from april breaks guns

Bùi Chát

exercise to unify the grammifying lexicon/a silence which merits fear
                                            [not afraid of rejection: following khuc duy & le on]

oc: otter[1]
oedipe: almost hidden [hermetic] enclosure [forge, hammer][2]
ogre: snake[3]
om: viper[4]
ondines: snake of uraeus[5]
bee: teeth[6]
wasp: goatee[7]
orphée: sieve, sift[8]
osiris: rebis[9]
ouranos: axe[10]
ouroboros: hatchet mouth of weasel[11]
oh![outskirts/parasol]: a box to keep valuables[12]
umbrella: a rolling gait[13]
olive: dragon[14]
beech, holly: tortoise[15]
autocar: housefly[16]
slug: intestines[17]
bellows, blowgun: wash, shampoo[18]
genie bottle, spirit bong: jungle[19]
ventilator: trunk [chest][20]
leaky pipe: honey liquor[21]

deception/negligence & a sleeping mat of woven reeds [royal proclamation]

      *references for scrutiny*

[1]shimmy up a guava tree [impartial, disinterested]
[2]pick flower blossoms [merry, radiant]
[3]stroll down into the lily garden [huế]
[4]pluck the bud of adolescence [purple squid/newly attained adulthood]
[5]bud of adolescence [blue squid/age just begun ailing]
[6]poke one's tongue out slightly [gently]
[7]you've sold yourself already [to whom, to whom]
[8]me... [?]
[9]ashen face! [easily frightened]
[10][well well] !!!!
[11]cover the money for an airplane [though a boat would also work]
[12]why don't you splurge [safe-deposit box]
[13]moment/time when things were intact [longingly recall]
[14]now you've had wholeness [money]
[15]like a bird flies [hard to lay]
[16]like a fish beneath the river water [hard to swim]
[17]fish in the river still to be caught [speak truly]
[18]so how to catch the fish in a tank [speak the truth]
[19]which returns to scale the top of the tree [radiant once again]
[20]sit and await the flowers' bloom [a dream life]
[21]extend the hand to touch the branch/& leaves [pity, condolence, grief]

source: [in the index of entries: o & r]. dictionary of global cultural
               symbolism (appendix) – da nang publishing house, literary
               school of nguyen du – october.1997

translated from the Vietnamese by Jack J. Huynh



Read the original in Vietnamese

Read translator’s note

Bùi Chát is the co-founder and head of Giấy Vụn (Scrap Paper), an independent press in Sài Gòn which publishes poetry and other literature without approval from the government censorship authorities. Giấy Vụn was established in order to publish the works of the Mở miệng (Open Mouth) poetry group, which they call "garbage" or "pavement poetry", not written in proper spelling, using profanities not allowed in print inside Viet Nam, overtly addressing sex and politics. To date, numerous important characters in Sài Gòn's underground poetry circles have published samizdat-style poetry anthologies with Giấy Vụn. In 2004, Chát and co-founder Lý Đợi were jailed for two days for passing out flyers at the site of a poetry reading cancelled by the police. In 2005, the culture department cancelled a performance planned at the Goethe Institute in Hà Nội. In 2011 Chát was awarded the IPA Freedom to Publish Prize 'for his exemplary courage in upholding the freedom to publish.' He was arrested again upon his return to Viet Nam after receiving the award in Buenos Aires and detained for several days. He is currently pursuing a graduate degree at the HCMC University of Law.

Jack J. Huynh is a literary scholar and researcher currently living and working in Sài Gòn. He arrived in Vietnam in 2006 and, through his interest in contemporary Vietnamese literature, became close friends with many members of the Sài Gòn underground art scene. He has worked on several performance art pieces at the Khoan Cắt Bê Tông group space in Thủ Đức district, HCMC. Currently, Huynh divides his time between playing music, directing short films, fixing his motorbike and translating poetry.


april breaks guns was published in 2005. It is Bùi Chát's third independant collection of poetry. Each of Bùi Chát's collections is a foray into new and undiscovered territory. In many ways, april breaks guns is Chát's most formally experimental work, delving deep into cut-ups, surrealism, found poetry and the abstract. Chát stands out as the first of very few contemporary Vietnamese poets who have strayed away from traditional ideas of poetry and struggle to bridge the gap between the post-modern and missing modern in Viet Nam.