Tag Archives: Refugee Prayer

Brisbane New Voices IV: Mother by Vuong Pham

With one sleep remaining until Brisbane New Voices IV makes its way in to the world, I am excited to give you a ‘first taste’ from Vuong Pham’s micro-collection, Refugee Prayer. Vuong’s work is deeply spiritual and celebrates the strength of the human spirit. Mother is the opening poem from his collection, and it too, sets the tone for the remainder of the work. I think you will find the honesty and sense of hope that drives this poem will resonate with you long after reading…

Last tickets can be purchased for tomorrow night’s launch here.

BNV IV Refugee Prayer

Mother

I know now, as I did in my childhood wonder
that my mother dreamed of a paradise
one unbound by war and exodus.

On the living room carpet we sit
I pluck her grey hairs and ask:
‘Mother, what ever was your passion in life?’
She smiles—that eternal smile
a question suspended in mid-air.
Her neck tilts like a sunflower
too heavy to meet the sky.

Gardening is the reply I expect.
My mind’s eye turns to childhood, to shadows
stirring beneath star fruit trees
rows of cherry tomatoes growing over fences
a call to supper while sleeping
amongst lotus-dotted ponds.

‘Teaching was my passion,’ she says, ‘high school.’
I smile in agreement. And as I do
jigsaw-puzzle pieces of memory
lock together, my past made whole.
‘A literacy teacher,’ I exclaim,
she smiles, remembering with excitement
the moment I arrived home from school
with a certificate of improved literacy.

I continue to pluck her grey hairs
our conversation lingers on
as the soft daylight illuminates us.
I know now, as I did in my childhood wonder
about mother’s youth, before the bloodshed in Saigon.

I picture her driving a yellow scooter
on the road to school, the freedom
of her hair, a glimmering smile; spiriting past
street markets, the soothing aromas
of Pho and lychee tea; that familiar
crescendo of rickshaws, bicycles and scooters;
landscapes of water buffalo, ploughing
the flooded paddies from cloud to cloud; each one
picturesque from her classroom window; and all of which
was the city she will no longer call home.

More grey hairs fall, the past realigns itself and
I know now, as I did in my childhood wonder
that the teaching legacy passed down to me—
I knew the responsibilities of providing
for her children outweighed
university-degree teaching aspirations.
That in mind, I tell her:
‘Mother, this week I taught my students Wordsworth
saw thousands of daffodils and thought of you.’
She smiles and I’m taken back to a halcyon-time
in childhood that reminds how she stitched floral
pyjamas, tablecloths, bedsheets together
using a sewing machine for less than $5 an hour
to afford rice, pork, Asian vegetables
and help pay for my tuition
so I could learn to spell ‘persistent’ correctly—
praying that I might speak an unbroken English tongue
and never be confined
to the labours of factories.

I know now, as I did in my childhood wonder
what it must’ve been to mother, there
among the refugee boat’s thrum, the faces
of Saigon watching—eyeballs ribboned with flames
incandescent, a disorder of diaspora animate
in the missile storm.

The homeland was a mist, the cerulean
depths of sea stirred on the horizon like some agitated womb
boats wet as one long vowel, as the city crumbled
and my mother among them fled
with nothing but me, growing inside.

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Brisbane New Voices IV: an interview with Vuong Pham

Brisbane New Voices IV is ready to launch at Riverbend Books on Tuesday April 23 (Buy tickets here), so over the next fortnight, I will be posting interviews with Vuong Pham and Trudie Murrell as well as sample poems from their featured micro-collections – Refugee Prayer and Women and Cars.

So let’s kick things off with a recent interview I did with Vuong Pham.

BNV IV Refugee Prayer

Brisbane New Voices IV, featuring your micro-collection, Refugee Prayer is about to be launched at Riverbend Books. When did you first become serious about publishing your work?

That would be three years ago when I first attended a poetry workshop facilitated by you, Graham. Learning about unlocking my poetic voice and networking with other poets gave me the motivation to persist with my poetry in getting published, first in literary journals; then in literary competitions, which were the building blocks to eventually lead to my first book, Refugee Prayer.

Refugee Prayer seems deeply personal collection. What are the events/happenings/aspects of your life that have made you the poet you are?

I’d say my family has had a huge impact on the type of poet I have become today. My family were refugees that came to Australia with empty-pockets, so they worked hard to establish stability. That persistence and drive to work hard at what one is passionate about in life has been instilled in me from an early age. The practices with which I go about writing poetry you could say are born from reading a lot of poetry to stimulate ideas, and then once the ideas are dappled on the page, I usually go through an ongoing process of editing and re-editing until I’m satisfied. I’m very rigorous with how I want my poems to end up; I remember I spent 6 months just editing one piece until I was finally happy with it.

