Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Interviewed in The Press Enterprise

A nice interview was recently published in the Press Enterprise for Hemet, California: "HEMET: Lao writer uses talents to help others" about my work and writing, and my work with the Hemet Doing Literature discussion group. I look forward to seeing you all on Saturday, March 10th at 10 AM at the Hemet Public Library.

 A special thanks to Diane Rhodes for taking the time to bring my story to light in the community!

A slightly more off-the-wall interview is up at Little Laos On the Prairie thanks to Chanida Phaengdara Potter! We'll talk coffee, change, and open books, among other things.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

New poem in Lantern Review #4

The new issue of Lantern Review is up at featuring my new poem, "Pen/Sword: 3 tales or so". It also features the work of Timothy Yu, Monica Mody, Neil Aitken, Jenny Lu and Kathy Tran, and more. They've put a lot of hard work into this issue, but it's a great selection for it. Check it out! :)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Doing Literature: A Man For All Seasons

As a reminder, I'll be leading the Doing Literature discussion group at the Hemet Public Library on Saturday, March 10th discussing Robert Bolt's classic, "A Man For All Seasons" regarding Sir Thomas More who was executed for his convictions.

First performed in London in 1960, Robert Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons has remained a popular play that enjoyed considerable commercial and critical success in England and the United States. It has been performed many times since, and made into both a feature film and a television movie.

Join us to consider why this has remained such an enduring work of 20th century literature! The discussion is free, and while it is helpful to have read the play it is not necessary to participate.

 We also have a new microblog up at and on twitter @hemetliterature if you want to get additional updates and posts.

[Poem] Mythologies

Donna means woman.
Bella means beautiful.
The two together are a deadly poison,
The kissing cousin of nightshade.

Elsewhere, sure as hemlock for
The throats of sages in their curious passage,
Corrupting the freest

      The Void

Howls, a white wolf for your bones,
Who hopes to make soup for the devil
Beside the river stones

Like curveless Pandora for her Titan
Lurking by the curling vine.

From Barrow, 2009

The poet Henry Wordsworth Longfellow was born on February 27th, 1807

Southeast Asian speculative art anthologies

With the recent release of Alternative Alamat from the Filipino community a few months ago, and with my own work with Saymoukda Vongsay to develop the Lao American Speculative Arts Anthology (catchy name still to be determined...) I've wondered a lot about the challenges in putting together an anthology.

I was heartened by a hope from one potential contributor that he'd be able to submit a piece in to the next one. Although I pointed out that we haven't had a general anthology in 11 years, the very slim SatJaDham collection, and this is the first full-length anthology in 40 years since the end of the war. I, too, was hopeful that the anthology might become a regular thing, but given the 4 decades its taken so far, regular may be a relative notion.

I often think: When other writers get involved in the mix, do we owe it to them to ease the way for them into more mainstream professionalism, or do we develop a submission, editing and engagement process that's appropriate to our community's way of doing things. (Or our counter-culture way of doing things, if we feel like being radical on the point.) I find myself at a number of points wondering, how would Alternative Alamat have done it? And are there other interesting approaches we could take?

We're at a point with the Lao American Speculative Arts Anthology where we are asking ourselves: Do we print only the best, in our opinion, or a survey of the types of styles and ideas out there? Do we encourage collaborations? Do we put out specific requests for specific types of stories? Do we include pieces that are only obliquely connected to speculative art just to show how in some cases, writers AREN'T taking on these issues.

Barbara Jane Reyes' remarks on anthologies always stick in my head regarding their politics and what they do and don't do for writers. Still, like a Whitman's Sampler of chocolates, for some readers it can be a good way to carry many of their favorite writers around in one convenient volume. There is the challenge of how do you then convince them to go beyond what's in the anthology and see the full body of a writer's work.

That was one of the issues I was considering as I looked to the Kurodahan Press anthologies for some ideas of how Asian speculative arts anthologies can be done well. Especially the ones responding to H.P. Lovecraft in Japan. It was an enjoyable series but not enough was presented to provide me a context to consider: is this a very influential story or an underrated one? Is this a regular example of the author's writing, or a mysterious one-off. What was its publication history? And is this version different from others?

This last question I consider frequently because I know that several short stories and poems of mine that I've had published will definitely undergo revisions for different formats and mediums. I don't think it will go quite as extreme as the revisions to Leaves of Grass or The Magus, but I think these are some of the interesting questions to consider when you're looking at a piece. As I look at Alternative Alamat, I can definitely appreciate some of the questions they, too, were trying to address. 

