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October 18, 2004

Selected Works of Vietnamese Poet Ho Xuan Huong to Be Read on Dec. 2

John Balaban, professor of English and poet-in-residence at North Carolina University, will read from "Spring Essence: The Poetry of Ho Xuan Huong," at noon on Thursday, Dec. 2, in Room LJ-119 of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C. The event, which is sponsored by the Asian Division, the John W. Kluge Center in the Library of Congress and the Library of Congress Asian American Association, is free and open to the public. Tickets are not required.

Edited and translated by Balaban and published in 2000 by Copper Canyon Press, "Spring Essence" is a collection of 49 poems by Ho Xuan Huong, (1775-1820) one of Vietnam's most celebrated poets, whose name translates as the book's title. Its publication marks the first time that any writing in the ancient language of Nom has been published using movable type rather than woodblock printing.

Ho Xuan Huong was a concubine at the end of the second Ly Dynasty (1428-1788), a period of calamity and social disintegration in Vietnam. She followed Chinese classical styles in her poetry, but her poems were anything but conventional. At a time when impropriety was punished by the sword, her work was imbued with sexual innuendos. Through her writing, she ridiculed the authority of the decaying Buddhist church, the feudal state and Confucian society. She preferred to write in Nom, a language that faded after the French invasion of Vietnam in the 17th century.

Balaban will be joined by Southeast Asian area specialist Lien Huong Fiedler, who will read selections from "Spring Essence." Ngo Thanh Nhan, a linguist at New York University's Courant Institute of Mathematical Science, will play the traditional 16-string dan tranh as well as discuss his work using the computer to preserve the vast tradition of Vietnamese writing in Nom.

Since 1992 Nhan has been developing a system for computers to read and display Nom, a calligraphic writing system devised in A.D. 1000 to represent the Chinese-like script of spoken Vietnamese. Only a few dozen people in the world today can read or write Nom. As a result of Nhan's work, Nom documents can be scanned by an optical character recognition device and translated into Quoc-Ngu (national script). It can then be printed and translated into English. When Nom is fully digitized, nearly 1,000 years of Vietnamese culture will be accessible.

The Library's Asian Division holds a collection of nearly 2 million books, periodicals, newspapers, manuscripts and microforms, which is among the most significant assemblage of such materials outside of Asia. The collection includes a number of important works in Nom, including original poems by Ho Xuan Huong and a copy of "Kim Van Kieu," the most significant work by Nguyen Du (1765-1820), who is considered to be Vietnam's "national poet." The Asian Division also holds more than 30 books in various languages about the poet Ho Xuan Huong.

Through a generous endowment from John W. Kluge, the Library of Congress established the Kluge Center in 2000 to bring together the world's best thinkers to distill wisdom from the Library's rich resources and to stimulate and energize interaction with policymakers in Washington. The Kluge Center houses five senior Kluge Chairs, other senior-level chairs and nearly 25 postdoctoral fellows. For more information about the fellowships, grants and programs offered by the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress, visit the center's Web site at

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PR 04-180
ISSN 0731-3527

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