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Khế Iêm




A Bilingual Edition

Ấn Bản Song Ngữ

Translator J. Do Vinh

Consulting Editor Richard H.Sindt

Tan Hinh Thuc Publishing Club


Tan Hinh Thuc Publishing Club

P. O. Box 1745

Garden Grove, CA 92842

World Wide Web Site


© 2009 by Tan Hinh Thuc

All rights reserved

Cover art: Inspired by the poem A Row Of People by Lê Thánh Thư

Cover design: Lê Giang Trần

Printed in The United States of America

Other Poetry

By Khế Iêm

Translator: DoVinh

Consulting Editor: Richard H. Sindt

Library of Congress Control Number: 2009942301

ISBN 978-0-9778742-4-8






Meaningfully selecting a number of poems from the first phase of Vietnamese New Formalism poetry prepares this form of poetry for a new period of changes. This prepara-tion is necessary so the next generation can create their own styles and contents. As such, each poem in this collection is a small gift for readers, young poets, and old friends with whom we have collaborated and shared our enthusiasm and concern for this new form of poetry. We hereby gratefully acknowledge the contributions of poet and translator J. Do Vinh, editor Richard H. Sindt, poet Stephen John Kalinich, Mr. Michael Estelle, writers Phạm Kiều Tùng and Dương Tất Thắng, painters Đinh Cường, Lê Thánh Thư and Nguyễn Đại Giang, and poets Nguyễn Đăng Thường, Đỗ Minh Tuấn and Nguyễn Hoàng Nam.

Thơ Khác • 8






Thư Cảm Tạ


Khe Iem’s Selected Poems: An Introduction 16

Giới Thiệu Tuyển tập Thơ Khế Iêm


Frederick Feirstein

Author’s Notes


Ghi Chú của Tác Giả


New Formalism And A Story


Tân Hình Thức và Câu chuyện Kể




Cái Hộp




Bậc Thang




Những Chiếc Ghế


Blank Verse


Bài Thơ Không Vần


The Dining Set


Bộ Bàn Ăn


9 • Other Poetry

Pages (From a Book)


Trang Sách


Life Story


Chuyện Đời Kể


A Saying


Câu Nói




Ảo Tưởng


A Death On Television


Cái Chết Trên Truyền Hình




Tủ Lạnh


The Black Cat


Con Mèo Đen


Between Who And Who


Giữa Ai và Ai


The Woman


Người Đàn Bà


A Cigarette


Điếu Thuốc Lá


The Story Of Your Life


Chuyện Đời Anh


The Afternoon


Buổi Chiều


The Morning


Buổi Sáng




Chúng Ta


Dark-Skinned Girl


Cô Gái Da Đen


The Girl In The Mirror


Cô Gái Soi Gương




Khổ Đau


A Row Of People


Một Hàng Người




Nỗi Buồn






A Dead Bird


Con Chim Chết


On The Spur Of Moment


Tức Cảnh


A Drama


Vở Kịch




Ý Nghĩ


11 • Other Poetry





TV Script


TV K ý


Readings Of “The Song Of A Warrior’s Wife”


Đọc Chinh Phụ Ngâm


Many Faces


Đa Bản Mặt




Tứ Tuyệt




Âm Bản


The Poem Searches For The Poem


Bài Thơ Đi Tìm Bài Thơ


A Celebration of the Silence

by Stephen John Kalinich


Ngợi Ca Sự Im Lặng


Bud weis er – drawing


by Lê Thánh Thư


Bud weis er – drawing


by Đinh Cường


Bud weis er – drawing


by Nguyễn Đại Giang


Thơ Khác • 12

Khế Iêm – design


by Nguyễn Đăng Thường


Khế Iêm – drawing


by Đinh Cường


Introduction To Vietnamese New Formalism Poetry 84

by Khế Iêm


Tân Hình Thức Nhắc Lại – 10 Năm

How To Read


by Nguyễn Hoàng Nam


Cách Đọc

Heaven and Earth Amidst Storms


by Khế Iêm


Thuở Trời Đất Nổi Cơn Gió Bụi



Tiểu Sử


Ghế Và Người



Giải Mã Thơ


Nỗi Khắc Khoải Thời Gian Và Ngôn Ngữ

Đỗ Minh Tuấn

Cover Art

Inspired by the poem of A Row Of People By painter Lê Thánh Thư

13 • Other Poetry

Thơ Khác • 14





Frederick Feirstein

Robert Frost said that reading a poem in translation is like kissing a girl through a handkerchief. What is most difficult is not being able to hear the poems in a foreign language. Yet in translation we can get the structure, imagery and meter of the poem, and these will give us a feeling of what the poet is trying to convey emotionally.

