|Stepping back: Poet Nguyễn Phong Việt. VNS Photo Quách Hải Hà|
by Lê Hương
HCM City-based poet Nguyễn Phong Việt has become a publishing phenomenon after selling a total of 120,000 copies of poetry collections. Now he has released 5,000 copies of a new collection titled Sao Phải Đau Đến Như Vậy (Why One Has to Suffer So Much).
His earlier collections were Đi Qua Thương Nhớ (Enduring Missing, 55,000 copies), Từ Yêu Đến Thương (From Love to Sharing, 20,000 copies), Sinh Ra Để Cô Đơn (Born to Be Alone, 15,000 copies), Sống Một Cuộc Đời Bình Thường (Leading a Normal Life, 15,000 copies), and Về Đâu Những Vết Thương (Where Have the Pains Gone, 10,000 copies).
Inner sanctum: What has helped you become a best-selling poet?
For me, the most important factor is the normal feelings of people written. I don’t exaggerate or minimise things. I am totally active in promoting my books online, at bookstores, through fan pages and my Facebook page.
Inner Sanctum: Tell me about your newly released poetry collection titled Sao Phải Đau Đến Vậy. Is there anything new copmpared to the five previous collections?
In this collection, I allowed myself to step back a little bit in both space and time to review injures that I have exprienced. Of course not all pains in the book are mine, but most of them are. I believe that when people read the collection, they will look back on their injures calmly. Maturity is when you look back at the past and smile comfortably. The collection is a mark of the mature age of myself and my readers, who have accompanied me for many years.
Inner Sanctum: How do you get inspirations for your creations?
I am lucky to be working in the media industry. Reading news is a daily habit. Reading is an important daily input. Sometimes I write down my own stories, sometimes feelings inside me urge me to write. Writers will understand if some things are not written down, they can go round and round in their heads. Things need to be written down and freed.
Inner Sanctum: I heard that you were born in Phú Yên, a beautiful coastal region. How did you start writing and what first inspired you?
I was born into a poor family with seven children. I am the youngest. My small home town is the most peaceful place in my life. Although my family was very poor, life around me was extremely abundant. I looked at everything in a realistic way rather than through optimistic eyes.
I remember the year 1993-1994 when I started to write. I used to read teen-age magazines, such as Mực Tím (Violet Ink), Áo Trắng (White Shirt) and Tuổi Xanh (Green Age) that my brother bought. I thought to myself: “I can write like them”.
The thought made me brave enough to send many poems to newspapers and magazines, hoping to become famous or make some cash. At that time poems were paid several thousand đồng, which was valuable to me. I was lucky that several magazines publish my pieces. Then I considered myself to have some talent.
Inner Sanctum: Please share your experience in promoting your poetry.
In recent years, the so-called Quỹ Cầu Vồng (Rainbow Foundation) by SkyGen Group initiated by my wife has supported needy children in Việt Nam. I think it’s high time for me to have a place to focus on helping charity.
Selling books through the foundation, fan pages and my personal Facebook page are ways to join hands with people. The profits from selling books is not much, but meaningful. People can both have an interesting book to read and contribute to charity activites at the same time.
Inner Sanctum: What do you think about present readers’ tastes?
It’s not easy to talk about readers’ tastes, especially young readers. Reading books I think is a personal affair not much affected by the crowd. From my point of view, in order to persuade a reader to take money and pay for a poetry book is the most difficult things in the so-called “spiritual entertainment”, because people have hundreds of choices better than reading poetry. My general opinion is to write what can touch people’s feelings and it should be as real as possible.
Inner Sanctum: Please tell me about your work and your family.
I’m working as a fleelance writer for newspapers. I focus on cinema and engage in editing scripts, promotions, and producing cinema products. Cinema is a passion. I have a small family with a five-year-old boy. My wife used to work as a journalist and write poetry as well. But for many years now, she has traded cosmetics and food. She initiated the charity Rainbow Foundation and opened the Tân Thư Book Centre.
Inner Sanctum: Have you ever thought of foreign markets and translating your poems into other languages? Some poets have been fairly active in this field, like Mai Văn Phấn, who recently received Sweden’s Cikada Prize.
To be honest, I have never thought of this. And I have no ambition in this direction. I know very clearly where I should be and what I can do. My dream in writing is simply to publish a collection at the end of each year and that readers sympathise with my feelings. Writing a poetry book and selling it is already a challenging task.
Inner Sanctum: So what’s your plan for the new year?
I will release the seventh collection of my work under the title Chỉ Cần Tin Mình Là Duy Nhất (Just Believe Oneself to Be Unique) in December, 2018. I hope the public will not be disappointed. — VNS