The poetic scientist in Poland

Update: 07:00 | 22/01/2018
Poet Lam Quang My has become well known after many of his poems were translated from Vietnamese to Polish. Since 2004, he has recited and “sang” poems at 3,000 events in Poland, itself a country with a rich poetic tradition.
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I met Lam Quang My on a sunny autumn afternoon in Warsaw. His real name is Nguyen Dinh Dung, and he was born in 1944, in Phuc Tho commune (formerly known as Nghi Tho commune), Nghe An. Now in his late seventies, his health is no longer what it once was, but his passion for poetry is still as fervent as ever. When we met, under the bright Warsaw sky, we seemed to get carried away with our discussion.   

From passion to a common cause for the country

Nguyen Dinh Dung discovered his talent for poetry at a young age. Since primary school, his poems received praise from teachers and classmates. In 6th grade at Nghi Phong secondary school in Nghe An, Dung received First Prize at a competition hosted by The Young Pioneers, offering him a year’s free subscription to newspapers and movies. He also received the Ho Chi Minh Certificate for excellent academic performance that year.

In 1967, Nguyen Dinh Dung was sent to study in Poland. Although his initial choice was to study literature, a diplomatic officer from the Vietnamese embassy in Poland suggested that the country needed more specialists in science and technology. That was when he changed his major and ended up making many contributions to the country.    

the poetic scientist in poland
The Poet Lam Quang My and the author of the article Nguyen Thuc Tuan.

In 1971, after graduating from the Electronic Faculty of Gdansk University of Technology, Dung returned home and began work at the Science and Technology Research Center in Ha Noi. He also held the position of Deputy Director of the Institute of Physics at the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology for many years.

Dung was one of the first to receive a modern desktop computer in 1975 from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, who wanted to assist Vietnam in post-war reconstruction. He was also one of two scientists sent to Russia for two years to train to operate a neutron generator, which established the foundation for experimental research on nuclear technology in Vietnam.

During the period of 1976-1978, together with two other military scientists, he designed defense systems comprising tens of thousands of small mines, scattered along the northern border. This system contributed greatly to the protection of the border in 1979, saving the lives of many soldiers and citizens. In 1989, Nguyen Dinh Dung returned to Poland to do his PhD and work at the Polish Academy of Sciences. In 2002, he successfully defended his PhD thesis and continued to work at the academy until he retired in 2004 to settle permanently in Warsaw.

Coming back to poetry

Since his retirement, Nguyen Dinh Dung has found his way back to his passion, dedicating his time to composing and translating poetry under the nom de plume Lam Quang My. He is now a member of both the Vietnam Writers’ Association and Polish Writers’ Association. His literary career brought Lam Quang My to a new level of success. The poet proudly said that: “If you mention the doctor of physics Nguyen Dinh Dung, I assume not many people would remember that name. That guy might be dead already.”

the poetic scientist in poland
The Poet Lam Quang My.

The poet Lam Quang My has won many awards, including the prize for arresting poems about autumn at Warsaw Poetic Autumn, awarded by the Polish Writers’ Association in 2005; two prizes for poems and literature activities at UNESCO World Poetry Days in Poland in 2006 and 2016; two 1st prizes (conferred by the Examination Boards and the public) at “The Poetry Marathon Contest” at The Fifth Poetry Festival among countries sharing a common border with Poland in the city of Rzeszow, 2008; two laureates for poetry and poetry translation at the International Festival of  Literature in Galicja, Poland in 2009 and 2011.

Poems by Lam Quang My include Waiting (Đợi) and Evening descends on waves (Chiều rơi trên sóng) in Vietnamese and English, Echo in Vietnamese and Polish, Life passes on... (Przemija życie) in Polish and English, A Wanderer’s Song (Zatoulana piseń) in Czech, and Month and day... (Tháng ngày...) in Vietnamese and French, translated by poet Athanase Vantchev de Thracy.

Together with his compositions, Lam Quang My is cooperating with Polish writer Pavel Kubiak to translate An Anthology of Vietnamese poems from the 11th century to the 19th century and An Anthology of Vietnamese Poems from 1932 to 1941 from Vietnamese to Polish.

Lam Quang My is also often invited to be the judge of poetry competitions and appear as a guest at cultural and poetry events in Poland and other countries. Polish audiences are always impressed with his unique style when the poet chants his pieces. One of his Polish colleagues said: “When Lam Quang My chants his poems, he outshines all other performances.”

Thanks to all of his work, he received the Medal for Contribution to Polish Culture by the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage in 2013; the SPES Medal in 2016; the Klement Janicki prize for Lifetime Achievement and contribution to European Cultures (2013) and Krasne town (Poland) – the hometown of Polish poet Zygmunt Krasinski, named Lam Quang My as an honorary citizen. 

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Nguyễn Thức Tuấn