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love you because i / hate your lovers loving your peripheral love

By Phan Bá Thọ
Poetry | Phan Bá Thọ, poetry
November 20, 2018

Plastic 9: In a corner of Vietnam’s trash poetics, Phan Bá Thọ’s poetry lingers around collecting street dust.

Read translator Jack James Huynh’s contextualizing notes On Vietnam’s ‘Trash Poetics’ below


shock – awareness


or awareness shock could also be the same
also still seeing each thing – fact – inquiry – proposal perpetually spinning like a top &
pure uncarved block
still a life of red & blue, a life of purple & gold raw & cooked
life high & low, life heavy & light unbearably. though
eyes slightly sharper & lungs-soul-guts-heart-core in erratic meditation on:

1. age of inception
love you because i [oh to be young and inexperienced feigning philosophical delvings,
enlightened imitative dabbling meta-physical meta-ego turning for the worse
mouth blabbering babble] hate ephemeral existence what’s the point love you because i
hate your lovers loving your peripheral love

2. after ten years
love you i transform into a shadow love you
because i don’t believe the sky makes rain rain falls rain drops soul
don’t know why i love you but i do [once again,
yeah so salvage some little bit or that little bit, that’s that]
because i hate the nameless sorrow entering the spirit

3. at last
love you [high quality thus compelled to wear pro
tection, compelled to research the upstanding character of sutras & topsy turvy buddha-dharma in all schema:
viet, thai, american, european, kama sutra dog cat, making a pass into springs
36, 38 streets wards etc, etc… then flashing to something in a Sunday morning
that makes a body feel alone streaming into the self a premature epiphany]
thus, I would like to say: oh love what kind of piece of shit are you
to be so ghastly – myriad – wafting – thorny [such!]



giật mình – tỉnh ra

hay tỉnh ra giật mình thì cũng thế như nhau
cũng vẫn thấy mọi thứ – điều – vấn – đề cứ mãi quay mòng mòng &
nguyên y trạng huống
vẫn là đời đỏ xanh, đời tím vàng nạm tái
đời cao thấp, đời nặng nhẹ không kham. dẫu
mắt có tinh thêm đôi chút & phổi lòng phèo tim tâm tịnh thất thường nghĩ về:

1. thuở ban đầu
yêu em vì ta [trẻ người non dạ mà cũng bày đặt suy tư triết lý,
bày đặt đua đòi siêu hình siêu ngã nên đâm ra
miệng mồm tí toét] ghét đời phù du có nghĩa chi yêu em vì ta
ghét người yêu em yêu thêm tình phụ

2. sau mười năm
yêu em ta hóa thành chiếc bóng yêu em
vì ta không tin ở trời còn làm mưa mưa rơi mưa rơi lòng
chợt từ bi bất ngờ yêu em [lần nữa,
ừ thì vớt vát được chút nào hay chút ấy, chứ sao]
vì ta ghét buồn vào hồn không tên

3. cuối cùng
yêu em [chất lượng cao thì bắt buộc phải đội mũ
bảo hiểm, phải đậm đà ngâm cứu bản sắc kinh kệ & lung tung phật pháp đủ kiểu:
việt, thái, mỹ, âu, kama sutra chó mèo, qua đèo lội suối
36, 38 phố phường v.v., v.v… rồi bỗng dưng một sớm mai kia
chợt thấy hư vô trong đời ùa vào mình tới tấp thì giác ngộ]
nên, anh muốn nói rằng: em ơi em là cái cứt gì vậy
mà rùng rợn – muôn trùng – phiêu bồng – gay cấn [thế!]

from Đống rác vô tận (2004)


On Vietnam’s ‘Trash Poetics’


Phan Bá Thọ (b. 1972) is a contemporary underground Vietnamese poet and licensed lawyer. A close friend and mentor to Bùi Chát and Lý Đợi, co-founders of the Mở Miệng (Open Mouth) poetry group and Giấy Vụn (Scrap Paper) independent publishing house, Bá Thọ is a fringe character一writing in a voice uniquely his own and employing post-modernist tactics rarely found or tolerated in Vietnamese poetry. He published two samizdat chapbooks with Scrap Paper when the press was first getting off the ground in the early 2000s, and was often found in Saigon’s drinking holes and coffee shops, among the deterritorialized social milieu of South Vietnam’s writers, musicians, filmmakers, artists, and scholars, before returning to live in his hometown near Đà Nẵng in recent years.

Bá Thọ could be imagined as a sort of Herbert Huncke of the Open Mouth group一slightly older, slightly wiser, frighteningly intelligent, and manically conversant. His second chapbook Endless rubbish heap deserves consideration in the canon of the early century’s Viet poetics, though whether recognition of such a writer is possible remains to be seen. In confronting the cosmopolitan megalopolis, Bá Thọ grapples viscerally with the realities of everyday life weaving along Saigon’s canals and alleys, necessarily embodying a “poet living in trash, breathing in trash and, for lack of any other possibility, making ‘trash poetics’. Trash, like a raw material, has become the substance of his form & content.” As one of the first poets published by Scrap Paper, he helped to define the press’ aesthetic vision, a vision orientated towards trash in its very name一books imagined as items meant to be discarded, poems written on the back of napkins, endless heaps of trash transformed into art. The eternal found art of the everyday, poetry as all-encompassing, the substance of life and the life of substance.

As the first independent publishing house to define a whole new movement in the Vietnamese contemporary poetry scene, Scrap Paper ushered contemporary writers into the internet age一beginning a nation-wide movement of authors gravitating towards independent publishing rather than seeking the approval of the Ministry of Culture and Information. Established at the very cusp of the smartphone age, the name Scrap Paper represents not only a tongue-in-cheek stab at the stuffiness of ‘traditional’ or ‘orthodox’ censor-approved literary works, but also a deep meditation on the psychological effects of pervasive mimetic excess in a rapidly globalizing world. A meditation on the loss of self due to ever-encroaching throw-away culture, the loss of magic in objects, and the seemingly inescapable cancer of the concrete jungle一the endless rubbish heap. Bá Thọ’s contribution to Saigonese poetics looms like the dumps at the city’s fringes一he delves into the eternity of the rubble, the fragmentation of language and culture, the exponential wasteland of post-modernity, confronting the post-apocalyptic post-colony with beer and cigarettes deep into the night, pushing the boundaries of his language in a mega-city bursting at its seams.

一Jack James Huynh

Jack James Huynh is a vagabond poet/translator based in Saigon, Vietnam. His translations have been published in Asymptote, Ajar, Cha, Poems&Poetics, and elsewhere. His translations include selections from Open Mouth poets Lý Đợi & Bùi Chát, as well as other contemporaries such as Phan Bá Thọ, Bỉm, Trần Wũ Khang, Trúc Ty. In collaboration with Ajar, Huynh co-curated the muse(um)一an online archive of limited and independently published samizdat chapbooks captured in high resolution images. Huynh is currently at work translating Ba Tho’s ‘Đống rác vô tận’, a new collection from Nguyễn Phúc Hưng, as well as work from other writers.