? What do you think about that?
I usually return to Việt Nam at the end of the year and I realise that there are so many changes at my homeland including new infrastructure facilities and also the natural environment. There are positive but also negative changes. I think changes are good as my homeland is developing, but that means I will miss my childhood even more because the spectacle is not the same as before. However, people are still very lovely and welcoming when I come back. This is the most important thing.
Inner Sanctum: Would you share your plans for the future? When will you publish your book of poetry?
For the near future, I think I will keep up with my studies over the next four years. Writing poems is still a big part of my life. I will never drop my interest in poetry and will still arrange time to keep writing. I plan to release my very first book this year when I come back to Việt Nam. VNS