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Echoes from the Spiral Galaxy


Mai Văn Phấn

Echoes from the Spiral Galaxy
Selected Poems

ISBN-13: 978-0939378142

English translation by Hồ Liễu
Edited by Susan Blanshard
Cover design by Marilyn Waligore
Introduction by Dr Lê Hồ Quang

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A continuing journey of renovation and exploration

By Dr. Lê Hồ Quang

Mai Văn Phấn’s poetry is a continuing journey of renovation and exploration. Each phase of his creation is marked by interesting works. A consciousness of serious reflection and study of the essence of the world’ s great poetic traditions, in addition to an ardent desire toward a voice of contemporary Vietnamese poetry, are all motivation to his ceaseless quest and experimentation. Of course, in parallel to a selective reflection is his consciousness of building an independent aesthetic point of view. Therefore, his poetic world has undergone various multifaceted transformations, yet consistently keeps the spirit of a movement toward the new, the unaccomplished. It is not closed off, but on the contrary, is ready to call for multidimensional interpretations.

From Gọi xanh/ Calling to the Blue, 1995; Vách nước/ Water Wall; Bầu trời không mái che/ Firmament Without Roof Cover, 2012; và đột nhiên gió thổi/ And Suddenly the Wind Blows, 2009; hoa giấu mặt/ Hidden-face Flower, 2012 to The Secrets of Light, 2015, we see the new creative state of mind of Mai Văn Phấn. Echoes from the Spiral Galaxy is the continuous expansion and deepening of the author’s aesthetic view about the world with a prosodic study of three-line composition, multifaceted but consistent.

Right from the title, Echoes from the Spiral Galaxy, a radical abandonment of the ego in search of the true face of oneself is implied. By the same reason, Echoes from the Spiral Galaxy opens to a particular artistic world where the interior and the exterior, space and time, the individual and the cosmos… seem to be integrated and co-emergent right on/in the same moment of the true present time, authentic, concrete, and freshly alive proof of the living and life experience of the person.

Thus, we may understand Echoes from the Spiral Galaxy as a metaphor of time in the manner of Mai Văn Phấn – the time of beautiful moments of human existence, worthy of remembering and of living. However, together with the unceasing progress of time, those moments are easily buried and hidden in the perpetual, everlasting, without beginning and without end, revolution of the cosmos. For that reason, Echoes from the Spiral Galaxy is also the journey of free fall of the poet’s ego to penetrate deeper into the profound and ambiguous realm of spirit and creativity, in order to explore and reveal the scret of those moments.

In correspondence with the inspiration of time, this book of poetry is mainly composed in the linear order, following the flow cycle of seasons, starting from Spring (and mainly about Spring and Summer, the most beautiful seasons of the year in the poet’s eyes). Nature appears in full with images and feelings on the steps of the seasons. Thus, Echoes from the Spiral Galaxy consists of innumerable moments of everyday life contemplated and described through the vision of an individual. We easily encounter here casual scenes of daily activities represented through the “reality” and interested eyes of the poet. Simple and fresh, spontaneous thoughts are tiny fragments of life described in the poems of Echoes from the Spiral Galaxy. When refusing the traps of unilateral metaphors and trying to depict life in natural drawing lines without self-conscious intervention, the poet has slowed down the swift flow of time and held up transparent and wonderful moments of existence that have, in fact, disappeared on the trackless current of the busy and dusty
realm of human affairs.

With a mindful attitude, but at the same time with a relaxed mind, the poet looks for the implicate dimensions of living, and wakes up the hidden secrets there – the innocent beauty of life. It is not entirely an objective beauty, opposite to and detached from the subject. On the contrary, it is the beauty born from the intimate intercourse between the subject’s soul and the natural environment. However, even in trusting and searching for the wonderful in all moments of existence, and considering it as the sacredness with a great capacity of transforming and purifying human life, he does not mystify or consecrate those moments in an extremist way. In this poet, there is an aesthete’s attitude toward life and creativity, rather than, as much, practical.

But Echoes from the Spiral Galaxy does not deal exclusively with nature’s and life’s beauty. The self, preoccupied with human existence, so strongly marked in the previous works of his poetry, also returns and takes possession of numerous poems in this book. It is not by accident that Echoes from the Spiral Galaxy has many images of the hooked fish, the caught fish, the fish in cage, the surviving fish…, It is a reality full of uncertainty and danger. The image of “the hooked fish” and The Fishes, Bewildered/ Swam around/ the hooked one suggest the terror so that whenever “the sleeping surface of water” is seen, a suspicion of traps still lingers somewhere. Echoes from the Spiral Galaxy: I cast/ The bait/ Into the middle of the dream…

The dark patches of worldly affairs seem to haunt the poems of nature’s description when the poet’s Telling Wild Grasses: The sky/ Has turned dark/ Close your eyes or when he tells us about A child: stopped to watch/ a pig-sticking/ Then went away….

Many poems evoke the hauntings of real insecurity in an age of digital technology when people are pursued, controlled, watched over even in their dreams: Of being together/ Filmed on the sky/ In black and white. Sometimes, that tragic reality is expressed by the author by means of a humor noir style of writing, for example: All people/ Write their dreams/ On slips of paper/ To submit to one person. Raised up into a general symbol, in The Historical Feast: Guests just sat down/ The table was hollowed/ Into a grave. In that feeling for human affairs, the sound of a boring machine is not merely a casual noise of cityscape, it evokes layers and layers of feelings about insecurity and powerlessness: Another black hole/ In the dark night/ Intensely black and thus the reader is encircled in the feeling of: Bewildered/ Looking at the way/
In the dark night (“Reading books”).

