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Spring Essence: The Poetry of Ho Xuan Huongby Xuan Huong Ho
Synopses & Reviews
Memorized throughout Vietnam, the poetry of Ho Xuan Huong teems with double entendré and sexual innuendo all with an eye toward incisive social, religious, and political commentary. An eighteenth-century concubine who wrote in a male tradition, she survived because of her exquisite cleverness at poetry. This publication of Spring Essence is the first time a significant body of Ho Xuan Huong's work has appeared in English and the book features modern Vietnamese alongside the nearly extinct Nôm calligraphy in which she originally wrote her poems.
"Sometimes books really do change the world." Utne Reader
"Move over, Sappho and Emily Dickinson: Make room for a third muse of world poetry Ho Xuan Huong." Providence Journal
This major cultural and historical event features ancient Vietnames script and translations by premier American poet.
Featured on NPR's "Fresh Air"
"Sometimes books really do change the world... This one will set in motion a project that may transform Vietnamese culture."—Utne Reader
Ho Xuan Huong—whose name translates as "Spring Essence"—is one of the most important and popular poets in Vietnam. A concubine, she became renowned for her poetic skills, writing subtly risque poems which used double entendre and sexual innuendo as a vehicle for social, religious, and political commentary.
The publication of Spring Essence is a major historical and cultural event. It features a "tri-graphic" presentation of English translations alongside both the modern Vietnamese alphabet and the nearly extinct calligraphic Nom writing system, the hand-drawn calligraphy in which Ho Xuan Huong originally wrote her poems. It represents the first time that this calligraphy—the carrier of Vietnamese culture for over a thousand years—will be printed using moveable type. From the technology demonstrated in this book scholars worldwide can begin to recover an important part of Vietnams literary history. Meanwhile, readers of all interests will be fascinated by the poetry of Ho Xuan Huong, and the scholarship of John Balaban.
"It's not every day that a poet gets to save a language, although some might argue that is precisely the point of poetry."— Publishers Weekly
"Move over, Sappho and Emily Dickinson."— Providence Sunday Journal
"In the simple landscape of daily objectsjackfruit, river snails, a loom, a chess set, and perhaps most famously a paper fan—Ho found metaphors for sex, which turned into trenchant indictments of the plight of women and the arrogance, hypocrisy and corruption of men... Balaban's deft translations are a beautiful and significant contribution to the West's growing awareness of Vietnam's splendid literary heritage."—The New York Times Book Review
The translator, John Balaban, was twice a National Book Award finalist for his own poetry and is one of the preeminent American authorities on Vietnamese literature. During the war Balaban served as a conscientious objector, working to bring war-injured children better medical care. He later returned to Vietnam to record folk poetry. Like Alan Lomaxs pioneering work in American music, Balaban was to first to record Vietnams oral tradition. This important work led him to the poetry of Hô Xuân Huong.
Ngo Than Nhan, a computational linguist from NYUs Courant Institute of Mathematics, has digitized the ancient Nom calligraphy.
Poetry. Ho Xuan Huong, whose name means Spring Essence, was an eighteenth-century concubine who wrote subtly risque poems that used double entendre and sexual innuendo as a vehicle for social, religious, and poltical commentary. Her attacks on male authority were shocking and risky, but she and her work survived because of her exquisite cleverness and skill at poetry. Translated from the older version of Vietnamese by John Balaban, with Nom script on facing pages. A splendid translation of the work of the beloved Vietnamese poet, Ho Xuan Huong. She was a woman who possessed, along with her literary talent, that great Vietnamese virtue of courage, and dared to defy the conventions of her time — Neil Shehan, author of A Bright Shining Lie.
About the Author
John Balaban is the author of a dozen books of poetry, prose, and Vietnamese translations whose prizes include the Lamont Award, the William Carlos Williams Award, and two National Book Award nominations. His work has been featured on NPR's "Fresh Air," New York Times, and Utne Reader. He teaches at North Carolina State University.
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