Nguyen Chi Thien, a Vietnamese dissident poet who spent 27 years in communist prisons and was the acclaimed author of “Flowers of Hell,” died last week in California after a long bout of illness.
Earlier today I spoke to Dan Duffy, editor and publisher of the Viet Nam Literature Project, about Nguyen’s life, work and influence.
Duffy also read Nguyen’s poem “My Verses,” which is from “Flowers of Hell,” the manuscript which brought Nguyen fame around the world. The poem was translated by Nguyen Ngoc Bich.
My verses are in fact no verses
They are simply Life’s sobbings
Dark prison cells opening and shutting
The dry cough of two caving in lungs
The sound of earth coming down to bury dreams
The exhumation sound of hoes bringing up memories
The chattering of teeth in cold and misery
The aimless contractions of an empty stomach
The hopeless beat of a dying heart
Impotence’s voice in the midst of collapsing earth
All the sounds of a life not deserving half its name
Or even the name of death:
No verses are they!
You can read more of Nguyen’s work at the Viet Nam Literature Project.