Nguyễn Thị Phương Trâm | September self-audit (209)

I was born 1971, Phu Nhuan, Saigon, Vietnam. My family and I were a part of the first exodus of boat people after the Vietnam war. In March 1981, we settled in Sydney, Australia. I graduated with a bachelor of Pharmacy at the University of Sydney. I have been translating Vietnamese literature for the past five years in my search to better understand my mother’s language and culture. My translations have been shared through blogging over the past year. I am still a registered pharmacist practicing in Western Sydney. I hope to continue translating, and continue to share Vietnamese art and literature, beyond borders on SONGNGUTAITRAM.
(July 2021)

I find myself at the point of another self-audit. At the completion of thirty pieces of work by Thanh Tâm Tuyền(TTT), with his vernacular still fresh in my mind I’ve stumbled upon fresh insight. TTT has lived through many wars, and he had more than his share of adversity. The modern poet struggled with self at the darkest level of society. 

Through his struggles I’ve come to understand the heartache of my parents’ separations when my father was in Thu Duc Academy for officers during the Vietnam war, and re-education camps for the four years after the war had ended in April, 1975. I find myself frightened of being alone. In the quarter of a century I’ve been married, I’ve never once been apart from my husband except for the odd golf trips, and they were in pieces, bits of trauma at the time unrealized.

I’ve found how much Thanh Tâm Tuyền’s work has affected the poets, writers and artists I’ve been translating, whether they admit to it or not, it is evident in their work. And I find myself see them in a new light. I want them to know that TTT does not want them to put him on a pedestal, he wants them to continue what he has started. Continue to tell people that love exists even at the lowest darkest point of humanity, that even when we are a meal for maggots we are an inspiration.

Thanh Tâm Tuyền has opened up a whole new era of poetry for me. How long will I continue to translate? Who else will I translate? I honestly don’t know. It has felt like I’ve been stumbling around in pitch black darkness in an odd fine dining experience with little clue of where or what to do next. But, there are voices and noise all around me, and sometimes it’s more than bearable. I still need to learn how to listen to my appointed waiter, and enjoy the company of those at my table. It is an extremely difficult task for my paranoid brain, but I do see some way forward. And that in itself is a new beginning.

Thank you to those who have been there for me, my husband and two very adult children. Because of them I am indeed blessed.

Nguyễn Thị Phương Trâm

By Nguyễn Thị Phương Trâm

There's magic in translating a body of work from one language to another.

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