Poet Lý Hữu Lương is one of five young writers honoured at the 1st Young Writer Award 2021 by the Việt Nam Writers Association last month. His poetry collection Yao is about the Dao ethnic group where he is from.
The Nhân Dân (People) newspaper’s reporter Phong Điệp chats with him about the winning work and his thoughts of the profession.
How do you first discover you love of poetry?
Poetry comes naturally to me, I believe it is fate. I was born in the remote and poor area. Every day going to school I have to go though trails and mysterious foothills. It made me think about people in the mountainous areas.
I remember that once a week I always waited for the library to open as I was very keen on reading. Every time, I took two books. I don’t care about the content and I choose the thickest books. At that time number of books in the library and the content of knowledge were not much but I had the chance to access to literature.
I kept the reading habit and borrowed books during my study years. But I never wrote poetry until one day, I read a poem in Tạp Chí Văn Nghệ Quân Đội (Military Literature and Arts Magazine) and I found it was not too difficult to write poetry.
My first poem was published in that magazine and that’s how I started to write, slowly, thoughtfully, without too much expectation.
I was a boy from the Dao ethnic group and I looked at my ethnicity with the eyes of a curious and innocent boy full of imagination.
Writing about the Dao is prerequisite for me when I know about the value of the treasure of knowledge and culture of my ethnicity. I think that I have responsibility to popularise these values.
Your award-winning work contains 35 poems composed over ten years. What was the reasons for creating these pieces?
Actually I didn’t have a plan for the collection. The process including publishing procedure and distribution takes one month only.
It is right to say that I am hard on myself because I am still not really satisfied with the quantity and quality of the work.
I’m waiting for something that can be a point of view, a discovery or maybe more impressive expression.
Many authors think that writing requires tirelessly thinking, brainstorming or at least hard work like a bee every day to collect nectar making honey.
After completing a book, I calm down and define the theme for the next book.
So I think that ten years for a work is not too long. I spend that time period to hone myself before introducing my work to the readers.
What is the biggest difference between Yao and your two previous collections?
Most of work by the established ethnic authors popularise Dao culture and knowledge to readers. But I write as if I’m an outsider. My new point receives sympathy and esteem from readers and colleagues.
What does the national ethnic culture mean to you?
Each nation has its own cultural identity. It is crystallised from the history of development over thousands of years by hundreds of generations of people.
The Dao people regard trees as sacred. We worship ancestors to remember our origin. When Dao people die the soul will return to Yang Zhou representation — the origin of the Dao ethnicity.
Each pattern on the costume and each taboo passed down by the forefathers has its reasons. Along with accumulated knowledge, exchanging and continuation it creates a unique culture, thinking and lifestyle.
My new point is a code of culture that I mark for myself.
What do you think about urbanisation which makes traditional values fade away?
My homeland has changed over the years and one day all I will have is memories of the old days. The struggle between the new and the old is the inevitable rule of development. When the present becomes the subconscious there will be many things that have the meaning. And then, the people will respect the past more to live better. That is what I was taught.
You are also an editor at TheMilitary Literature and Arts Magazine. Do you see that many young writers westernise their poems?
The fourth industrial revolution makes the world a small place. Only a smart phone is needed to enable people to travel around the world. Therefore, we are not too surprised of approaching new thinking values, expressions or unique and strange thoughts.
The author whose work is writing, expressing the point of view and orienting the social concept should be respected and encouraged although they write westernised poems.
A literary work has values of truth, goodness and beauty. – VNS