Spring Essence: The Poetry of Ḥ̂ Xuân Hương

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Copper Canyon Press, 2000 - History - 134 pages
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Hô Xuân Huong—whose name translates as "Spring Essence"—is one of the most important and popular poets in Vietnam. A concubine, she became renowned for her poetic skills, writing subtly risqué poems which used double entendre and sexual innuendo as a vehicle for social, religious, and political commentary.

"The Unwed Mother"

Because I was too easy, this happened.
Can you guess the hollow in my heart?
Fate did not push out a bud
even though the willow grew.
He will carry this a hundred years
but I must bear the burden now.
Never mind the gossip of the world.
Don’t have it, yet have it ! So simple.

The publication of Spring Essence is a major historical and cultural event. It features a "tri-graphic" presentation of English translations alongside both the modern Vietnamese alphabet and the nearly extinct calligraphic Nôm writing system, the hand-drawn calligraphy in which Hô Xuân Huong originally wrote her poems. It represents the first time that this calligraphy—the carrier of Vietnamese culture for over a thousand years—will be printed using moveable type. From the technology demonstrated in this book scholars worldwide can begin to recover an important part of Vietnam’s literary history. Meanwhile, readers of all interests will be fascinated by the poetry of Ho Xuan Huong, and the scholarship of John Balaban.

The translator, John Balaban, was twice a National Book Award finalist for his own poetry and is one of the preeminent American authorities on Vietnamese literature. During the war Balaban served as a conscientious objector, working to bring war-injured children better medical care. He later returned to Vietnam to record folk poetry. Like Alan Lomax’s pioneering work in American music, Balaban was to first to record Vietnam’s oral tradition. This important work led him to the poetry of Hô Xuân Huong.

Ngo Than Nhan, a computational linguist from NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematics, has digitized the ancient Nôm calligraphy.

Also available by John Balaban
Locusts at the Edge of Summer
PB $15.00, 1-55659-123-3 • CUSA
Words for My Daughter
PB $10.00, 1-55659-037-7 • CUSA

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User Review  - mr_rhumba - LibraryThing

Gorgeous, sexy poetry from 18th century Vietnam. Translated from the "Chu Nom" Vietnamese modified Chinese characters. Amazing! Read full review


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About the author (2000)

John Balaban is the author of a dozen books of poetry, prose, and Vietnamese translations whose prizes include the Lamont Award, the William Carlos Williams Award, and two National Book Award nominations. His work has been featured on NPR's "Fresh Air," New York Times, and Utne Reader. He teaches at North Carolina State University.

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