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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Agreeing to cut out two political questions,

Tahseen Al-Khateeb and I have continued with our interview. This will be translated into Arabic and published in a Jordanian journal. Tahseen's latest question is particularly interesting, and so I'm posting our exchange below. This is also relevant because the issue of loneliness has been raised recently on this blog.



Al-Khateeb: In your poems, you depict the “borderless body”, not only as a naked existence where the “soul blossomed”—an existence that is open wide, “cleaned of all obsolete and labored presumptions”; the body “blends into all humans, animals and things” and “naked, walks through the street as the very first human”, BUT also as an “erotic” existence that tends to free the body from its own “chamber music”, from its own “language and meat”, from its “obsolete maps”: to overflow and seep into a “defiant puddle”. Do you think that one can never be a true poet without celebrating the “body electric”?

Dinh:
This borderless body suggests the immigrant, a child in the womb, rapists, spouses, sitting in a bar and empathy. Human bodies are really one continuum that has been tragically yet mercifully broken up. If you’re cut, I should feel pain, and vice versa, and when we’re at our best, that’s exactly what happens. Too often, though, people derive an orgasmic pleasure from watching another body being violated by a drone missile or a bomb. Excited, they cheer. Elias Canetti talks about how instinctively humans laugh at seeing somebody falling, and he traces this to our days as flesh hunters. Since a fallen body represents meat, we laugh out of joy. Beside this atavistic impulse, however, we also rush to help the fallen because we recognize the body in distress as our own. The American entertainment industry, though, is relentless in pushing the fantasy of the super predator, somebody who’s capable of destroying countless bodies “of the bad guys.” With its mesmerizing war and “action” films, Hollywood has amplified, to an insane degree, all of our worst sadistic tendencies. Sex, too, has become a matter of body count, but this is perfectly in line with the American obsession with numbers. As for your question about being a “true poet,” there are so many types of poets out there, but I’d say the majority of them are not about grappling with the body’s hidden logics, but smothering these with verbiage, for language, after all, is most often used to dissimulate and disguise everything, and not just the body. Having said that, neurotic poetry has its place, so a poet who always sidesteps the many bodies lying all around him, some smiling, some freshly killed, also has his place. Just days ago, a Vietnamese poet asked me to translate something, and so I did, “I’m aroused. I’m horny. I’m a whore. I’m an aroused whore. I’m an extremely horny whore.” I’m not sure if she needed that for her FaceBook page, or if she was communicating directly to me, but it was clearly her body starting to speak. Not one to be rude, my body spoke back to her, but alas, only by email. Such is our postmodern world.



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About Me

Born in Vietnam in 1963, I came to the US in 1975, and have also lived in Italy, England and Germany. I'm the author of two books of stories, Fake House (2000) and Blood and Soap (2004), five of poems, All Around What Empties Out (2003), American Tatts (2005), Borderless Bodies (2006), Jam Alerts (2007) and Some Kind of Cheese Orgy (2009), and a novel, Love Like Hate (2010). I've been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2000, 2004, 2007, Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present, Postmodern American Poetry: a Norton Anthology (vol. 2) and Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories From Around the World, etc. I'm also editor of Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (1996) and The Deluge: New Vietnamese Poetry (2013). Blood and Soap was chosen by Village Voice as one of the best books of 2004. My writing has been translated into Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Icelandic and Finnish, and I've been invited to read in London, Cambridge, Brighton, Paris, Berlin, Leipzig, Halle, Reykjavik, Toronto, Singapore and all over the US. I've also published widely in Vietnamese.