Garrett MacLean has espresso with the rising Saigon poet and discovers greater than he’d anticipated
It was a gray and wet Friday afternoon after I sat down for espresso with Saigon poet Quynh Nguyen in Ho Chi Chi Minh Metropolis’s expatriate enclave of Thao Dien simply throughout the Saigon River from the middle of town.
The scene earlier than me appeared an acceptable backdrop to interview one in every of Vietnam’s up-and-coming younger poets – a late afternoon with mild, intermittent monsoonal rain and the sound of motorbikes driving by splashing potholed streets crammed with water.
Rituals are extra necessary than background. It’s a must to sit with your self within the darkness and sit with these demons
It has solely been a couple of months since Nguyen printed her first poetry assortment When Lifeless Birds See The Gentle, an ensemble of 16 poems interconnected by a central theme – love.
My intention was to fulfill 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 second that I acquired into writing,” mentioned Nguyen after 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 Technique Director for VMLY&R, a world advert company with an workplace right here in Ho Chi Minh Metropolis.
Nevertheless, it’s throughout her hours exterior of labor that Nguyen devotes herself to poetry, and when, as she mentioned, “the muse takes over.”
“More often than not after I write poetry, it’s choosing the proper phrases to seize the fitting emotions or awakenings that I’ve. Most individuals assume it’s sit down and create one thing. I really feel extra like a conveyor of phrases that brings that feeling alive.”
As for methods 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 put in writing.
Nevertheless, the house itself isn’t what fuels her course of completely.
“I don’t actually take note of the environment, it’s extra rituals that I care about like bringing my pen and pocket book. Rituals are extra necessary than background. It’s a must to sit with your self within the darkness and sit with these demons.”
By way of background or relatively origin of her debut poetry assortment, Nguyen mentioned the gathering was constructed in a non-linear vogue. Poems like Anarchy and Seeing have been written over 5 years in the past however have 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 kind 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 lifeless chicken, Nguyen awoke and instantly wrote the poem Lifeless Hen.
My analysis main as much as our dialog revealed the that means of a lifeless chicken present in goals to be symbolic of emotions akin to discontentment, grief, failure, and hopelessness.
This was the focus round which I assumed our interview would revolve.
But, a lot to my shock, Nguyen didn’t intend for this image to imply any of these issues.
“The lifeless chicken is a crimson herring,” Nguyen mentioned, “slightly riddle I’ve with the reader. It’s about transformation, a coming of sunshine.”
Earlier than our dialog had turned towards an evaluation of her e book, I needed to first handle a extra normal level.
I discussed that on the again cowl, it reads:
“Above all else, it’s a e book that encourages its readers to be courageous and weak and open to giving and receiving love. At all times.”
So, I questioned, how can we because the readers and as individuals incorporate that into our lives virtually?
“It begins with your self,” Nguyen mentioned. “It’s much less in regards to the actions you do with different individuals. All of that may occur authentically. An individual has to face their darkness and be okay with the concept of believing in love.”
Every of Nguyen’s poems explores love in its many kinds.
It’s a signal of hope, but additionally one in every of ache.
It’s protected, but additionally may be war-like.
It’s each order and chaos interwoven.
It’s moments in eternity and eternity in moments.
It’s waiting for the long run and searching again into the previous.
It’s holding on, letting go, and taking the leap all on the identical time.
But, it’s typically nonetheless largely undiscovered, unstated, and unseen.
However above all, as conveyed within the poem Seeing and to cite Oscar Wilde, love is unbound.
“Not that it drains you,” Nguyen mentioned, “nevertheless it makes you notice there are limitless methods 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 Wants No Clarification by the British musician Akira the Don and the thinker Alan Watts.
As Nguyen mentioned, “Everybody may have a special tackle poetry. In the event you learn the primary poem to the final, Wordless was when the shift occurs. The cutoff level of change.”
Thus, with out going into additional element, I’ll go away you, the reader, to expertise that shift for your self.
Together with that, Nguyen herself skilled a shift as an individual past the confines of merely being a author.
“In a means, what modified was experiencing real love. I labored on misguided concepts about myself – happiness, success, what’s love, what it isn’t, and the braveness to get one thing out.”
These days, on the opposite aspect 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.
“Numerous occasions individuals see relationships as a transaction, a bargaining. It’s not give and take, although. It’s give and provides.”
When Lifeless Birds See The Gentle is Nguyen’s debut poetry assortment that, in line with her, will develop right into a trilogy wherein she’s going to proceed her exploration into the completely different points of affection.
In future works, it seems one can anticipate her method to stay the identical.
“I can solely write about what I’ve skilled. It’s the one means I can really feel genuine and do justice to the reality.”
When Lifeless Birds See The Gentle may be ordered on Amazon or may be purchased in individual at Paperbacks Saigon situated at OHQUAO in District 2 right here
Garrett MacLean is a author primarily based in Ho Chi Minh Metropolis, Vietnam. He’s additionally a podcast editor for A Vietnam Podcast, an English trainer, and is at the moment pursuing his Masters in Journalism on-line at New York College. You possibly can comply with him on Instagram and LinkedIn