Classic Vietnamese poems celebrated on American radio

By Tam Ky   February 22, 2019 | 03:24 am PT
Some of Vietnam’s most beloved post-war poets are reading their poems in Vietnamese on American radio along with English translations. 

"Lanterns Hanging on the Wind" has been broadcast since February 11 on several stations, including Radio Free Charlotte and SUNY Potsdam radio (New York).

The 18 poems are mostly about an individual’s love for their homeland, loved ones and the Vietnamese language.

There are also poems about the pain of loss due to war and agony about human conditions and social maladies.

The show is co-produced by Melodically Challenged, a weekly radio show by Georgia State University, and Vietnamese poet and novelist Nguyen Phan Que Mai.

The series is also available on the website Public Radio Exchange.

The English translation of the works are read by poet Jennifer Fossenbell, a prolific writer about Vietnam, with works like In Hanoi, Again

Mai talks to VnExpress from Indonesia about the challenges involved in translating poems.

She and Jennifer Fossenbell translated 10 of the 18 poems in the show and said the most difficult was probably Luu Quang Vu's "Vietnamese" because it has many semantic layers, a complex sentence structure, unique poetic ideas, and eccentric word use. The remaining translations were done by other professionals.

Melodically Challenged director Katherine Kincer said: "I believe American and international listeners who listen to the program will be surprised by the beauty of Vietnamese poetry and music."

Poet Paul Christiansen, one of the first listeners of the program commented: "Enjoying poems read in Vietnamese before listening to the translation is essential to understand the rhythm and the rich structure of the language. The translation through Jennifer Fossenbell's inspiring voice helps me to connect deeply with poets and Vietnamese."

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