Discover more from Postcards from the End
João Guimaraes interviewing Linh Dinh (part 2)
[“I Lost My Virginity in a Burning Hummer,” 2009]
Being not only a writer, but also a photographer, in your interviews you mentioned that photography influences your writing, helping you see better and be more social. Could you talk more about this influence? Does your writing influence your photographs as well?
-For just over a decade, I tried to become a painter, but that’s a very expensive pursuit. Oil paint, canvas and stretchers cost a lot of money, but the costliest is maintaining a studio, which also keeps you stationary. A successful painter can leave his base and travel, but I wasn’t one. I had a live-in studio over a print shop. Its toxic fume seeped through the floor and, worse, my space was unheated, which forced me to buy a kerosene heater. This just added to the damage to my lungs and, perhaps, brain. My first week there, I had no shower, so I bathed myself by standing in a trash can.
Trying to eat, paint and write, I spent much more time house painting than oil painting or writing, and I was so exhausted, I could barely think, so I stopped oil painting. Even years afterwards, I had dreams where I was still painting, or I could not find canvases I had made. These were minor nightmares of losses. I even had dreams of starting over again, with a gallery show happy ending. Ideally, we should have many lives to fulfill our wishes, but the vast majority don’t even have one life to adequately do anything. Just think, for a moment, of all the dreams being wrecked in Ukraine via a war ochestrated by the US, with Victoria Nuland its mastermind.
With photography, I’m still a visual artist, and this has helped me as a writer. Though I’ve always liked to walk, photography forces me to roam much more. Always prowling, I’ve become a hunter, stalker, lurker and gate crasher. There’s a photographer, Francesca Woodman, who only shot herself, nude, but I don’t think that’s an option for me. My late friend, Mack, was a midget. He used to joke, “Maybe I should enter the freak porn business.”
I’m sitting in Jenda Cafe, my 8th in Pakse, and I’ve taken photos in each one. Lingering in these spaces, I’ve also talked to or watched people. Without photography, I wouldn’t have this modus operandi. I’ve photographed and chattered with people in countless bars across the globe. In Prague, I yanked on a locked bar door, so they had to buzz me in. Of course, I was the only non Czech. Though I couldn’t talk to anybody, just observing people taught me a lot. There was a photo of Kim Jong Un behind the bar, so I photographed it. Noticing me staring at it, the bartender thought I was offended, so looking alarmed, she flipped it around, but I indicated, No, no, leave it there! Seeing my big smile, she also laughed. Many Czechs have these intense, philosophical faces, so it was fascinating just seeing them engage in sustained conversations, but who knows, maybe they were just talking about football.
Yesterday in Jenda, there was a Vietnamese woman who was masked. Her husband and three kids, though, didn’t cover their noses and mouths for no good reason. Watching this mentally ill person was fascinating. Only when her noodle soup came out did she stop suffocating herself. I imagine she’s adverse to travel and strange food. With the slightest discomfort, she pops pills. Watching TV news, she believes each word.
Alla Kotova: In your interview for Leafbox, while criticizing Western intellectuals, you mentioned that “People in the mainstream can’t say anything nice about Putin”. At the same time, I, as a Russian, can hardly say anything nice about him. He kept stealing my votes each time we had elections. Due to his regime, a friend of mine has been detained for 3.5 years for getting in the way of a police officer beating people lying on the floor during mass protests. He made it dangerous for me along with many other Russians to stay in our own country. What nice could be said about him? Also, you refer to the USA as an empire, and the war in Ukraine has a lot to do with the Russian empire ambitions. Do you see any difference between the empires?
