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Poet's Choice

By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, March 6, 2005; Page BW12

Even great, lethal calamities can have redemptive consequences, however small in scale and little noticed. For decades now, American and Vietnamese poets have been translating between the two languages -- not only bringing two cultures a little closer, but trying to behold the meanings that still ripple and evolve from their terrible collision in war.

The William Joiner Center for War and Social Consequences, at the University of Massachusetts, has fostered much of this work. Martha Collins is one of the poets who has worked with Vietnamese counterparts. The latest volume to come from this effort is Green Rice, by Lam Thi My Da, translated by Collins and Thuy Dinh.

Lam Thi My Da, born in 1949, writes love poems, poems about the natural world, poems that question traditional roles of women. For an American reader, her images of war may be the most likely entry into the book:

Night Harvest

White circles of conical hats have come out

Like the quiet skies of our childhood

Like the wings of storks spread in the night

White circles evoking the open sky

The golds of rice and cluster-bombs blend together

Even delayed-fuse bombs bring no fear

Our spirits have known many years of war

Come, sisters, let us gather the harvest

Each of us wears her own small moon

Glittering on a carpet of gold rice

We are the harvesters of my village


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