after the pounding rain
Quite a crowd tonight for the poetry night and book launch with poet and war veteran Bruce Weigl. And an amazing amount of love for this American poet from his Vietnamese hosts.
The auditorium of the Hanoi Culture University was quite full, with a mixed crowd of students, media and, apparently, a fair proportion of the luminaries of the Vietnamese literary scene. On reflection it was probably a risky move by the MC to demonstrate this point by attempting to list all the famous poets and writers who were present, particularly with the stage lights in his eyes.
The book After the Pounding Rain (Sau mưa thôi nã đạn) has just been published by Nhà xuất bản Trẻ. It is a memoir and collection of Professor Weigl’s poems in both English and Vietnamese, the result of six months of intensive collaboration with Vietnamese poet and translator Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai. She was inspired to make contact with Professor Weigl after first reading his Pulitzer-nominated poem “Song of Napalm”, which is included in the collection.
Photo: Bruce Weigl and Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai listen to Hữu Thỉnh
Apart from his own poetry, Professor Weigl has had a significant collaboration with the Vietnam Writers Association, contributing to translations of poems by Vietnamese soldiers and introducing them to English speaking audiences. A repeated theme from Vietnamese speakers including poet Hữu Thỉnh, president of the Vietnam Writers Association, was that Professor Weigl—as an 18-year-old soldier—was himself a victim of the American war in Vietnam. Certainly the sense that an American present at that time would, over so many years, offer such an honest and beautiful expression of his regret and sorrow has resonated with those present here.
Poet and VTV director Trần Đăng Khoa was as humorous as Hữu Thỉnh was sincere, noting that the perils of moving poems between languages have led to the saying in Vietnam that “translation is destruction”, and playing to a very receptive crowd with predictable mild insinuations about the “fruitful collaboration” between Professor Weigl and his collaborator Quế Mai. She was caught somewhat awkwardly in her role as interpreter for this speech, apologizing to an amused Vietnamese crowd that her English interpretation on these points was necessarily limited by the presence in the audience of her European husband.
Professor Weigl read some of his poems. Others were read in both languages by Vietnamese poets and American members of the international Hanoi Writers’ Collective.
To be frank, there were more speeches than poems. But somehow in that crowded, draughty hall, above the murmuring of the students, beyond the clumsiness of consecutive interpretation, and in between the song and dance acts and presentations of flowers, there were some wonderful transcendent moments.