-Regarding what’s happening inside Russia, I must defer to you, since it’s your country, and what occurs there affects you and those you love directly. The West’s caricature of Putin as a new Hitler intent on conquering Europe is patently false, however. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, NATO had 16 members. Now, it has 31. Expanding eastward, it has nuclear missiles arrayed across the border from Russia. Is that not a threat to your native country? Putin’s war against Zelensky’s Ukraine is a reaction against this encroaching threat. He’s certainly not trying to take over Europe. Since NATO has waged war against Russia, Putin may be forced to take this war beyond Ukraine. Waging this war, Putin hasn’t bombed Kiev the way the USA bombed Hanoi, Belgrade or Baghdad, etc. When US attacked Libya, a desert nation, it attacked its water infrastructure. The fact that Western politicians and celebrities are still flying into Kiev shows Putin’s restraint. He’s held back so much, some people even claim there’s no war in Ukraine!
Whatever Putin is doing in Russia can’t be worse than what Hanoi regime has done to Vietnamese dissidents, but does that mean I would support a US backed war against Vietnam? Of course, not. Earlier this year, a Western friendly Lao dissident was shot at a Vientiane cafe. Miraculously, he survived and is in a Thai hospital. Most Laos wouldn’t use this incident to call for US intervention! That would be madness. Whatever you think of Putin, make sure you’re not on the side of those trying to destroy Russia.
Keep in mind the US doesn’t stand with anybody but Israel and war profiteers, so a key aim of the Ukraine conflict is to fatten Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics and Raytheon, etc. American politicians are also not shy about their hatred of Russia and Russians. In March, Lindsey Graham exclaimed, “The Russians are dying… Best money we ever spent!” Imagine if he had said that about Jews.
Though Russia has created one of the greatest Western civilizations, Western idiots still refuse to see Russia as Western. This led Alexander Blok to write “Scythians,” which has this at the beginning, “We are hordes and hordes and hordes. / Try and take us on! / Yes, we are Scythians! Yes, we are Asians— / With slanted and greedy eyes!”
Napoleon famously said, “Scratch a Russian and you’ll find a Tartar.” Added to this prejudice is the Jewish hatred of Russia, but they despise everyone they’ve had a long history with, Persians, Egyptians, Americans and, now, all white people. Demonization energizes Jews. The people behind this Ukraine war want as many Slavs killed as possible.
Due to their listings and enumerations, your poems provoke quite a claustrophobic sensation of being trapped in a room full of scattered random objects. It feels so crowded and tight, fragmented, and overwhelming. Quite often, lists provoke the opposite feeling of order and peace. In your poetry, object seem to be aggressive, displacing humans from their own lives. What’s behind that?
-Wow, I’ve never thought of my poems like that. I’d like to think that all of my objects are inserted for a reason, that nothing is random. I can’t say, though, that order and peace is a conscious objective in any of my writing. When asked by a woman in a Philly bar what I was trying to achieve with my poems, I said without hesitation, “Kill you!” But only from an excess of happiness, of course. After this poem, your life is complete, so why go on?
Let’s approach this another way. In still life painting, the artist would insert a skull to suggest death, or a clock to indicate the passage of time. Wilted flowers mean, before you know it, you’re old, ugly and stinky, with horrible skin and teeth. With photography, there are always random objects, however, despite the photographer’s deft framing of his meaningful or resonant scene. Perhaps some of my poems are like that.
I’ve written so many poems, I don’t even recognize some shown to me, but when you said “list,” I immediately thought of one. At least here, nothing is random:
Guide to Odors Vinegar: fresh guilt; your mother-in-law; mature love; patriotism. Sewage: scurvy; old men; solitude; sainthood. Turpentine: young men; a sweaty upper lip; vesicles. Cinnamon: sudden shame; a half-remembered dream; a strange bed; a town of 5,000. Urine: a city of 100,000; bar conversations. Garlic: attentive listening; a bus ride; a ridiculous hat; a drowsy face in a rain-flecked window. Canned tuna: the soul; menopause; foreigners. Acrid: pink, mottled flesh glimpsed through clear plastic; a genius. Ammonia: accolades; a high-speed crash on a deserted highway.
Note: With livestreaming conversation coming right up, I must cut this short. Part 3 will be posted soon.
[Pakse, Laos on 9/17/23]
[Ulsan, South Korea on 4/28/20]
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