co-translated from the Vietnamese by Nancy Arbuthnot and Lê Phạm Lê

Editor’s note: August is Women in Translation Month. Bourgeon is celebrating by offering the work of four distinguished poets from several countries. Arlington Poet Laureate Emerita, Katherine E. Young, introduces the series:

August is Women in Translation Month, an international event held every August since 2014. Why? Here in the U.S., fewer than 800 books in translation (that number covers all literary genres!) are published in any given year. Of those 800 books, fewer than one third are works written by women. Clearly, we are not hearing enough women’s voices from around the world – not even from those languages where their work is originally published as frequently as the work of men.

Women in Translation Month is the brainchild of Meytal Radzinski, an Israeli scientist and book lover who noticed how few women she was reading in translation. Radzinski had two goals in mind when she founded the event: to increase dialogue and discussion about women writers in translation, and to encourage people to read more books by women in translation. Her advocacy has been eagerly seconded by booksellers, literary programmers (including the Café Muse reading series here in the DC area), and online supporters. If you enjoy these poems, I urge you to support women authors, their translators, their publishers, and the booksellers who carry their work: go buy a book (or two!) by a woman in translation!

Overseas Journey (In memory of PTM)

by Lê Phạm Lê
co-translated by Nancy Arbuthnot and Lê Phạm Lê

Your name, Mai: a yellow blossom.
Your smile, a sparkling in your eyes.
In the chaos, you dreamed.
In waves beyond waves, you risked
Your dream. Before reaching shore
You disappeared in the ocean.
Now, regret following regret,
I burn incense for your soul.

Trên Đường Vượt Biển (Khóc Bạn PTM)

Mai vàng: cánh lụa mong manh.
Nhớ đôi mắt phượng long lanh nét cười.
Đảo điên thế sự trêu ngươi.
Bên bờ sinh-tử, quyết liều ra khơi.
Đại dương bão tố tơi bời.
Giữa dòng nước cuốn, nửa đời mạng vong!
Tiếc thương, xao xuyến tấc lòng.
Tâm hương thắp giữa trầm luân kiếp người.

Memory River 

by Lê Phạm Lê
co-translated by Nancy Arbuthnot and Lê Phạm Lê

Childhood friends, that ancient village,
Purple reeds swaying by the bridge.
Đa Nhim River still flows in memory
And the lost calf moos, nghé ngọ …

Dòng Sông Tuổi Nhỏ

Quê nghèo, bạn cũ, phố xưa
Có hàng lau tím đong đưa bên cầu.
Sông sâu*, nước chảy về đâu?
Tiếng bê nghé ngọ…, nỗi đau lạc bầy!

*Đa nhim River running through the author’s hometown, Đơn dương

Born in Vietnam, poet Lê Phạm Lê is the author of two bilingual collections of poems (translated into English with Nancy Arbuthnot): From Where the Wind Blows, Waves Beyond Waves, and three children’s books written in English: Magical Voice in the Forest, Guava Hill, and Baby Sparrow Song. Her poems have been published in several poetry anthologies and periodicals including World Literature Today, Nimrod International Literary Journal, and Source, among others. After working at Los Medanos Community College for 22 years, Lê is retired and currently working on a play, Bequest of Wings, in collaboration with Nancy Arbuthnot.

Nancy Arbuthnot is professor emerita of English at the United States Naval Academy (USNA), author of Spirit Hovering: Poems, and co-translator with Le Pham Le of two books of her Vietnamese poems, From Where the Wind Blows and Waves Beyond Waves. She is currently seeking a publisher for her poems about growing up Navy and teaching at USNA. 



Image by Violetbonmua – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15698587

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