When poet Bùi Chát came back from Buenos Aires in April of 2010, where he had received the International Publishers Association’s prize Freedom to Publish, he was greeted at the airport in Saigon by the domestic police, who not only confiscated the prize money and Chát’s computer (throughout the years he has had three computers confiscated), but even the actual diploma from IPA.
Perhaps this last petty detail, this grudging attitude of not letting him keep even the diploma, was what made the Swedish PEN react immediately when brought this to their attention. The decision of making Chát an honorary member was made rapidly. And after a few unsuccessful attempts to get Bùi Chát to the Swedish embassy in Hanoi, in order to create some festivities surrounding his new membership, Swedish author and literary critic Kristoffer Leandoer flew down to Ho Chi Minh City in a John le Carré fashion.
“After the celebration of the national holiday, where civilian police officers openly had photographed everyone at the embassy, we were careful not to expose anyone to unnecessary risks: the security service had inquired about the Swedish embassy’s approach to deviating opinions,” he writes in the article Forbidden Poetry in Vietnam about the young poets in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, and about the state of Vietnamese poetry today.
“Vietnamese poetry is created through the left cerebral hemisphere; it knows what it is doing,” writes Kristoffer Leandoer. In his article of 14 December 2011, he presents poems written by three critical voices in Vietnam today: Bùi Chát, Lý Doi and Anh Anh.
‘The warrior poet’ is an ideal in Vietnam. Poems might be what a Vietnamese scribbles down to pass the time in prison, like Ho Chi Minh did. In a country that has just made its way out of extreme poverty all art must be utility art, nothing else can be afforded. Vietnam is still a one-party state and the communist party is the highest authority, even when it comes to art. Individual level social control is rigorous and economically motivated. Deviation from the party line is always treated as an actual threat, even if it is presented in media with limited circulation.
The Dissident Blog – 14 December 2011:
Forbidden Poetry in Vietnam
Radio Free Asia – 2 May 2011:
Vietnam Arrests Award-Winning Publisher
He could languish in jail for up to nine months before facing official charges. Reported for RFA’s Vietnamese service and translated by An Nguyen.