There are many ways to describe the work of Vietnamese-born poet and fiction writer Linh Dinh. He's been described as a working-class poet, an erotic poet, a poet who writes about found objects, cultural detritus and just plain garbage in his poems. He is not a poet who tries to prettify life's ugliness.
Officials of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam have denounced his work as decadent, reactionary and "foreign" in its thinking. When he has returned to Vietnam, usually to solicit work for his highly regarded volumes of Vietnamese poetry in English language translation, copies of his own books have been confiscated at the airport. His readings in Saigon have drawn large audiences, though many of his listeners have turned out to be undercover police officers.
His short stories are surreal but economical, like an uncanny twist in a nightmare. One reviewer described his work as "poetry that makes you wince." Various others have described his work as darkly comic and "transgressive," although that isn't necessarily how he would describe himself. Like Whitman, he's described himself as a "poet of the body," and of such a condition of existential exile, that -- paradoxically -- he occasionally finds himself writing so extravagantly as to contain multitudes.
Linh Dinh is the headliner in Just Buffalo Literary Center's first BIG NIGHT program of 2010, which begins at 8 tonight (Saturday) at the Western New York Book Arts Collaborative, 468 Washington St. (near Mohawk St.) in Buffalo. Sharing the bill with him are media and performance artist Al Larsen, fiction writer Ken Sparling, and food by gourmet chef and BlazeVox Books publisher Geoffrey Gatza.
Linh Dinh, who was born in Saigon in 1963, and emigrated to the United State in 1975 when that city fell, has lived in various parts of the United States, but since 1982 has lived in Philadelphia. There he studied painting at the University of the Arts and after college, survived for 13 years by working as an office clerk, house painter, house cleaner and window washer.
By the late 1980s he had begun publishing poetry, art criticism, and short fiction in a number of the art and poetry world's most influential journal's, but he first gained national attention for his groundbreaking anthology of translations Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam in 1996.
He is the author of two collections of stories, Fake House (2000) and Blood and Soap (2004), and five books of poems, including All Around What Empties Out (2003), American Tatts (2005), the much-praised Borderless Bodies (2006), Jam Alerts (Chax Press, 2007) and Some Kind of Cheese Orgy (Chax Press, 2009).
Since 2000, his work has been a perennially featured in Best American Poetry anthologies as well as in anthologies of Asian-American writing, and collections of international poetry in English-language translation. His own work has been translated into a dozen languages, and from 2002 to 2004, he lived in Certaldo, Italy, as a poet-in-residence of the International Parliament of Writers
His novel, Love Like Hate is scheduled to be released in May of 2010 by Seven Stories Press.