An American poet's love for Hanoi

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On Vietnam Poetry Day early last year, a foreign poet wearing ao dai and a non la caused quite a stir among the assembled poetry enthusiasts at the Temple of Literature in Hanoi.

Jennifer Fossenbell from the US wowed the audience with a poem about Hanoi that depicted Vietnam's capital city innocently and humorously yet with depth and passion.

Fossenbell first came to Vietnam several years ago but returned to the US soon after. Upon going back to Hanoi in 2009, she told her friends that she felt as if she had returned home.

She said the city had a special soul and a unique character.

Her impressions led her to write "In Hanoi, again," a heartfelt poem that starts with verse full of emotion:

The city she opens her fingers to let me reenter the creases of her palm.

The city she holds her head in front of the sun, keeping me in the shadow of her heavy hair.

The city she plucks and cleaves and boils and picks and kneads, her hands as clever as cats and quick as lizards.

The city she sings her wares alley by alley, bent beneath her bamboo yoke, plodding plastic-shod from rise to fall.

The city, she sleeps the sleep of worn bones, quiet as a tomb, hard as history.

The poem concludes with the words:

The city she is not my mother but she holds me anyway to her bosom and sings to me songs I can't understand but can't ever stop listening to.

"In Hanoi, again" won the American a special award in the poetry contest held to celebrate Hanoi's millennium in 2010.

Fossenbell was touched and said she was very surprised considering that the contest received more than 20,000 entries from 2,500 poets yet a foreigner like her had won the award.

She said she was happy as her love for Hanoi was now on record.

"People are playing so many roles every day. Only poetry lets me be true to myself," she said.

She thought that perhaps there were few countries where people loved and honored poetry like Vietnam.

Jennifer Fossenbell, born in 1980, started to write poems at the age of seven and has produced around 300 poems so far. She is also a linguist.

She currently teaches at several foreign language schools in Hanoi in between managing the Hanoi Writers' Collective, a club and forum for the city's foreign writers in residence.

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