Ajar Press :: NƯỚC | WATER | COUNTRY

Nước, meaning both ‘country’ and ‘water’ is the theme explored in the latest edition of AJAR — a Vietnamese-English bilingual journal of poetry, short fiction, essay, and artwork that revolves around a specific word of choice for each issue. The Summer 2016 issue of AJAR is available to read for free online as well as to order as a hard copy.


The following is an excerpt from ‘a letter of melted voices’, a note by the editors, Nhã Thuyên and Kaitlin Rees:

In the beginning, as a hidden being, I was absorbed in the nước ối (amniotic fluid) of my mother. I was there, safe in darkness, unknowing of what would happen, until being born. Then I came to know that I am a vulnerable being in life. To know about nước mắt (tears), the waters of human, and nước mưa (rain), the waters of sky, one pushing from the inside out, one falling from the outside in. We can say the nước of nature, the natural being, of ponds, rivers, seas, which are originally colorless, scentless, pure. I know about this pure nước, and that not-so-pure nước: nước dãi (spit), nước miếng (saliva), nước mũi (snot), nước tiểu (urine) and more. But I wonder if some kinds of human nước could also be that pure?

And we never think of nation as some abstract idea when it comes to nước: we are in the same nước, our people: người trong một nước. Vietnam is a nước for people, as a living space, to love, to protect, and to be protected inside, as in a mother’s womb, not simply a nation or an institutional name. Could we live in peace in our nước?

The journal features bilingual (English and Vietnamese, with pieces originating in both languages) and, in some cases, also trilingual (Chinese-English-Vietnamese) versions of writings by a wide range of poets and authors based in Vietnam and beyond — with bios revealing writers from, living in, or traversing as far afield as China, Australia, the U.S., and other points. This literary journal truly spans as well as bridges nước – not to mention the disparate shores those waters touch – as it excavates, celebrates, and stirs thoughts and ideas of what nước means for so many of us.

AJAR Press is the brain/heart-child of writers and translators, Nhã Thuyên (whose poems have also been published here as part of our “Out of the Margins” series) and Kaitlin Rees. As described on the website, AJAR is dedicated to the discovery of poetry and art in both ordinary and hidden places, providing a space for these works to be exhibited, loved, and challenged. As a bilingual journal and independent small press based in Hanoi, AJAR provides an opening for questions, imaginings, and poetic (im)possibility to be shared across borders, inhabiting language as it moves between worlds and words. In bringing fresh and critical voices of Vietnamese literature and art into English, and welcoming those voices from everywhere into Vietnamese, AJAR focuses on quality translations and envisions books as artifacts of artistic collaboration.

This issue features 200+ pages of writing that traverses many boundaries: poetry, prose, images, handwritten text, translation, fragments. Its contributors range from the established to the emerging. A review by ​Tyler Nguyễn of diaCRITICS’ editor Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel, The Sympathizer is featured in this issue, as well as an experimental prose-poem piece, “The Fragments”, by diaCRITICS’ Out of the Margins literary-series editor, Dao Strom. Other writers featured in this issue include:


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