Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lao American Speculative Poets: Continuing challenges

Contrary to many expectations, during the call for submissions for the Lao American Speculative Arts Anthology, we found out that many of our poets in the community had no problems sending in work that were involved with science fiction, fantasy, horror, or other escapist genres. Many were quite imaginative and that was refreshing and validating.

A few hedged their bets, however, even when the guidelines were clear that you could incorporate Lao culture and Laoglish into the submissions. But for emerging writers, I can sympathize with the hesitation. I hope many of them understand that I and other Lao American poets have been in their shoes, too.

After a busy month of submitting new works to a number of mainstream speculative poetry publications, it's been an interesting reminder of how far we all still have to go in presenting Lao and Southeast Asian speculative art to the global community.

Without naming names, it would appear that many journals of speculative poetry only pay lip service to diversity. This is a genre that says that it loves the Jabberwock or Annabel Lee, the Wendigo or the Fungi from Yuggoth. But a poem about a Kinnaly can't get a pass.

Legends are documented as early as the 4th Century BC in the Mahabharata, but apparently the Kinnara (or as the Lao call them, Kinnaly) are too obscure, based on the feedback I've been getting. Sure, you can see them in locales such as Thai Town, or most Asian art sections of your art museums, but poems about Cthulhu, zombies, Ragnarok and vampires are more accessible.

Of course, many other writers have expressed similar frustrations in narrative fiction, working with traditional spectral entities from Africa, the Caribbean, South America, and so on.

Keeping this constructive, I think Lao speculative poets need to be more vocal in supporting creative experiments addressing both traditional and emerging entities. And more needs to be done online and in print to bring them forward on our own terms, in our own voices. Or else we face a world where the Kinnaly will be relegated to the category of "Lao Harpy" which would be an absolutely inaccurate and unjust description. 

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