Tim Wright Reviews Lê Văn Tài, Nguyễn Tôn Hiệt & Phan Quỳnh Trâm, Edited by Nguyễn Hưng Quốc and Nhã Thuyên

By | 15 March 2016

The publication of this anthology is to be celebrated: it introduces English-speaking readers to two Vietnamese-Australian poets who have scarcely been published in English in Australia (neither appeared in Puncher and Wattmann’s anthology from 2013, Contemporary Asian Australian Poets), and it ‘re-introduces’ the work of Lê Văn Tài. But perhaps certain aspects of the book could have been improved. While not all of the poems were originally written in Vietnamese, the question of translation (and specifically self-translation) looms over the collection. It would have been instructive and illuminating to be shown more of how this process unfolded, perhaps through statements by the poet-translators. As Siobhan Hodge argues in her recent article for Cordite Poetry Review, contextual details – principally, translator’s statements – supplement the translated poem, providing access to another dimension of the poem. And while the increased length of such publications ought to be taken into account, the inclusion of the original poems alongside translations would be worth considering in future collections of this kind, for even those readers who lack the slightest knowledge of the original language might glean things from encounters with the original of the translated poem, even if it’s just the shape it makes on the page, or a sense of what they’re missing.

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