This is the case with Khe Iem’s work. Via the Internet, I have heard a few poems of his poems in Vietnamese, which gives me some sense of how lovely are their seven-tone melodies. I wish I had a CD of many more. But what he is doing metrically becomes clear through translation. Interestingly enough, the meter reminds me of Kenneth Rexroth’s translations from the Chinese in which he uses the seven- syllable line with the repetitive technique of assonance that he learned from the French. In Khe Iem’s poetry he similarly uses five, seven, eight syllable lines that repeat key words and uses alliteration also for repetition which is very effective in ways poems in Old English (also a monosyllabic language like Vietnamese) can be.

The lines are limited to 5-8 monosyllabic words in four-line stanzas with or without enjambment, which sometimes creates a counterpoint between symmetrical and asymmetrical patterns. The use of enjambment also allows Khe Iem to write short narrative poems which depend on continuity of thought Thơ Khác • 16

and feeling. This flow is made easier by the plain diction he uses which The New Formalism in America considers important.

Khe Iem often deals with the reliability and indefiniteness of the narrator and the reliability of what is being narrated. For instance, he ends “Boxes” this way: “… but i am about to / say, as i have said the things that i have / said, regardless, it is better to have /

been than not to be, but those are not things / that i wish to say.”

In “Chairs”, the poet tells us what chairs are not and are until we lose the word “chairs” in an attempt to find its concrete reality.

Khe Iem accomplishes this by the end of the poem after a whirl-wind of words about chairs: “... chairs that / are not far away, chairs beyond / all things; chairs that are just / what they are chairs.

I am a psychoanalyst as well as a poet and am treating a young poet who was trying to express to me what he had no verbal expression for. He wanted to know if I understood what his wordless experience was like. I read “Chairs” to him, and he said, “That is exactly what I feel.” He then proceeded to imitate the poem himself in various ways.

Three of Khe Iem’s best poems using reliability / unreliability (in a carefully organized book) are “The Dining Set”, “Pages (From A Book)” and “Life Story”. Although he explores the uncertainty of reality where time and space lose their boundaries, he returns us to reality in almost a Zen-like way by the end of these poems.

One of the most moving poems in the book is a narrative, “A Death On Television”, in which “The woman sees the death of her own son / on the screen but does not believe that her / son is dead, and even though the news came like / a storm about the death of her son, she / does not believe what she saw …”

This is all too common an experience for the survivors of trau-ma. Leon Klinghoffer, a family friend, was one of the first public, Western victims of contemporary terrorism. He was thrown 17 • Other Poetry

off the cruise ship the Achille Lauro in a wheelchair. When his wife Marilyn was interviewed about it, she said she had such a sense of unreality when she watched the event on television that she momentarily felt she just was watching a television show.

This experience partly is the result of the blurring of boundaries in our media-saturated age. It is a central theme in Khe Iem’s work done seriously and sometimes even comedically, as in his poem about a Budweiser beer commercial, which il-lustrates the attempts of advertisers to enter our unconscious.

Khe Iem is one of the leaders of his own literary movement in which several poets whose work he anthologizes* follow his style and the ways he perceives reality / unreality. The movement is called Vietnamese New Formalism – the newness partly being the use of colloquial diction in combination with enjambed or end-stopped blank verse. He traces the origin of the term to a name given to an aspect of Expansive Poetry, the movement Frederick Turner and I started to open up American poetry, then restricted to the free-verse confessional lyric. As I have pointed out in my essay “After The Revisionists”, there was nothing new about The New Formalism, that it simply was a return to a tradition discarded by several of the Modernists and Postmodernists. Khe Iem sees this clearly as well.

