Garrett MacLean has espresso with the rising Saigon poet and discovers greater than he’d anticipated
It was a gray and wet Friday afternoon once I sat down for espresso with Saigon poet Quynh Nguyen in Ho Chi Chi Minh City’s expatriate enclave of Thao Dien simply throughout the Saigon River from the middle of the town.
The scene earlier than me appeared an applicable backdrop to interview one among Vietnam’s up-and-coming younger poets – a late afternoon with gentle, intermittent monsoonal rain and the sound of motorbikes driving by splashing potholed streets crammed with water.
Rituals are extra essential than background. You have to sit down with your self within the darkness and sit with these demons
It has solely been a number of months since Nguyen printed her first poetry assortment When Dead Birds See The Light, an ensemble of 16 poems interconnected by a central theme – love.
My intention was to satisfy with Nguyen to be taught extra in regards to the e-book, in addition to her method to writing, alongside together with her private perspective on love itself.
What I found was removed from what I had anticipated to search out.
“There’s no defining moment that I got into writing,” mentioned Nguyen once I requested about her writing background, though she does recall having a weblog in her early teenage years.
After graduating from college, she began working as a copywriter within the promoting business and has spent the final decade as a Strategy Director for VMLY&R, a world advert company with an workplace right here in Ho Chi Minh City.
However, it’s throughout her hours exterior of labor that Nguyen devotes herself to poetry, and when, as she mentioned, “the muse takes over.”
“Most of the time when I write poetry, it’s choosing the right words to capture the right feelings or awakenings that I have. Most people think it’s sit down and create something. I feel more like a conveyor of words that brings that feeling alive.”
As for the best way to deliver that feeling alive, Nguyen mentioned that for her, the method typically happens in public areas – citing Soma Saigon in Thao Dien, a long-established espresso store and artist hangout close to the place she lives, as someplace she goes to jot down.
However, the house itself isn’t what fuels her course of fully.
“I don’t really pay attention to the surroundings, it’s more rituals that I care about like bringing my pen and notebook. Rituals are more important than background. You have to sit with yourself in the darkness and sit with those demons.”
In phrases of background or reasonably origin of her debut poetry assortment, Nguyen mentioned the gathering was constructed in a non-linear trend. Poems like Anarchy and Seeing had been written over 5 years in the past however had been put aside on the time with no actual plan for what to make of them.
The conception of the e-book, however, didn’t start to take type till the writing of Wordless – extra on that later.
All that mentioned, earlier this yr in January, upon waking from a dream that consisted of a picture of a useless chook, Nguyen awoke and instantly wrote the poem Dead Bird.
My analysis main as much as our dialog revealed the that means of a useless chook present in goals to be symbolic of emotions corresponding to discontentment, grief, failure, and hopelessness.
This was the focus round which I assumed our interview would revolve.
Yet, a lot to my shock, Nguyen didn’t intend for this image to imply any of these issues.
“The dead bird is a red herring,” Nguyen mentioned, “a little riddle I have with the reader. It’s about transformation, a coming of light.”
Before our dialog had turned towards an evaluation of her e-book, I wished to first handle a extra basic level.
I discussed that on the again cowl, it reads:
“Above all else, it is a book that encourages its readers to be brave and vulnerable and open to giving and receiving love. Always.”
So, I puzzled, how can we because the readers and as folks incorporate that into our lives virtually?
“It starts with yourself,” Nguyen mentioned. “It’s less about the actions you do with other people. All of that can happen authentically. A person has to face their darkness and be okay with the idea of believing in love.”
Each of Nguyen’s poems explores love in its many types.
It is an indication of hope, but in addition one among ache.
It is secure, but in addition could be war-like.
It is each order and chaos interwoven.
It is moments in eternity and eternity in moments.
It is waiting for the longer term and looking out again into the previous.
It is holding on, letting go, and taking the leap all on the identical time.
Yet, it’s typically nonetheless largely undiscovered, unstated, and unseen.
But above all, as conveyed within the poem Seeing and to cite Oscar Wilde, love is unbound.
“Not that it drains you,” Nguyen mentioned, “but it makes you realize there are limitless ways of expressing [love].”
Nguyen was referring right here to the poem talked about earlier, Wordless, which she says was impressed by listening to the track The Sound of the Rain Needs No Explanation by the British musician Akira the Don and the thinker Alan Watts.
As Nguyen mentioned, “Everyone will have a different take on poetry. If you read the first poem to the last, Wordless was when the shift happens. The cutoff point of change.”
Thus, with out going into additional element, I’ll go away you, the reader, to expertise that shift for your self.
Along with that, Nguyen herself skilled a shift as an individual past the confines of merely being a author.
“In a way, what changed was experiencing true love. I worked on misguided ideas about myself – happiness, fulfillment, what is love, what it isn’t, and the courage to get something out.”
Nowadays, on the opposite facet of her transformation and the publishing of her e-book, one of many primary messages I gathered in talking with Nguyen is that love, very like the creation of the e-book itself, isn’t linear.
“A lot of times people see relationships as a transaction, a bargaining. It’s not give and take, though. It’s give and give.”
When Dead Birds See The Light is Nguyen’s debut poetry assortment that, in line with her, will develop right into a trilogy during which she is going to proceed her exploration into the completely different elements of affection.
In future works, it seems one can count on her method to stay the identical.
“I can only write about what I’ve experienced. It’s the only way I can feel authentic and do justice to the truth.”
Garrett MacLean is a author based mostly in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. He can also be a podcast editor for A Vietnam Podcast, an English trainer, and is at present pursuing his Masters in Journalism on-line at New York University. You can comply with him on Instagram and LinkedIn