by Minh Thu
Reciting or reading poetry over a cup of tea, accompanied by soft, slow music from a piano, was once one of my favourite pastimes.
Although I have fallen out of the habit of reading poetry over the years, I have recently found another way of enjoying it: Facebook.
"Facebook, again?" you may moan. But it's true. People on Facebook share many aspects of their lives, including their love of poetry. Poets also get involved in social media by sharing their poems on their personal timelines. Fan pages are mushrooming across Facebook, where users can share new poems and exchange their thoughts with their beloved poets.
The site works well for promoting poetry and connecting poets to their audience.
Nguyen Phong Viet may be considered one of the first poets to attempt promoting his own poetry on Facebook. The poet has a huge fan following and has inspired the creation of several fan pages. If you type #thophongviet into the site's search bar, you can see the messages that mention him and share his works. From this, you can gauge his popularity.
Viet, 35, has been a member of the Ho Chi Minh City Association of Writers for many years, but few people had heard of him until 2007, when he shared his poems on Facebook.
To date, Viet has published three poetry collections that include poems previously published on Facebook. Each had a total print run of 20,000-30,000 copies, which is excellent for works of poetry.
His love poems stir hearts with ease. Through his work, he has proven that he understands people's deepest feelings whether they're in love, lovelorn or lonely. He voices people's sentiments with confidence.
Le Thu Huong, 70, a member of the Hoan Kiem District Poetry Club, said she visits Viet's fan page every day to read his latest poems.
"I love reading Viet's poems as I can relate to them," she said. "I wonder how such a young poet could have such a deep understanding of others' feelings and have such diverse experiences.
"Everyone has experienced different emotions when in love or involved in a friendship or some other relationship, and Viet seems to understand them all. We can easily find part of ourselves and our experiences in his poems."
Teenager Nguyen Phuong Anh enjoys Viet's poems as well. She has often quoted verses from his poems as a way of sharing her current mood, thoughts, or feelings with her Facebook friends.
"Through his poetry, Viet taps into honest emotions," she said.
"Instead of writing about myself or what I'm thinking, I quote his verses in my [Facebook] status."
Viet confessed he wouldn't have been this successful without Facebook.
"At first, I didn't intend to use the social network to promote my work," he said.
"I just posted my poems on my Timeline to share them with people on my friend list. I felt happy just to have someone read my poems. Gradually, those poems became very popular.
"I'm so lucky that my works have had the chance to reach more and more readers thanks to the Internet."
Viet said there are many good writers and poets, but whether they will become famous or attract people's interest depends on how they showcase their work.
"Besides publishing books, writers can use the Internet as a medium to introduce their creations to readers, provided that their works are interesting enough to attract followers.
"Nowadays, people own one or more Facebook accounts. If someone likes and shares a poem, it can reach millions of readers, without limit," Viet said.
He is now one of many poets including Ngo Minh, Nghinh Nguyen and Hong Thanh Quang, who promote their work on Facebook. When their books are published, they are warmly received by readers because most of the poems have already been posted on social networks, garnering a great deal of attention from the public ahead of the book launch.
Tran Dang Khoa, who is considered a Vietnamese prodigy poetic, as he had published his poems at the age of eight, also praised the role of social media in promoting poetry.
"Facebook can be used as a private, personal newspaper that can be released worldwide," Khoa said.
"We can't doubt the active nature of Facebook. Many authors make use of it to introduce their work to readers. It also gives them a chance to engage with readers. The poets also receive a great deal of encouragement from their readers."
Khoa's words ring true. Facebook is not just a place to promote poetry but also acts as a bridge between authors and readers, allowing them to exchange poems and discuss poetry. Through Facebook, poets can also speak up about copyright violations, which is an urgent problem being faced by those working in the field of literature and poetry in Viet Nam.
Poets get used to posting poems under different pen names; these poems are then shared widely on the social network, and the poet's name is sometimes removed. This leads to controversy over copyright.
For instance, the poem To Quoc Goi Ten Minh (The Motherland Calls My Name) is believed to have been written by Nguyen Phan Que Mai. However, Ngo Xuan Phuc has claimed on his Facebook page that he penned it.
Mai is an award-winning poet and translator, enjoying fame both at home and abroad, whereas Phuc, 35, seems to be an unknown poet, who currently works as a literature teacher in the central province of Nghe An.
Mai released the poem in 2011. It was published in some reputable newspapers and was even set to music by composer Dinh Trung Can. The poem, praising patriotism, inspired many people of all ages, winning their hearts.
Phuc, however, said he created the poem in 2008 and shared it on his blog and other social networks. Due to the time, he lost the accounts and can't access these sites. Even so, he is unable to provide any proof of this distribution.
He only remembers that many readers, including poets, had enjoyed the poem and left comments. He has called on Facebook to support his claim of being the original creator of this poem.
Recently, poet Bang Ai Tho claimed she had read the poem in 2008 on the Internet. Although the poem had interested her, she doesn't remember the poet's name.
"Due to the amount of time that has passed and the large number of poems being posted daily on social networks, I can't remember whether the poet was Ngo Xuan Phuc," she said.
"The point is I read it in 2008, while Mai has said she wrote it in 2011."
The question of authorship for this poem remains controversial.
While poets acknowledge the role of Facebook in promoting their poetry, they also face the risk of copyright violations. People can freely copy their verses and share them widely without requesting their permission.
The poets, however, still believe this is the best way to spread their works, as they want readers to read and share their poems with both joy and respect for the creator. — VNS