The Writers Post
(ISSN: 1527-5467)
the magazine of Literature & Literature-in-translation.


JULY 2005












KHE IEM, former editor of Tho (Poetry) magazine,

reads joseph dovinh tai’s ‘lonely night’ published in ‘green plums’, a collection of poems by a second-generation Vietnamese-American poet.



Do Vinh is pseudonym of Joseph Do Vinh Tai, who was born in Vietnam in 1968, immigrated with his family to the US in 1975, and studied at the University of Washington, from where he graduated in BS Political Science. He started in the literary community in 1980, became active in the literary circles of the Pacific Northwest from the mid 1980’s to the early 1990’s. His poetry and writings have appeared several magazines; his collection of poetry ‘Green Plums’ was published in 2005. Do Vinh is currently living in Central Valley, California.





night without shadow,               

night without stars,                               

night lying lonely,                                  

lonely as night.                         


night without moonlight,            

night without sound,                             

night lying quiet,                                   

quiet as night.                                       


night without fire,                                  

night without wind,                               

night lying motionless,               

empty as night.                         


night far into the distant,            

night deep inside,                                 

night without dreams,                           

lifeless as night.                        


night without day,                                 

night without night,                               

night lying lonely,                                  

lonely as night.             

The poem "Lonely Night", by Joseph Do Vinh Tai is found in the poetry collection "Green Plums" published 2005.  This collection of poetry includes two sections, one in English, and the other in Vietnamese.  The cover is graced by an erotic representation of a woman smoking opium through a long pipe, with a young man-servant at her feet-a rather unusual depiction of Vietnamese traditions of the period.

"Lonely Night" is a typical poem in English by the author. I have read and re-read many of his English poems and found that they reverberate powerfully, although the images, linguistics and ideas are neither complicated nor obscure.  This is surprising since I am reading poetry in a language other than Vietnamese.  It gives me hope that in the art of poetry, thoughts and feelings can indeed reflect normal every day life, through ordinary language and yet be equally poetic and pleasing, despite its simplicity.

The rhythm of this poem flows quickly and dissipates beyond the title itself.  It is the movement of sound itself that gives life to the imageries and ideas.  And, at a speed such that the imageries overlap each other, effecting and transforming each, until there is only the "loneliness of night" or "night alone". The reader fades in and out of the poem like they do in so many other fleeting moments in life and the poem helps us perceive
this experience.

In the past, the reader had become accustomed to looking for in new poetry, thoughts, verses, and words that are eccentric and difficult, while not finding enjoyment in carefully crafted sounds.  That had been the reading experience of 20th century poetry.  Poetry had become the clunky vehicle used to transport all sorts of involved philosophy, religion, politics of the West and East, like the poetry of T.S. Eliot at the turn of the century, for instance. Or like the over-burdened imageries and meaningless sounds of American poetry affected by French Surrealism, at the later half of the century.  Poetry relied on thoughts more than emotions, defeating the very purpose of poetry.

Back to the poem "Lonely Night", with its images of "shadows", "stars", "moonlight". All images that are denied of existence, absent from night, but used by the author in repetitive verses, creating a sense that these images are actually born of the night. Thus denial itself is affirmation.  Because if there were no moon, no stars in night, then, wherefore the need for denial? Denial and affirmation are two opposites that are present in all things and natural to their very existence.

Night, symbolizes gentility, the feminine, creativity, and for poetry itself. Night thus becomes a dreamy illusion.  Is someone representing night, or is night expressing itself?  Night, cannot express itself, but is expressed through a hidden persona, the author, behind the scenes, wrapped-up within night himself.  Therefore, the imageries and ideas
attributed to night came beyond night.  And so the reader feels as if everything is beyond them-- everything is unreal / illusion.  This is the most lasting impression that we acquire from this poem.

We realize that everything is beyond our selves.  Life becomes light and simple, completely unencumbered. We become as a true monk / or priest wandering through the market places of life, coming and going as we please, without attachments. When the poem ends, so does everything else, it reverts to its original meaning.  The joy was momentary, yet its echoes go on forever.  The poem becomes an archetype, transformed into other symbols.  "Lonely Night" alludes to other masterpieces, such as the compositions of "Silent Night" by Josef Mohr (1792-1848) and Franz Xaver Gruber (1787-1863), although they are an entirely different art form.  They all serve to uplift spirituality and help us harmonize with the universe, whether we believe that universe was created by God or some other higher being.



But "Lonely Night" evokes images that are most readily associated with the famous artwork of Vincent Van Gogh:  "Starry, Starry Night", painted in 1889.  Night without stars and night filled with stars.  Night of tranquility and night full of violence.  All are opposites of the same night.  The painting shows a movement of the stars towards the right side, and a moon lighting as brightly as the sun.  The entire sky is filled with stars, churning and burning by its own light and energy. At the center there is a swirl that we are not sure if it's a symbol for clouds or something else. It could be the milky-way, or the trace of a comet.

If we perceive it to be the tail of a comet, then, they are there to slow down the overwhelming gravity of the star falling toward the front.  The cypress  tree is drawn in dramatic dark tones, rising out of the ground as if to lift away from the face of the earth.  The valleys and hills in the background embrace the silent remains:  The steeple and slope of the church, a few small houses showing yellow light line the horizon. The church's steeple breaks up the dark lines in the skylines. The relationship between the hill and the steeple is repeated with the cypress and the comet.  Thus, although the painting is extremely energetic, it is not chaotic. Like the poem which stands alone, this painting reflects loneliness in all its volatility, lost in a feverish spell.

Perhaps we are surprised that this simple poem can lead us to such dimensions.  But the meaning of the poem is ever-changing, shifting as we read, transporting us to other worlds.  "Lonely Night", "Silent Night", "Starry, Starry Night", each seemingly alluding to the other, but in actuality, they are included in each other.  The music makes us forget the poem, and the painting makes us forget the music because the poem is a part of the music and the music is a part of the painting. The meaning of the poem can be recorded on a piece of paper just as a painting can be photographed and stored.  But if the experience with the poem is recorded in this way, it will mean the death of the poem.  Because poetry is a form of life, that must constantly change with time, flowing like a river. That river may take us to a place of rest and relaxation, or to some other confused and foolish place, depending on us, because it is a part of our existence.

Reference: Portfolio 3: Expressionism by John Canaday, The Metropolitan Museume of Art.


The Writers Post
the magazine of literature

& literature-in-translation,

founded 1999, based in the US.




Editorial note: Works published in this issue are simultaneously published in the printed Wordbridge magazine (ISSN: 1540-1723).

Copyright © Khe Iem & The Writers Post 2005. Nothing in this magazine may be downloaded, distributed, or reproduced without the permission of the author/ translator/ artist/  The Writers Post/ and Wordbridge magazine. Creating links to place The Writers Post or any of its pages within other framesets or in other documents is copyright violation, and is not permitted.


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