I have not only disavowed what our imitators have made quaintly formal but have emphasized that Expansive Poetry is simply one historical literary movement like Modernism and Postmodernism.

I expect that Khe Iem, being such an original poet, might find yet another new way to articulate and perhaps expand what he and his followers have been doing. Personally, I would like to see, if they already doesn’t exist, very long narratives which the form allows for. Turner, for instance, has written three book-length narratives.

I am very interested in what Khe Iem’s movement not only is doing in his poems but is explicitly stating in prose. In his “Introduction to Vietnamese New Formalism Poetry”, he has de-Thơ Khác • 18

fined clearly the main characteristics of his movement. He also emphasizes one of its broader goals in saying: “The purpose of New Formalism poetry is to propel Vietnamese poetry onto the international stage. That is why translation is emphasized to seek readers from different languages and cultures.”

From what I have read of his work and the translation of his allies, Khe Iem seems to me to be accomplishing that. He has his own press and is translating some of our work into Vietnamese. He quotes a letter from the website www.thotanhinhthuc.

org that says: “Come join us in this small, yet warm corner of poetry. Let us raise a glass and toast each other in this meeting of minds.” And so my glass is raised and I congratulate Khe Iem on his excellent book, his anthologies, and essays.



* “Blank Verse”, Tan Hinh Thuc Publishing club 2006, 64 Vietnamese poets. And “Poetry Narrates”, Lao Động Publisher, Viet nam and Tan Hinh Thuc Publishing club 2010, 21 Vietnamese poets.

19 • Other Poetry



This is my first collection of poetry translated into English. I had previously published two collections of poetry, Thanh Xuan (rhyming) and Dau Que (free verse), in Vietnamese only. This new collection has an entirely different style. I have always composed in Vietnamese, a language that permits me to express the art and spirit of poetry – it is a language that I love, and my mother tongue. However, as an immigrant to America, I also love my new-found land. And that is my motivation to labor: to introduce American poets and avant guard movements to my Vietnamese readers, to seek new compositions that can easily allow translations, and to effectively introduce Vietnamese poetry to American readers. I have previously written of these techniques and have refined them. I have introduced Vietnamese readers to the theories of Chaos, Fractal Geometry, and the application of Butterfly Effect, feedback and iteration, in that poetry which imbues natural rhythm. Of course, in order to produce works of quality to our satisfaction, a long period of time is required.

Let us look back on American poetry in modern times, from Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, and e.e. cummings at the first half of the 20th century, then the later half, with Charles Olson until the avant guard poetry movement of L=a=n=g=u=a=g=e Poetry in the 1980s, which Paul Hoover calls the post-modern American poetry. But I was excited about the New Formalism, Expansive poetry and Slam poetry coming next, and peaking in the 1990s.

Thơ Khác • 20

Expansive Poetry has revived poetic forms to balance the dominance of free verse poetry. Furthermore, Expansive Poetry and Slam Poetry utilize common language and thus has freed American poetry from academia in order to communicate the poetic expression to a wider, more general audience. This development is similar to Vietnamese poetry from classical to modern times; its main function was to serve the nobility and intelligentsia. Thus a revolution was required in order to usher in a new century. Poetry today no longer has the important effects of past centuries because information technology has captured the time and attention of the public with many other things. However, it is ironic that poets have sprung up in abundance everywhere and at all times. I believe that poetry’s hidden potentials have not subsided, but have actually increased because poetry has the ability to bring people back to the realities of life, and to balance out the illusory existence of cyberspace created by the Internet.

Regarding this collection of poetry, there are poems, like “Readings Of The Song Of A Warrior’s Wife” or “TV Script”, which require an accompanying essay in order for the reader to better understand the poems. Some composition could not be translated into English because its essence is grounded in the Vietnamese language, such as the drama “Chairs and People”, an essay about my poetic developments by the literary critic Do Minh Tuan. This collection of poetry is introduced by Frederick Feirstein, to whom I am grateful and honored. It is these small accomplishments that have given us the much needed exposure. These achievements have been the contributions of many: writers, authors, translators and poets who composed in this new form and beyond; also the readers, critics and essayists who collaborated with The Journal of Poetry ( Tap Chi Tho) throughout its 10 years of existence (from 1994 to 2004). I beg your indulgence to allow me to collectively thank you all.

