Lý Đợi

Open Mouth

The revolt of trash in contemporary Vietnamese poetry

Four members of Open Mouth, 2006. From left to right: Bùi Chát, Khúc Duy, Lý Đợi, Nguyễn Quán. Image courtesy © Open Mouth.

The assault on poetic conventions is the core of Open Mouth’s seemingly colloquial and improvisational manifesto, through Lý Đợi’s article, “Poetry: we do not make poetry” (2004). Seen in a larger context, this statement points to a dialogue between the present and the past, a battle between the novelty of the avant-garde and the decay of the conservative, a proposal of poetry as anti-poetry that is certainly not an outlier in the history of poetry, an attempt to resist perceptions that have turned fixed and fossilized, an urge to speak that arises within a suppressed presence. 

Author note: This paper was originally written in Vietnamese by Nhã Thuyên and translated into English by Nguyễn-Hoàng Quyên. This is an abridged version of an essay that appears in the book un\ \martyerd: [self-] vanishing presences in Vietnamese poetry by Nhã Thuyên (New York: Roof Books, 2019).

i plei poetry

Sampler: Open Mouth poetry — Lý Đợi

Translated by Nguyễn Tiến Văn

“[A]t the gate of the palace of leadership where I worked, a beggar was always in sight. […] Then, in close watch, I recognized that the figure I had thought to be a beggar was really a painted wooden stand with a carved statue of my own half-length – cunning, rosy, and of course with a brain rotten by vermin.” Above: Presidential Palace, Hà Nội. Photo by Lars Curfs, via Wikimedia Commons.

Note: These poems were originally self-published in the bilingual book of poetry Khi Kẻ Thù Ta Buồn Ngủ/When Our Enemy Falls Asleep (Giấy Vụn/Scrap Paper Press, 2010), by Lý Đợi, with English translation by Nguyễn Tiến Văn. The works appear in Jacket2 with the agreement of the author, Lý Đợi. 


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