Program’s Principal Investigator:
Kevin Bowen, Joiner Center Director
Residency Program Director:
Nguyễn Bá Chung, Lecturer, WJC
Kevin Bowen was drafted and served in the U.S. Army in the Vietnam war during 1968-69. He has since returned to Vietnam numerous times and currently serves as Director of the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Its Social Consequences at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. The Progressive magazine chose Bowen’s first book, Playing Basketball with the Viet Cong, as “Pick of the Year”, and his second book, Forms of Prayer at the Hotel Edison, was published in 1998. With Nguyen Ba Chung, he translated the selected poems of Nguyen Duy, Distant Road. He lives in Dorchester, MA with his wife and two children.
Nguyễn Bá Chung,
Nguyen Ba Chung is a writer, poet and translator. His essays and translations have appeared in Vietnam Forum, New Asia Review, Boston Review, Compost, Nation, Manoa, Vietnam Reflections (TV History) and other journals. He is the cotranslator of Thoi Xa Vang (A Time Far Past), the groundbreaking novel by Vietnamese writer Le Luu, and the author of three poetry collections Mua Ngan (Distant Rain) in 1996, Ngo Hanh (Gate of Kindness) in 1997, Tuoi Ngan Nam Den Tu Buoi So Sinh (A Thousand Years Old At Birth) in 1999, with Song Han (The Han River) forthcoming. He co-edited with Kevin Bowen and Bruce Weigl the anthology - Mountain River:Vietnamese Poetry From The Wars 1948-1993 issued by the University of Massachusetts Press in Oct 1998 and with Kevin Bowen Distant Road - Selected Poems of Nguyen Duy released by Curbstone Press in Nov 1999.
Every summer, Nguyen Ba Chung organizes the Summer Study Program with Hue University, Vietnam
It was most likely a meeting first of its kind: Americans, Vietnamese, and Cambodian from a wide range of backgrounds and views towards the war to sit down and write poetry togetherThe presence of “the other” is never comfortable. But fortunately, through the miracle of poetry, each speaks with his own voice, each poem comes on its own terms, and the renga peals with its own dark energy.
The experiment has been a success. Poetry, genuine poetry, speaks at a level deeper than rationalization. It can tell much about who we are, in the face of brutal adversity and unresolved pain. It can tell, in the end, much about ourselves, even with all our differences.
We, fragments of broken pebbles
drops of stagnant rainwater
last rays of the dying sunlight
at the end of a rusted muzzle
of impotent days and years
of an internal contusion (*)
We, moss on the pebbles
vapor above the stagnant pool
sun rays forever delicate
never fire again
words that speak for the first time
when the bombs cease falling
after a late season earthquake ...
we, children of a diaspora
we will endure.
(*) some images on the first haft were taken from the Preface in Pham Hong An’s “Thien Co Bui Ngui” (A Thousand-Year Blue)
The Vietnam War and Vietnam by Nguyen Ba Chung
For a Vietnamese to write about the Vietnam war is to write about one’s self-definition: the war touched every aspect of one’s reality - personal, communal, philosophical, political, religious, and cultural. The problem with this self-definition is that it isn’t so much self-definition as picking a position that’s already defined - left, right, middle, pro, con, or indifferent. There is no position on the war that hasn’t been already discussed, analyzed, praised, or condemned. Yet neither is there a position that takes into account all aspects of Vietnam’s two thousand year history of hard-fought existence. And that, I believe, is the essence of the Vietnam tragedy. I still remember vividly the exodus from our village in the North to Saigon in 1955. I was 6 years old. My family was a sort of middle-level landlords - not rich, but with enough land to have hired hands. My father was killed in 1948, before I was born, in one of those periodic sweeps French troops made to villages in the Red River delta. One of my maternal uncles, who worked for the Resistance, sent word that we should consider leaving because we owned too much land and would have problems in the coming land reform campaign. So my mother and her father’s family, all supporters of the struggle against the French, fled to the South, together with about a million others, the majority of whom sided with the French. We settled down in the suburbs of Saigon, then called Gia Dinh province. I grew up in the South, graduated from high school, and went to college. In this milieu of schools, books, public discussion, I believed wholeheartedly in the causes of South Vietnam — the struggle for freedom and democracy against