Sasha : some further notes
Mark Young has sent me a copy of a poetry pamphlet from the mid–70's Patterns series. Mark's poem is an emulation of Arthur Rimbaud. The cover drawing is by Sasha (who also had a poem published in the series).
Over a period of time in the late 1990's, Sasha sent a group of self-portraits to Nicholas Pounder.
While the United States Of America's punitive embargo on Vietnam was still in place and the internal process of doi moi had begun as a 'renovation' of Vietnamese society (something like Mikhail Gorbachev's 'glas nost' program in the USSR), I travelled to Hanoi to visit a friend, Sue Howe, who had been living there for some time, working as a teacher at the University for Foreign Languages, sponsored by Australian Aid Abroad. Sue obtained an invitation from the Ministry of Education for me to conduct some classes in English on Australian poetry – that was the only way to get a visa in those days. Not long after I'd arrived in Hanoi in the north, Sasha landed in Ho Chi Minh City, in the south. About a week later and with (miraculously) only one minor scrape with the authorities to report, he joined us in the Giang Vo flats.
Giang Vo, 1991
We met the very hospitable staff at the Vietnamese Womens Publishing House and spent time with the poet Nguyen Thi Hong, and we also visited the official Writers Association.
At the time, these groups were extremely impoverished and did not have access to western writing apart from occasional magazines like 'Time', brought in to Hanoi by NGO workers, and Colleen McCullough's 'The Thorn Birds' and some Shakespeare – both of which had been translated into Vietnamese from English via Russian and had become new versions of the original texts. Both groups gave us lists of books they would like us to send from Australia.
On my return to Sydney, I organised a benefit reading at 'Writers in the Park' at the Harold Park Hotel in Glebe to raise money to buy books for the Vietnamese writers. Tom Thompson, then the publisher at Angus & Robertson donated a box of the Australian classics and modern poets he was publishing. I bought the books, packaged them up and then tried to get the Department of Foreign Affairs to freight them up to Hanoi. Of course, even with contacts in the Australian embassy, including the Ambassador to Vietnam, the department in Canberra refused assistance. Around that time, Sasha had decided to travel to Moscow and was heading up via Hanoi. He carted the boxes of books off with him, with some cash to pay for excess baggage.
Hoa (translator), Vu Tu Nam, Vietnam Writers Association – Sasha, delivering the books
Some years later (I think in 1997 when Sasha was returning to Vietnam for an AsiaLink residency) he claimed, in his inimitable manner, in the pages of the Australian Book Review to have been solely responsible for my altruistic project - an undertaking that had taken considerable time and energy to co–ordinate. Subsequently, Sasha and I engaged in a minor public stoush in the correspondence pages of the magazine. Sasha had a way of bragging about 'his' radicalisms that was sometimes unthinking. Of course, after a couple of months silence, we reconciled. And just now, when I looked for copies of that correspondence I seem to have mislaid it. (Although it can probably be found in the Mitchell Library archive).
Sasha Soldatow 2005