21 • Other Poetry

I am also indebted to and grateful for the contributions of editors Dr. Carol Compton, Angel Saunders, Richard H. Sindt; American poets Alden Marin, Frederick Feirstein, Frederick Turner, Michael Lee Johnson, Rick Stansberger, Stephen John Kalinich, Tom Riordan; English poets James Murphy, Paul Henry, and Australian poet Phillip A. Ellis for their collaborations which have assisted me tremendously.

Thơ Khác • 22



While I sit sipping my coffee

on the curbside and telling my

story passed down the generations

telling a story like the story

told by every generation,

about a woman and her sorry

brood (on a corner of a city

known as the place of death, on a

corner known as the place of life),

drawn in by dark lines of charcoal;

broken curves, ugly shadows of

old photographs, like today and

tomorrow and the day after

tomorrow, and that’s about it,

who knows if the woman and her

sorry brood, still telling the story

that has been told by so many

others, nothing different from

the story, the story that tells

itself, even though there is no-

thing beside the story that tells

itself, including the woman

and her sorry brood, stepping out-

side of the story being told.

23 • Other Poetry


The trash upon the streets, the rags upon the streets, the thrown-away boxes upon

the streets, that cannot be argued with; and i am about to say the things that i

am about to say but i keep saying

the things that i have said, that i am crowded in a thrown-away box, as i am crowded

upon the streets; unable to step outside of the box, just as the box is unable

to step beyond me; like the boxes that

hold old shoes the boxes that hold old clothes, the boxes filled with vanity items,

the boxes lost and confused, as i am

lost and confused; boxes telling old stories, boxes repeating themselves, retelling

old stories, such images, appearing then disappearing, such realities, appearing

then disappearing, such unfortunate

events, such unhappiness, such pasts, and as such, as such, as such; carton boxes, plastic wraps, soft nylon, personas of cartons, of plastic wraps, of soft nylon like trash, like rags upon the streets, scattered as such, miserable as such; but i am about

Thơ Khác • 24

to say the things that i am about to

say, as i have said the things that i have said, regardless, it is better to have

been than not to be, but those are not things that i wish to say.

25 • Other Poetry


Stairs connecting many floors, stairs leading to many ports, stairs and footsteps; footsteps within me some pigeon-toed, from the city to the open sea; footsteps within me

bleeding a lifetime of nomadic

wandering, though I have never lived

the life of a nomad; this is to

allude to the fact that i am a

fragment of the past, crushed by butterfly wings, cast away to become exiled in

strange lands; no different from the stairs and the footsteps, appearing and then

reappearing, fallen into chaos; because

it isn’t the stairs connecting many

floors, stairs leading to many ports, and footsteps within me still echoing sounds drawing me eerily closer in fact;

I do not wish to speak an iota

more of what I am speaking, the footsteps and the stairs are coming to a close here.

Thơ Khác • 26


Chairs not of the same colors,

chairs not used for sitting,

the words for chairs, not chairs; chairs that can be touched, chairs that can

be called names, chairs that are

indeed chairs, that are not chairs;

chairs that can never be drawn,

chairs that can never speak, chairs

that can never be had,

because they are chairs that

never change their form, chairs that

can never be misplaced or

lost, chairs that are not present;

chairs, alas, that is what they

are indeed chairs, alas, not

of the same colors, chairs, alas

not used for sitting; chairs that

are not far away, chairs beyond

all things; chairs that are just

what they are chairs.

27 • Other Poetry


In memory of writer Hoàng Ngọc Tuấn (1947-2005) You came to see me every Friday

as if everyday was a Friday and

on other days you went to other friends

as if for other friends everyday

was another day, until one day I

suddenly disappeared, like every

Friday disappeared into another

day, like one life disappearing

into another life, I disappeared

from you, you disappeared from me because I was swept up into a life of exile,

and you were forever lonely, forever

homeless, forever remaining, and I