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the beginning of water - Tran Le Khanh, Translated by Bruce Weigl - Cliff Becker Prize
$17.00, ISBN 978-1-945680-43-4

Translator Bruce Weigl refers to the work of Tran le Khanh as one of the most unique and rewarding in all his years of translating Vietnamese literature.

978-1-945680-43-4_the beginning of water

“Spare, elliptical, evocative, Tran Le Khanh’s poems, two-thirds of them tiny quatrains, will delight those new to Vietnamese poetry and surprise those familiar with its conventions. Drawing on Buddhist thought and challenging the reader in much the way koans might, Khanh gives unexpected life to traditional images—leaf, fish, clouds—to create his own mythology, which includes an unromanticized “she” who, for instance, “holds the torch / to clean the night.” We owe much to poet Bruce Weigl for helping to bring these haunting Vietnamese poems to English readers. “ 


—Martha Collins


“Tran Le Khanh’s poetry represents a unification of words, a deep accuracy of diction, colorful imagery, many layers of emotion, and the depth of the Eastern spirit. Khanh’s poetry is illustrative of the harmony of passion and a profound philosophy. Therefore, the poems’ last lines immediately open up countless doors for the reader. Each poem seems to contain another poem, and they keep opening up, on and on. Now, when I think of Khanh’s poems, they always bring me beauty, tranquility, mystery, and the unlimited dimensions of the planted seed.  Each of Tran Le Khanh’s poems captures a universal essence, like a seed, evident in the poet’s attention to form, his precise use of images, his simplification of diction, and his powerfully compressed emotions.”

—Nguyen Quang Thieu -  President, Viet Nam Writers Association

“These short poems from The Beginning of Water are songs instilled from silence, lyrics of human observation, celebrations of the connections between nature and humanity. To read these poems is to stand so still that we can see ourselves in poetry’s depth and in its ability to clarify our understanding of the world we live in and of the events that shape our lives. The translators not only capture the spirit of each original poem but make in alive in the English language, demonstrating the transcending power and the significant contribution of literary translation to world literature.” 

—Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai –author of The Mountains Sing and The Secret of Hoa Sen, Winner of BookBrowse's Best Debut Award for 2020

Bruce Weigl was born in Lorain, Ohio, in 1949. He enlisted in the U.S. Army at age eighteen and served in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968. After returning to the United States, he received a BA from Oberlin College, an MA from the University of New Hampshire, and a PhD from the University of Utah. Weigl published his first book of poetry, A Romance (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1979), while teaching at Lorain County Community College in Ohio. He has gone on to publish over a dozen poetry collections, including The Abundance of Nothing (Triquarterly Books, 2012), which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; Archaeology of the Circle: New and Selected Poems (Grove Press, 1999); Song of Napalm (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1994); and Sweet Lorain (Triquarterly Books, 1996). Much of Weigl’s work is inspired by his experiences of the Vietnam War. In an interview with Blast Furnace Press, he says, “I wouldn’t have been a writer without the War because it forced me to go inward. And for some reason when I did, I found these stories.” Weigl is also the author of The Circle of Hanh: A Memoir (Grove Press, 2000). He has received two Pushcart Prizes, a Patterson Poetry Prize, and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He has taught at the University of Arkansas, Old Dominion University, and Pennsylvania State University, and he currently teaches at Lorain County Community College. He lives in Lorain, Ohio.


Tran Le Khanh is a contemporary poet of Vietnam who is considered one of those writers who have brought fresh air to Vietnamese poetry. Born in Saigon in 1971, four years before the war ended, Khanh grew up along with the country’s renovation in 1990s. His background is financial and his last job was the CIO for one of the largest fund management companies in Vietnam before resigning and dedicating his time to writing poetry, meditation, and working diligently to perfect the Luc Bat form, of which he is a master. His publications in Vietnam include “Luc Bat Mua” (the Dance of Luc Bat), “Dong Song Khong Voi” (The River Never Hurried), “Ngay Nhu Chiec La” (Day Is Like A Leaf), “Luc Bat Mua” full version 1,2,3 and “Giot Nang Tran Ly” (The Sun Is Spilling Over). He lives in Ho Chi Minh City with his wife and daughter.

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