Translation

While living in Vietnam, I became interested in the poetry of Lý Đợi, a poet living in Ho Chi Minh City whose work is censored by the Vietnamese government. Working with my co-translator Nga Ly Hiền Nguyen, these poems present a contemporary view of Vietnamese culture.

July 2015: I and my co-translator have won Lunch Ticket Magazine’s Gabo Prize for Translation and Multi-Lingual Text for translations of Ly Doi’s poems “Boiled-Steamed-Raw”, “The Beggar of Hanoi”, and “Thinking Without Identity”. The judge, translator and poet Dan Bellm, had this to say:

“Boiled – Steamed – Raw,” poet Lý Dợi’s biting trio of diatribes against many forms of repression and violence in present-day Vietnam, plays brilliantly with the metaphorical structure of traditional recipes from the north, center, and south of his country. In his hands, these become the doctrinaire instruction manuals of hell, complete with helpful slogans for chanting along. But the tonal shifts, word play, and cultural and political references readily accessible to any native speaker of the language must have made this work especially daunting to translate. Kelly Morse skillfully interweaves a range of registers from high bureaucratic doublespeak and textbook blandness to Buddhist meditation, street slang and song to allow us entry into an underground, officially banned view of Vietnamese society we are unlikely to get anywhere else but in poems. “Boiled – Steamed – Raw” is very fine work.

January 2015: Translations of the poems “Just Who Do You Think I Am?” and “Read Instructions Carefully First Before Becoming a Poet” published in Asymptote. Not only can you read Doi’s poems, but there’s a recording of him reading the poems in Vietnamese, along with a translator’s note I wrote to give context to his work.

November 2014: I reviewed the book Poems of Lưu Diệu Vân, Lưu Mêlan & Nhã Thuyên, published as part of the Asia Pacific Series of Vagabond Press. This collection features translations of three emerging Vietnamese poets, two currently living in Vietnam and one from the diaspora. Read the review on M–DASH here.

October 2014: “The Untranslatables”: essay about the use of puns in Vietnamese poetry as a way to discuss topics routinely avoided in outright conversation. Published in M-DASH Journal of Translation.

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