Thursday, October 30, 2014

A case for horror poetry

It's October, so that means it's the time most horror poetry is read for the year. Obviously, my fellow horror poets might wish we were read year round. You don't have to wait until October to read Toby Barlow's prose poem novel of lycanthropy, Sharp Teeth, for example. The month of May might be a good one for Sharp Teeth, since it's National Dog Bite Prevention Month, after all. 

I think it would be nice to read more of H.P. Lovecraft's poetry in August, since that's his birth month. Similarly, September is the great month to read the poetry of Stephen King. February is Women in Horror Month, so you might look at the poetry of Helen Marshall, Stephanie M. Wytovich, Jeanine Hall Gailey, Marge Simon or Roz Kaveney. There's more than plenty of reasons to read horror poetry year-round.

Overall, horror poetry often gets a short shrift in this modern age, shoved aside in favor of horror films, video games, short stories and novels, among other mediums. I think that's a pity considering that the roots of really distinctive American literature and the modern horror genre can be traced in large part to the work of Edgar Allan Poe. 

Where would the state of US poetry be today if we didn't have "The Raven"?  I think it's important that we not take for granted Poe's contribution towards creating a unique American cadence and grammatical aesthetic through his work. Certainly, he's not the first nor the terminus, but his role in popularizing interesting approaches American poetry and employing the macabre should not be denied.

I feel it's also important to remind poetry fans of other great writers from America who have written horror poetry so that we understand the form includes more than just Edgar Allan Poe. 

Take the creator of Conan the Barbarian and Solomon Kane, for example. Robert E. Howard left behind a good many horror poems such as "Cimmeria." To be fair, some verged on doggerel, but he had many bright flashes as a poet, and did not shy away from dark and tragic subject matter.

James Weldon Johnson was an early African American author, educator, lawyer, diplomat, songwriter, and civil rights activist. He's perhaps best known for God's Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse, but he also has horror poems such as "The White Witch."

Of course, H.P. Lovecraft has an impressive corpus of poetry, such as his cycle, "The Fungi from Yuggoth," which helped pave the way towards creations who would appear in his later prose such as the Mi-Go from "The Whisperer in Darkness." 

The poet Ogden Nash is mostly known for his light poetry, but he had horror poems in his body of work such as "The Wendigo." Some might say we shouldn't consider horror poetry anything with a comedic flair, but by that logic, a film such as the Evil Dead or the Nightmare on Elm Street series would also be disqualified from the genre.

One of my other favorite authors of Weird literature, Clark Ashton Smith was also a prolific poet. You can take a look at poems of his such as "In Thessaly" and see how he approached the dark and supernatural in verse.

Of course, a discussion of horror poetry should also note Stephen King's ventures into the form. His poem "The Dark Man," eventually led to the creation of the character Randall Flagg who plays a role in at least nine of King's novels including "The Stand" and other works.

This conversation could obviously span an entire book. But I hope this brief post inspires you to look at horror poetry again and challenge those who think we should let horror poetry wilt by the roadside.

Aqus Halloween Takeover!

A big thanks to everyone who came to see us at the Halloween Takeover Literary Speakeasy in Petaluma at the Aqus Cafe. It was an amazing night with some great talents.

My personal advice to my fellow Lao writers and artists is: Keep an eye out for them if they're ever in your area. You can learn a LOT from all of their work and their sense of showmanship, whether dealing with the classics or their own material. Absolutely inspired stuff!

The setting was particularly evocative with the art of Peter Perez from his series "Circles of Life and Circles of Death," with works such as "El Santo Muerto and the Last Book of Names" and "Los Enamorados Reunited."

My fellow performers included Constance Ann Fitzgerald, Spike Marlowe, Christopher Reynaga, Jennifer Quinlan, Ross E. Lockhart and Andrew Goldfarb/The Slow Poisoner. A very special thanks goes to Ransom Stephens for asking us to convene the Halloween Takeover!

As can be expected, we touched on the Lovecraftian and the weird, the bizarre and the unexpected.

Christopher Reynaga shared his riveting short story 'I Only Am Escaped Alone to Tell Thee' that goes toe-to-tentacle with the legend of Moby Dick and did a wondrous reading of "The Raven". Andrew Goldfarb/The Slow Poisoner is an electrifying live performer who handily answered the question, "Can you set the phrase "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn" to music?"

The enigmatic Spike Marlowe took time off from her crime-fighting to surprise and astound us, while Constance Ann Fitzgerald presented a short tale of laundry, entrails and quick thinking.  Ross E. Lockhart took us to a support group before the rise of the Great Old Ones, and Jennifer Quinlan shared a haunting excerpt from Byron's "The Giaour".

As for me, I did a reading of several of my poems from DEMONSTRA, including "Idle Fears," "A Fragment of a Dream of Atlantean Yellows," "The Deep Ones," "The Robo Sutra," an excerpt from "The Dream Highway of Ms. Mannivongsa," and "The Terror in Teak."

A big thanks to everyone who helped spread the word, and hopefully it won't be too long before we're back in Petaluma! :)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Interviewed at Laos in the House in Philadelphia!

As we get ready to close out October, the Laos in the House project took time out to interview me about a variety of things including the National Endowment for the Arts, ancient Lao myths, adoption, and the importance of preserving our heritage. And Heinekens vs. BeerLao.

A big thanks to everyone there. I hope to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Lao Diaspora with them in May, 2015 when their massive 5-year effort to bring Lao art, culture and heritage to Philadelphia comes together! Be sure to check them out at

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

[Poem] Prelude to Laomerica

It's been a while since I shared a new poem. Here's a newer piece about the harder years.

Prelude to Laomerica

Buddha help you, if you're pretty in this camp.
What you have to trade must be given, or it will be beaten.
If you're ugly, no one gives a shit and you'll be left behind.
Sometimes, some will try to make you a beauty
To do the unspeakable, and call it a duty "for your family."

Buddha help you, if you're charming,
You'll have so many to take care of, who leave you when you can't.
If you have no friends, you'll be crawling bones for a burning ditch.

If you can only follow orders, you'll never be safe.
If you try to take charge, someone will teach you your true place.

Buddha help you, if you're useful.
Everyone will want you to be useful to them.
If you're useless, they'll abandon you by the river
Like a nameless beggar's corpse.

Buddha help you, if you weep.

Buddha help you, if you've got secrets,
They'll just crack your head open if they're too expensive.
If you don't know a thing, you're no good to anyone.
If you know just enough to be dangerous,
You'll never get a good night's sleep.

If one side likes you, you're a puppet.
If the other side likes you, you're a collaborator.
The smart ones suspect someone's a snitch.
The dumb ones are the last to know, to their regret.

Buddha help you, if you're righteous and proud.
You'll starve clinging to old ways that don't apply.
If you're a wretch, you'll always have to watch
Your back, a shadow among atrocity.
If you're just trying to survive, welcome to the club,
But that doesn't get you anything special.

Buddha help you, if you dare to smile here.

Buddha help you, if you're strong.
They'll work you, until you break.
If you're frail, you won't last long
In these squalid camps of inhumane nothing.
If you're only average, you become a statistic,
A burden of maggots and rice to unload,
A muddy road to close and forget.

Buddha help you, if you're wise.
You'll be miserable and you'll have hope.
If you're a fool, it's the end of the world.
You'll never learn a way out, or notice, when you leave.

God help you, if you think you're home.

For those we remember, for those who were forgotten, for those in-between.