HCM City-based poet Nguyễn Phong Việt became something of a phenomenon after publishing a total of 150,000 copies of nine poetry collections, and recently made his debut in publishing prose. He spoke with Đỗ Hữu about the inspiration behind his writing.
PUBLISHED POET: Phong Việt has released 150,000 copies of nine poetry collections. Photo courtesy of Phong Việt
Inner Sanctum: You are famous for your poetry, so what made you move into prose?
I actually began writing essays a long time ago but have rarely shared them with others. With poetry, I can say many things about love. But life has so much more to tell, so I decided to use essays to talk about social issues, my thoughts on life, my actual experiences -- matters that poetry just can’t express sufficiently.
Inner Sanctum: How did you plan for the recent publication of your book, Chúng Ta Sống Có Vui Không? (Are We Living Happily?)
The book includes some essays written five years ago and some finished just a few months ago. It took two years to plan and complete. I hope it’s received positively and helps people realise what is important and how they can learn to live happily in this stormy world, especially this year.
Inner Sanctum: Are you living happily? How do you overcome problems when they present themselves?
I'm happy at the moment. But the twists and turns of life aren’t something you can predict. If something bad was to happen, I would face it and find a way out. Changing your attitude and being more aware of failure and sorrow are important in life.
Inner Sanctum: Both your verse and your prose touch on sorrow and loss but encourage people to overcome. Is that how you feel in real life?
I think many creative people feel lonely. For me, it’s a blessing in disguise, as sad experiences become material for writing lively and soulful poetry or prose. I readily admit to having failed in love, but that’s made me stronger. For me, upheaval can be turned into motivation to drive me forward.
Inner Sanctum: I have followed you since 2007, when you shared poems on Facebook and became a phenomenon. You’ve now sold 150,000 copies of poetry, despite it being a literary genre that’s hard to sell. What lies behind your success?
I think I created my own genre, rhythm, and voice in verse. I wrote based on my life experiences, so perhaps others read my poetry and recognise an element of truth. I’ve never tried to make out like I’m special. Everything I write is natural.
I’m also active in promoting my books online, at bookstores, through fan pages, and on my Facebook page.
Inner Sanctum: You’re now a famous poet and also active in public relations. How do you balance the two?
I clearly separate them. One is romantic; the other is logical and realistic.
Inner Sanctum: Many authors these days use their writing ability to become a key opinion leader (KOL) and write advertisements. As a famed writer and influencer, do you have any advice for people looking to also work in both fields?
Writers should use their work to spread their influence and earn money. Some people join social networks for fun, while others earn money from it. I have some simple advice: If you can turn your joy into your job, go right ahead, and when you decide to get to work, always do the best you can. People will remember the effort.
Inner Sanctum: Let’s talk about your personal life. I’ve heard that you live simply and sometimes follow a vegetarian diet?
My life has become simpler. I work as a freelance writer and have a small business. My time is flexible. I follow a healthy diet and don’t eat too much. I like to stay close to people who have positive energy. My seven-year-old son Haro is a source of motivation and joy for me every single day. I am happy with all the little things that relate back to him. I take care of him without feeling any pressure. I spend half of the day with him. We eat, play, and study together. We talk to each other, even about little things. Friends share happiness and sorrow, and we have become friends.
Inner Sanctum: What are your plans for the immediate future?
I will release a new poetry collection at Christmas, as I normally do. A second bilingual poetry collection for kids may be published by the end of the year or the beginning of next year, following on from the success of my debut, Good Morning, Mornings. VNS
FAME FOUND: Phong Việt signing an autograph for a fan. Few contemporary Vietnamese poets can boast so many followers. Photo courtesy of Phong Việt