“Se se chu” at Fulbright: Connecting resonant souls through poetry


Initiated in 2019 by director Nguyen Hoang Diep, “Se sẽ chứ” is a series of events held in April every year to honor the poetic life and literary heritage of Luu Quang Vu and Xuan Quynh, two of the most influential authors on the modern Vietnamese poetry scene. This year, for the first time, “Se sẽ chứ” is hosted by independent organizers across the country.

At Fulbright University Vietnam, “Se sẽ chứ” is arranged and performed by students who have just finished their first year. The event is integrated within the framework of the Vietnam Studies program at Fulbright, where students learn about cultural and artistic heritage through hands-on experiences, participating in the reproduction and dissemination of beautiful spiritual values through the lens of youth.

With their sensitive contemporary feeling, Fulbright students improvised and experimented with Luu Quang Vu – Xuan Quynh’s poetry. During the 2-hour show, the students invited the audience on a journey that connects poetry lovers from all generations. After the chaos of work and everyday life, they were able to relax and admire the beauty of the Vietnamese language through pure and modest poems of the two “Mây Trắng (White Cloud)” poets – a nickname belovedly given to Lưu Quang Vũ and Xuân Quỳnh.

Unique creativity on the canvas of classic poetry

When it was announced earlier this year that individuals and organizations can register to host “Se sẽ chứ”, a group of sudents at Fulbright University Vietnam contacted director Nguyen Hoang Diep and started arranging the show. In just under 20 days, everything was urgently prepared so that it could take place on April 17, the birthday of the late poet Luu Quang Vu. It was also thanks to such urgency that gave the performances a powerful “compression force” to radiate and explode on stage.

With emotional and creative approaches, students have introduced new perspectives into poems that have already been too familiar to the public. On the background of improvised music by Tran Thao Nguyen and the singing of Dang Anh Kiet – two freshmen at Fulbright, the poem “Nếu ngày mai em không làm thơ nữa (If I don’t write poetry tomorrow)” was brought to life in a new light. The powerful vocals, the enchanting folk-inspired singing style, and the ending high note immersed the entire room in the female author’s sentiments.

Perhaps, adaptations of poetry into movies or novels are not unfamilar to poetry lovers. But for the first time at Fulbright, the poem “Sóng (Waves)” was transformed by contemporary dance art. Sensational choreography accompanied by melancholy music and melodious poetry reading became a memorable highlight of the show.

Having attended “Se sẽ chứ” at poetry sites across the country, literary critic Pham Xuan Nguyen was especially impressed with the affection that Fulbright students have for Luu Quang Vu – Xuan Quynh’s artistic heritage. “Fulbright is the only place where Se sẽ chứ is actively organized by undergraduate students, which is even more impressive considering that students in the Southern region do not have a lot of opportunities to learn about Luu Quang Vu – Xuan Quynh poetry. With contemporary forms of expression, they have brought a breath of fresh air to Luu Quang Vu’s poetry and moved the viewers deeply. Their unique creativity helps bring poetry closer and make it more appealing to the youth,” he remarked.

“I came here and really felt the beautiful spiritual heritages being preserved and transmitted in a very refreshing, modern way“, a member of the audience who is an 11th grader said.

This is also a great motivation that encouraged Fulbright students to carry out “Se sẽ chứ” even though their schedule was already hectic with final exams coming. Quach Minh Phat, one of the organizers, revealed: “Although I was fortunate enough to have known and ‘fallen in love’ with the exquisite poems of the Vu – Quynh couple, the ones that I read are just a few in their enormous collection. In order to prepare for this event, we organizers had to read the poems and really take time to feel the authors’ emotions before developing the script and performances.”

“With the improvisational nature of the show, even the organizers were blown away by the performers’ amazing talent. They are truly artistic creators who cherished and passed on the values ​​of Luu Quang Vu and Xuan Quynh’s poetry. Thanks to them, the poems will live on in the public’s spiritual life,” Minh Phat added.

