by Bach Lien
I recently returned from Quang Ninh province, where the second Asia-Pacific Poetry Festival was held and which drew more than 200 authors from 43 countries.
The festival is one of the most important events in the literary lanscape of the country, and was held in an effort to introduce Vietnamese poetry to international friends, and to create an ideal occasion for domestic and international writers to exchange their views.
Representatives came from 43 countries, who spoke almost the same number of languages, including Lao, Hindi, Russian, Thai, English and French. The diversity in languages created many difficulties for participants. Despite many efforts made by the organising committee, it was unable to anticipate and prepare for these potential challenges.
The lack of translators also the event created many difficulties for the participants during exchanges, and while they were trying to share their literary views they couldn't always understand the poems of each other.
At the international poetry night, which drew about 300 local and foreign poets, many of them recited their poems honouring the beauty of nature and human life.
When an American poet went on stage to recite his poem, he was accompanied by a Vietnamese friend, who would help him to translate the poem. After the American poet finished his poem, his Vietnamese friend introduced the theme of the poem, but after some minutes of hesitation, he confessed to the public that he could not remember the lyrics of the poem and so would be unable to translate the poem further.
The two men then headed back to their seats as a surprised audience looked on.
Besides the American poet, whom I had mentioned earlier, some other Vietnamese and foreign poets also did not get their poems translated. However, the applause in the hall was still resounding.
Like many other people at the event, I was surprised to see that the languages for translation at the event were only Vietnamese and English. Vietnamese poems or speeches were translated into English and poems and speeches made by foreign poets (whatever language they used) were translated into Vietnamese. So those who couldn't speak or understand the language were left frustrated.
I understand that translating poems can be very difficult. It takes time to understand the beauty of a poem, and for everyone to appreciate its every word. But when a poem is translated in a hurry or when audiences don't have enough time to enjoy a poem before listening to another, it is difficult to marvel at its beauty.
At the opening ceremony of the festival, which was held last week at the Hanoi Opera House, even though the Vietnamese interpreter tried his best to translate some poems in English into Vietnamese, he had to repeatedly apologize as he was unable to translate some of the ideas in the poems.
To ensure the success of the event, the organising committee had mobilised a large number of volunteers from several universities of Ha Noi, who would welcome the foreign poets, and guide them in their activities. But some volunteers told me that they had not been trained enough to deal with unexpected situations and that their English was not good enough to communicate with the foreign poets they had to guide and accompany during the four-day event.
When a group of participants had to take a boat on Ha Long Bay, a member of the organising committee could not find any volunteer student, who was willing to act as an interpreter for the foreigners. The organising committee had to request one of the journalists present to fill in as the interpreter.
A similar lack of professionalism was also evident during some other big international events and festivals held earlier, such as the third Ha Noi International Film Festival, which was held last November.
Many in the audience had criticised the two MCs on the red carpet at the opening ceremony of the festival. They seemed to lack preparation for the event, and had tried to outdo one another in speaking. They were also reproached for using inappropriate words and behaviour while addressing actors.
Many people think it is too ambitious for Viet Nam to organise big events, such as the poetry festival.
"Holding a few conferences or two evenings for poetry recitation cannot be enough for promoting Vietnamese literature abroad," said Mai Thanh Nguyet, a local literature teacher.
"The organising committee should think of more effective ways to encourage foreign readers to read Vietnamese works," Nguyet said.
But I feel more optimistic. I think that this lack of professionalism can be explained by the fact that holding such international events in Viet Nam is still a very novel idea. It is easy to understand that they will not be perfect since this is the initial phase of the country trying to host such shows.
It is clear that the event has succeeded in paving the way for Vietnamese authors meeting foreign translators, literature researchers and publishers, and promoted the country's literary works abroad.
I believe that with better preparation, such international events will also produce better results. For the next festival, which will be organised during the next two years, the organising committee should mobilise more interpreters conversant in different popular languages that are spoken by foreign participants.
The poems, which the participants recite on stage, should be printed, translated and given to the participants in advance. A list of names and the biography of participants and contact information should also be printed and handed out to the participants. All this preparation should facilitate exchanges between the participants. — VNS