A bilingual poetry collection comprising over 50 poems written by a Vietnamese female poet is set to be published late this year in the U.S.
“Bi mat cua hoa sen” (The Secret of Hoa Sen), a collection of 52 poems written by Vietnamese poet Nguyen Phan Que Mai and co-translated by the author and American poet Bruce Weigl, will be released in the U.S. by BOA Editions, a literary publishing company, in October.
It is centered on the sad stories of women in the central Vietnamese province of Quang Tri – which is considered the ‘pocket’ of explosive remnants left over from the U.S. war in Vietnam – who lost their husbands and children.
“Bi mat cua hoa sen” also honors the bravery and resilience of Vietnamese people who fought for peace as well as rebuilt the country after the war.
Mai told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that when she visited Quang Tri with a group of foreigners in 1995, she saw a naked woman continuously screaming, “Please, give me back my husband! Give me back my son!” The woman then kept pursuing any foreigners she met.
Locals later told Mai that the woman lost her relatives in the war and had to live with mental illnesses for the rest of her life.
The co-translator, Weigl, used to be a soldier in Quang Tri. This is the second bilingual product that he has co-produced with the Vietnamese poet apart from the poetry collection “Nhung ngoi sao hinh quang ganh” (Stars in the Shape of Carrying Poles) published in 2011.
The American veteran has long been known as a man who helps bring Vietnamese literature to the U.S. and global readers for the past 20 years, and mend the relation between the two countries.
According to BOA Editions, Nguyen Phan Que Mai is the first Vietnamese ever to have her book published by the firm. The publisher said a lot of orders have been sent to the BOA online bookstores, including ones placed by Amazon and a number of British, Canadian, and New Zealand bookstores.
Mai is also the first Southeast Asian poet whose poetry collection has been printed in the Lannan Translations Selection Series which publishes two best books of contemporary international poetry in translation each year.
In 2013, BOA Editions received nearly 100 fully translated poetry manuscripts from around the world for the 2014 Lannan Translations Selection Series. Besides Mai’s “Bi mat cua hoa sen,” the second qualified poetry collection was “Smugglers,” written by Ales Debeljak and translated from Slovene by Brian Henry.
Established in 2002, Lannan Translations Selection Series is named after New Mexico-based Lannan Foundation, which funds the production of “Bi mat cua hoa sen” and its marketing costs as well as gives generous author and translator honorariums.
Born in a village northern Vietnam in 1973, Mai has authored three poetry collections and translated six.
She has won numerous awards including the Poetry of the Year 2010 Award from the Hanoi Writers Association; first prize in a poetry about Hanoi competition organized by Vietnam's Literature Newspaper and the Hanoi Radio and Television; and the Capital's Literature and Arts Award given by the Hanoi Union of Literature and Arts Associations.
She is also an honorary fellow in writing of Hong Kong Baptist University.
On the occasion of her collection's publication, Mai has been invited to join a tour in the United States in February 2015, in which she will travel to several American states to introduce her poetry collection.