Cham poet Inrasara will go to Thailand this October to receive the Southeast Asia Writing Award 2005. His collection of poems entitled Le tay tran thang Tu (The April Dust Washing Ceremony) won the Viet Nam Literature Association’s B Prize in 2003.
Inrasara is known in Viet Nam as a poet and a researcher of Cham culture. He has won national and international prizes including the Indochina History Centre’s award from CHCPI (Sorbonne University, France) for Van Hoc Cham 1 (Cham Literature Volume I).
He is now editor-in-chief of Tagalau, a magazine about Cham culture.
– You said your collection of poems entitled Le tay tran thang Tu is unfinished because you’re not satisfied with seven chapters that remain unpublished. But it’s a highly regarded work that has won prizes. Do you think prizes are down to luck?
– Not only national and regional prizes, but all prizes are the result of a little bit of luck. Winning The Nobel Prize for Literature requires a little bit of luck and the choice of winner is often controversial. But for me this is on the sideline. I don’t think that scientists or artists work for awards. If you try your best, everything will follow naturally. Authors should strive for professionalism and forget feelings of fear and inferiority.
– Do you expect the Southeast Asia Writing Award will add cachet to your poetry?
– I think that both small and big prizes should be regarded as a piston that speeds up the process of bringing the poetry to readers. It’s not a reason to increase or reduce the value of the poetry.
– Are you going to reprint Le tay tran thang Tu as many readers would be interested in reading it because of the prize?
– I feel happy to win such a prize, but I won’t be affected by it. I’m neither interested in printing or reprinting my works. I receive requests to reprint Van hoc Cham (Cham Literature) and Thap nang (Sunny Tower) but I’m easy either way. I find new projects interest me more.
– You are going to give a lecture when you go to Bangkok. How do you feel about giving a lecture in a foreign country?
– I’ve given lectures in foreign countries several times before and it doesn’t bother me, I’ll only be in front of the audience for a short time. I feel confident when talking about Cham literature or linguistics or contemporary Vietnamese poetry but this is first time that I will give a lecture in English.
– You’re working with translators to translate Cham poetry into English. Are you afraid that the soul of the poetry will be altered during the process?
– Le tay tran thang Tu was written in Vietnamese and Cham. Sometimes I wrote in Cham and translated it into Vietnamese or vice versa. The draft is not always exact despite translating it myself. I think that my poetry is difficult to translate. Some of my poetry has already be translated into English by other people. The result depends on talent of the translator and luck.
– What is the most important message you want to convey at the awards ceremony?
– I want to say that Inrasara is the first Vietnamese ethnic minority poet to be awarded this prize. This is a very important recognition for the great contribution of ethnic minority writers to literature in a multi-ethnic country like Viet Nam. It expresses the great integration of spirits in Southeast Asian countries.
– What’s next for Inrasara?
– I’ve already completed Dat khat (Thirsty Land), a collection of short stories and Di tim chan dung Cham (In Quest of Cham Portrait), a novel. I think that a writer does not represent a nationality, instead he represents himself, whilst at the same time seeing changes in his nationality. At present, the fifth edition of Tagalau has been launched and I hope the magazine will contribute to the development of Cham literature.
VNS, Vietnamnews.vnanet.vn, 25-08-2005.