Also, I’ve always loved English, History and The Arts as subjects throughout my education. I think a major reason why this was so, is because in these sort of subjects, critical and creative thinking is encouraged, as opposed to a subject like Maths, that ask for a more concrete answer. So I’ve stuck with it, and have harnessed my imagination in the form of poetry and the eventual book, Refugee Prayer, for everyone to take in. I remember after school, Mum used to always make us (sister, brother and myself) do English and Math drills, I excelled in English, but found myself labouring in Math.

I was raised in a Catholic family, and have learnt and appreciate the value of God in my life and my poetry. Simple things like praying before a meal to thank God, or even encouraging others in their lives of faith are things that I hold very dear to my heart. God calls me to a life of love, forgiveness and service to others. I am poet who writes to inspire and encourage others, it is my calling, and I have found a restored identity through Him.

Who are the poets that you return to; the one’s that continue to have a profound influence on you and your work?

The great poets, Basho and Wordsworth will always have a special place in my art. For readers who aren’t aware of these poets, they often captured peaceful and evocative moments in nature. Example:

summer grasses
all that remains
of soldier’s dreams

…in three short lines, Basho turned a famous battlefield into a reflection on human vanity.

For Wordsworth, the poem, “I wandered lonely as a cloud” will always fascinate me through its depiction of nature’s beauty. The joy, serenity and solitude Wordsworth captured in that poem fills me with inner peace. Example:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
that floats on high over vales and hills,
when all at once I saw a crowd,
a host of golden daffodils;
beside the lake, beneath the trees,
fluttering and dancing in the breeze…

The moment I read the first stanza I am teleported to that rich, peaceful moment in nature, “which is the bliss of solitude”.

It would be a fair comment to say that I’m a quiet, peaceful poet which reflects the poetry I get inspiration from; I wouldn’t find myself returning to poets that write with a theme of darkness and destruction, though I’m grateful to have experimented and experienced that kind of art to know what not to return to!

What do you hope readers will take away from Refugee Prayer?

I hope readers will come to know Christ through my writing. The book is a story of my family as refugees, the signposts of God’s grace is weaved throughout. If there’s anything you could compare “Refugee Prayer” with in terms of similarity, there’s books like “The Life Of Pi” by Yann Martel or even “The Happiest Refugee” by Anh Do. As I said before, I have found a new identity through Christ, and accept Him as my saviour. Back three years ago, I was living life through my own strength; darkness and angst was a predominant theme in my poetry/life. Ever since I’ve called upon God to enter into my life again, I have found new hope. My life and poetry has become much more abundant and fruitful as a growing Christian. I encourage others to take from the light, and produce art that will shine truth in all its glory.

And looking to the future… what’s next for Vuong Pham?

That’s a good question. It’s a busy time in my life at the moment with many projects in the process of development. I’ll be involved with and have had constructive discussions with project leader, “Mark My Words”, a Christian arts initiative. My involvement with this initiative will be a stepping-stone to a project I have on the running at the moment, called “Steeples”. The project, “Steeples” is aiming to be a publication for Christian writers and artists to submit their works to get published in the form of print and online. That will be functioning hopefully around the start of next year.

I have pretty much finished my second book, which will be a Christian themed book of poems, 10,000 words in length. I’ll be submitting the manuscript into the Young Australian Christian Writers Award 2013. It’s looking good, and I’m really happy with it.

I also have the interest of a respected U.K. haiku publisher, so a book of haiku is expected to be in the making soon as well.

In terms of my teaching career? I’m happy to keep doing Supply Work for now, as it gives me an opportunity to spend more time on the projects I’m working towards. But, once all of my projects are up and established, I would soon be on the lookout for a permanent job teaching English/History/The Arts.

*****

Vuong PhamVuong Pham was born in Brisbane to a hard working family of Vietnamese refugees. He is now a passionate schoolteacher of English and SOSE. His poetry has received awards in the Ipswich Poetry Feast Competition (2011, 2012); the Inspired by Tagore International Writing Competition (2012); and the Free XpresSion Haiku Competition (2012). Vuong identifies as a Christian and enjoys going to a Baptist Church, including Bible Studies groups throughout the week. Some of Vuong’s hobbies include reading and writing poetry, playing soccer and practising piano. Vuong is currently working on his second book, which will consist of haiku. He blogs at Verses of the Inner Self.

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