Cross-generational connection

Among the guests of “Se sẽ chứ” 2021 at Fulbright, there were people who have grown up in the same generation as Luu Quang Vu – Xuan Quynh, and there were people who only know the two poets through the remaining works. For each generation, the poems brought up different memories and feelings.

For Ms. Dam Bich Thuy, President of Fulbright University Vietnam, the verses of Luu Quang Vu – Xuan Quynh are still imprinted in her memory like a keepsake of a vibrant youth. Recalling the old days, when white paper to write poems was a luxury and poetry was a gift that people treasured for each other, she recited “Hoa cúc (Chrysanthemum)” by Xuan Quynh, a poem with humble words just like the title. As for actress-producer Hong Anh, Luu Quang Vu’s play ” Nhân danh công lý (In the name of justice)” reminds her of when a promising movie actress first made her appearance on the theatrical stage.

More than thirty years after Luu Quang Vu and Xuan Quynh passed away, their works are still loved and received by readers of all ages.

According to student Minh Tien, another organizer of the event, Luu Quang Vu – Xuan Quynh’s poetry is considered “the voice of the times” with ageless vitality because when it is read out loud, readers of any generation can have their own interpretation and sympathy with the author.

Implicit in Luu Quang Vu’s poetry, the philosophy of life shows not only values ​​of Vietnam, but it can easily be global values. It is the courage to commit, the unyielding morale to expose the bad and fight for the good, the love for the motherland, and above all, the optimism and joy of living beyond all tragedies. However, his poetic works are rarely translated into foreign languages, perhaps because fully conveying those values ​​requires a long and laborious process.

Actress Hồng Ánh reading a love letter from Xuân Quỳnh to Lưu Quang Vũ

Critic Phạm Xuân Nguyên speaking about Lưu Quang Vũ and Xuân Quỳnh with cherished emotions

At “Se sẽ chứ”, three poems “Không (There is none)”, “Mặt trời trong nước lạnh (The cold sun)”, and “Bầy ong trong đêm sâu (Swarm of bees in the dead of night)” were translated into English by Fulbright students. As poems laden with the author’s solemn feelings, they required not only language fluency, but also intellectual and emotional maturity of the translator.

I chose ‘There is none’ and ‘The cold sun’ because of the connection between the author’s soul and sadness, through which we can see Luu Quang Vu’s worldview and feel the pain and trauma of the people during that turbulent historical period,” Dang Anh Kiet explained. “I realized there was really no way to fully interpret the poet’s voice. Therefore, I did not necessarily call what I wrote ‘translations’, but a rewritten version in a different language, keeping the original intention of the author while making adjustments to the form to make the artistic voice even more diverse.”

In its limited duration, “Se sẽ chứ” 2021 at Fulbright could only touch on a very small part of the spiritual legacy of the two poets. As the event came to an end, critic Pham Xuan Nguyen recited the poem “Nói với mình và các bạn (To myself and my friends)” by Luu Quang Vu as a message to students and young people who are in pivotal years of their lives. The poem is a vigorous reminder about the sense of citizenship and the responsibility of young people for the problems faced by their society and country.

“As the flood goes away, we will be left with nutritious soil

With love and earnest desires

Even if you fly away without a reply

Even if you are alone in the cold and dark

Even if the road is long and far

Don’t ever back down, my poetry.”

The poet said, ‘It’s easy to flatter life, and it’s easy to swear at life. Just building life is difficult.’ Such attitude needs to be conveyed to the youth. Luu Quang Vu’s drastic criticism towards friends who are lazy to act and lazy to think is essential to the young generation today. Especially for students in an environment like Fulbright University Vietnam, an environment with a liberal spirit, those poems should be a moral guide that shapes their way of thinking both in work and in life,” critic Pham Xuan Nguyen expressed.

Anh Thư

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