Thus, Echoes from the Spiral Galaxy is not just an attitude of abandoning worldly life, turning back from existence to pay attention only to spiritual echoes, deep and distant in the inner mind. In fact, here Echoes from the Spiral Galaxy is truly a way to help the poet penetrate reality to understand and concisely describe absurd and tragic human situations in sharp lines so that he could reach a fuller and profounder awareness of the values of life that we must have, must attain. It shows that if the nature of the writer’s soul is truly sensitive to and engaged with life, in whatever way, he organizes his images and words in the poems in a rather concentrated field of association. At the center of each poem there is generally an image that at first sight seems very concrete and sensuous, but structurally, it quickly becomes a productive, significant element. The natural conciseness of Mai Văn Phấn’s three-line poems is an original creation of value, but on the other side, it implies a challenge to the reader: to recognize beauty and value, the reader has to be a co-creator with the poet.

Accuracy, serenity, and nobility seem to be the overwhelming aesthetic characteristics Echoes from the Spiral Galaxy. Accuracy in the observation, serenity in the state of mind and creativity, way of life to be selected, in whatever way of writing to be chosen, the authentic voice of existence would find the means to be present in their work. The pressure of the three-line style compels Mai Văn Phấn to adopt the conciseness of expression in a symbolic form, but nonetheless we may see the clear-cut and resolute manner of the author’s attitude. Viewed from this angle, the modernity in the meaning of the author’s close attachment to contemporary life is very marked.

Realizing and comprehending human existence and the cosmos in the depths of universal principles has become a style of Mai Văn Phấn’s aesthetic thinking, and this has powerfully influenced the composition of his poems. In this way, the author frequently shows a nobility in the expression of speech. The precision of the observing eye, the ability to discover latent relationships between things and events, the generalizing capacity, and the justness of words used are readily found in the text. But the real connection of the above elements is in fact the rich instinct of poetry, the abundance and humanity of the heart of a person who discovers oneself in the communication with present existence, with plants and seasons, with all creatures, the living as well as the dead, right in the present time and also in distant and mysterious spheres. This blots out the feeling of the sharp rational mind in some other books of poems by the same author. It gives the reader a sense of warmth,
together with a natural symbolic aspect in poetics. That is a particular capacity of the author’s sensitive and rich soul.

In that way, the moment is truly Mai Văn Phấn’s philosophy of life and art. The moment may offer people to see through the secrets of the cosmos and spirit. In the moment, we may see infinity. It is not easy to live and create in every moment. It compels the artist to ceaselessly overcome oneself to go forward. But, perhaps, that challenge is exactly what constitutes the true beauty and meaning of existence and creativity.

About Mai Văn Phấn

Vietnamese poet Mai Văn Phấn was born 1955 in Ninh Bình, Red River Delta in North Vietnam. Currently, he is living and writing poems in Hải Phòng city. He has won several national literary awards of Vietnam.

He has published 22 poetry books, 11 of which were several times reprinted or reprinted with adjustments in English, French, Spanish, Thai, Turkey, Albanian, Hin-ddi & Bengali (India): Giọt nắng (Drops of Sunlight, 1992); Gọi xanh (Calling to the Blue, 1995); Cầu nguyện ban mai (Prayers to Dawn, 1997); Nghi lễ nhận tên (Ritual of Wall, 2003); Hôm sau (The Day After, 2009); và đột nhiên gió thổi (and Suddenly the Wind Blows, 2009); Bầu trời không mái che (Vietnamese-only version of Firmament Without Roof Cover, 2010); Thơ tuyển Mai Văn Phấn (Mai Văn Phấn: Selected Poems - essays and the interviews, 2011); hoa giấu mặt (hidden-face Flower, 2012); Bầu trời không mái che / Firmament Without Roof Cover (bilingual 2nd edition, 2012); Vừa sinh ra ở đó (Just Born There, 2013); Những hạt giống của đêm và ngày / Seeds of Night and Day (2013); A Ciel Ouvert /Firmament Without Roof Cover (2014); Buông tay cho trời rạng / Out of the Dark ( 2013); Ra vườn chùa xem cắt cỏ / Grass Cutting in a Temple Garden (2014); Zanore në vesë / Vowels in The Dew (BOTIMET M&B, Albania, 2014); บุษบาซ่อนหนา้ / Hidden-Face Flower / hoa giấu mặt (Artist's House, Thailand, 2014); Yên Tử Dağının Çiçeği (The Flower of Mount Yên Tử, ŞİİRDEN YAYINCILIK, Turkey, 2015)...

Simultaneously on the book distribution network of Amazon, the collections Firmament Without Roof Cover, Seeds of Night and Day, Out Of The Dark, Grass Cutting in a Temple Garden, A Ciel Ouvert was published and exclusively released in the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia and European countries by Page Addie Press of the UK.

December 2012, the English collection titled Firmament Without Roof Cover became one of the 100 best-selling poetry books of Amazon. June 2014, the three collections in Vietnamese and English titled Ra vườn chùa xem cắt cỏ (Grass Cutting in a Temple Garden) and Những hạt giống của đêm và ngày (Seeds of Nights and Day) as well as his Vietnamese-French collection titled Bầu trời không mái che (A Ciel Ouvert/ Firmament Without Roof Cover) were among the top ten of the 100 best-selling poetry collections from Asia on Amazon. Poems of Mai Văn Phấn were introduced in newspapers and magazines of Sweden, New Zealand, the UK, the USA, Canada, Australia, India, Albania, Turkey, South Korea, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Thailand...


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