the “devilish” and “anti-nationalist” North Vietnamese. I was as gung-ho an anti-Communist as any American conservative. As I was an only child, I was exempt from the draft, but not from the turbulence of the war. The Buddhist uprising against Ngo Dinh Diem raised the first doubt in my mind about South Vietnam. It didn’t make sense that a country of about 80% Buddhists, with a religious history stretching to the first century, had a Catholic president who had no faith in his Buddhist brethren. It perhaps made sense when the French created Ordinance #10, which legally recognized Christianity, but not Buddhism, as a religion. The French were, after all, well aware of the potential power of a Buddhist challenge. But it made absolutely no sense at all when either out of arrogance or the most incredible political ineptitude, Ngo Dinh Diem kept that Ordinance in effect for the 9 years he was in power. There was something deeply wrong in the make-up of South Vietnam. I still remember the tremendous joy in Saigon when Diem was overthrown in 1963. I went into the streets, watching the city exploding into a spontaneous celebration. Later on, I also began to pay attention to how the South’s American allies ignored Vietnamese history. Vietnam is an ancient country, with a culture so vibrant that it could withstand a thousand years of Chinese rule, and still come out intact when the Chinese were overthrown in 938 A.D. Yet the foundation of the US efforts in South Vietnam was a nation-building program, as if Vietnam were some kind of recently discovered Paleolithic tribe. In December, 1971 I left South Vietnam to study American literature at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. It was in America that I finally had access to scholarly works on Vietnam, especially its recent history. I started to look at the war differently - and understood it even more when I returned to my village in Vietnam in the mid-eighties. It was an unforgettable trip. What struck me the most was the inexplicable feeling that somehow I had never left. Such was the power of that village. Such was the power of that culture. And such was the power of that people. For the first time, I saw another side of Vietnam, a side that even I, born and bred in Vietnam, never knew: the Vietnam of the village - its traditions, its hardships. and its way of life that has endured through centuries. There were people in my village, which was about 50 miles from Hanoi, who had never visited the provincial capital, barely 7 miles away. The rhythm of life, except for the Communist-imposed agrarian reform, appeared unchanged from time immemorial. Although I was born in the village, I spent most of my life, up until 1971, in the city of Saigon, the beneficiary of an uninterrupted flow of generous US aid. During the entire war, I neither knew nor understood how the majority of the Vietnamese peasants lived, thought, and hoped. I was unknowingly a member of the urban elite, which unfortunately comprised less than 15% of the population. It is no wonder, then, that the actions of the South Vietnamese government, also a part of this urban elite, always antagonized the peasants. I believe the US had noble aims in Vietnam- freedom and democracy. But because it aligned itself with a group of Vietnamese who carried heavy colonial baggage, and for the most part had already betrayed Vietnamese history - that two-thousand year history - it could not succeed. Similarly, Ho Chi Minh had all the righteous causes-independence, unification and social justice-but because none of the Western powers supported decolonialization, Ho and his revolutionaries had to ally themselves with Communism, a doctrine whose basic features - class warfare, dictatorship of the proletariat, and utopia - ran against the very grain of Vietnamese culture, a culture that had endured for thousands of years. When a great country makes a mistake, it has great consequences. A great country, however, also has the capacity to remedy its mistake. The Vietnam war was a tragedy of the gravest order. We who were, and continue to be, witnesses to that tragedy, owe those who suffered and continue to suffer horribly from its consequences through no fault of their own, an unspoken debt. It’s the debt of our own humanity.
Tiểu sử Nguyễn Bá Chung
- 1955: Di cư vào Nam.
- 1970: Cử Nhân Văn Chương Mỹ, -Đại Học Văn Khoa Sài G̣n
Dạy sinh ngữ.
- 12/1971: Du học tại Mỹ.
- 1975: Làm luận án tiến sĩ Văn Chương Mỹ, Brandeis University
Lấy một số khóa học về khoa học kỹ thuật.
- 1975-1990s: Làm đủ nghề..
- 1997: Trở lại văn học, làm việc cho Trung Tâm Nghiên Cứu Joiner và Đại Học University of Massachusetts Boston.