ALTA Fellow: Hai-Dang Phan

Hai-Dang Phan is a Vietnamese-English translator based in Iowa. Born in Vietnam and raised in Wisconsin, Hai-Dang earned his Ph.D. in Literary Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, writing a dissertation on literature and reconciliation after the Vietnam War. He is an Assistant Professor of English at Grinnell College and is also currently a M.F.A. candidate in poetry at MFA@FLA, the program in creative writing at the University of Florida.

In addition to writing and teaching, Hai-Dang translates contemporary Vietnamese poetry. He is particularly interested in the work of poets Nguyễn Quốc Chánh and Phan Nhiên Hạo, who might be said to represent the defiant and diasporic strains in contemporary Vietnamese poetry respectively. He owes his interest in these and other Vietnamese writers to poet Linh Dinh, whose work as a translator and editor has been an invaluable source of inspiration. Hai-Dang’s translations have been published or are forthcoming in Asymptote, The Brooklyn Rail, Cerise Press, Drunken Boat, RHINO, Anomalous, and elsewhere. His own poems have appeared or will soon appear in Lana Turner, NOÖ Journal, Barrow Street, DIAGRAM, and other literary journals.

Hai-Dang initially became interested in translation for research purposes. While pursuing his degree at UW-Madison, he had the opportunity to study Vietnamese as a heritage learner through the Southeast Asian Studies Institute (SEASSI), an experience that lead to his first attempts at translating Vietnamese prose and poetry into English. Returning to his writing and research, he continued to translate in his spare time. Later as a M.F.A. student at the University of Florida, Hai-Dang was able to pursue translation more actively and steadily with the guidance and encouragement of Michael Hofmann and Sidney Wade, poets and teachers on the creative writing faculty who are also accomplished translators. Thanks to these various people and places, he now considers literary translation a vital creative practice and pursuit in its own right.

Hai-Dang’s current translation project is a book-length collection of new and selected poems by Phan Nhiên Hạo (b. 1967). A leading voice from the post-war generation of Vietnamese writers, Phan Nhiên Hạo is the author of two collections of poems in Vietnamese, Thiên Đường Chuông Giấy (Paradise of Paper Bells, 1998) and Chế Tạo Thơ Ca 99-04 (Manufacturing Poetry 99-04, 2004). Hai-Dang’s interest in Phan Nhiên Hạo, who has lived in the U.S. since 1991 but continues to write in Vietnamese, is due partly to Phan Nhiên Hạo’s main subjects—the personal and social consequences of war and immigration—but primarily to his unique poetics, which combines the rhythms of everyday speech, the dislocations of a surrealist imagination, and the near-tragic, near-comic lyricism of the blues—a hybrid poetics forged in diaspora. While some of Phan Nhiên Hạo’s poetry has been translated into English (Night, Fish and Charlie Parker, Trans. Linh Dinh), much of his work remains to be translated and is deserving of a broader readership. Hai-Dang is looking forward to sharing his translations of Phan Nhiên Hạo’s compelling and consequential poetry at the 2012 ALTA conference.

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