Saymoukda Vongsay and I are also wondering if we should simply excerpt some pieces, or allow in more creative non-fiction works. A story should be more than just a regular story set in the world followed by "and a robot wheeled by." The fantastic elements should definitely have a purpose within the narrative, one that changes the way characters respond and interact. The way they think.

Do we include alternate history pieces that take a controversial stance or opt for those which work a more nuanced sense of international relations? When we watch a film like Uncle Boonmee and see characters referring to Lao as 'smelly' and 'lazy' we're going to take umbrage. But that doesn't mean the proper turn is to print stories that sling those invectives back at people.

Do we keep it family friendly? It seems the polite thing to do, but then again, on any given afternoon our readers children will be going off to lay waste to the Ork and zombie hordes, or doing any number of misanthropic things while committing grand theft. So, why bother shying away from that? As always, the mantra I hear from other editors is: "Is it in the service of the story?" We don't have to present gratuitous sex and violence, but the original Grimm's Fairy Tales were also some pretty dark works too.

What are some of the other issues you like to consider when putting together an anthology? What do you expect to see, what do you reject, what do you wish you saw more of?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Teaching Lao art and critical analysis in the classrooms

In the May 2005 issue of Art Education, Ismail Ozgur Soganci's article "Re-attaching the Detached" examined the importance of critical analysis of popular media images of Karagoz. Among the interesting ideas he proposed was that "Instead of loyal acceptance of popular iconography mandated mainly by media, the art class at times should become a laboratory in which visual literacy is taught through critical analysis of popular icons, advertisements, cartoons, comics and so forth." (Soganci, 51).

It's an interesting topic given some of our previous inquiries regarding puppoetics. Karagoz is the lead character in almost all of the scenarios of Turkish shadow puppet theater. A parallel in Lao culture would be shadow puppet stories from Kalaket and Manola and Sithong, or episodes of Xieng Mieng or Phra Lak Phra Lam.

Soganci insisted that schools and art "can still play essential roles in facilitating students to better understandings of human cultures through a historical perspective." (Soganci, 34) He was further curious about the way students could be shown inferior reproductions of classic images and characters from a culture's traditions to examine what the quality of mass-media images can have and their effects on us.

Soganci lamented that "philsophical richness is considered irrelevant" in popular media. He noted that in the past, in Turkish shadow puppetry, the white screen symbolized temporary life, while the puppets were humans with almost no will, and the unseen puppeteer represented a superior will manipulating everything. The light was considered the energy that enables us to see the world while concealing the Divine. This was a scenario that had significant relationship to Islamic philosophy, even as the art form emerged from techniques learned in Asia.  (Soganci, 35-37).

By the final summation, Soganci suggested that we ought to explore what schools could do to "re-attach the detached by critically unfolding the ways popular media exploits examples of visual culture. While not all images in popular culture exhibit a detachment of images from their cultural, historical, and artistic essences, it should still be considered one of the art teacher's essential duties to keep a close and critical eye on mass media."  (Soganci, 38)

For those of us engaged in both visual and literary Lao American arts, these are questions and opportunities applicable to our own experiences that we ought to consider.

As poets and writers, I would not want to see us shy away from engaging with the art and techniques of our past, but I think it's important to study the philosophies and aesthetics underpinning the particular techniques and meanings. We should also still seek ways to innovate and continue to expand our artistic vocabulary. The final words have not been written. There's so much we can yet explore. 

 Lao art has historically been far more liberal in the diversity of forms it has taken. There are certain guidelines and expectations, but the final executions are more often than not distinctive to particular artists in a given generation than not, as we see in the wide range of Buddhas from Laos. This would apply not only to our visual arts but also our literature.

This is still a difficult proposition in the US given the struggle to maintain and effectively support arts education in the schools from a mainstream perspective. Among Lao American programs, most are struggling to teach the traditional forms and baseline principles that we do not regularly get a chance to examine more ambitious approaches for integration into our curriculum. We should consider what can be done to reduce those barriers. 

[Poem] Our Brave New World

There's only a few in creation
Who read me like you.

So it goes.

I, debating between Heaven and Earth,
The wild bunch and the truths regarding better luck tomorrow,
A better tomorrow where maybe every woman can be
The princess bride in a never ending story, a legend.

You, watching with me in your own way,
Seeking stories nearly a continent away,
A phoenix of rebuilding
As familiar with Nang Phom Hom as the legends of the Fall.

We listen, hearing hearts within bodies with so much to teach,
So much to smile about.

Surviving like bamboo, some moments arriving as slow hurricane,
Some like Kansas twisters, offering a journey to Oz.

Some a desert, others, a city by the sea in a state of lost angels,
Wandering xang and atomic sinners, strangers sharing space
And sometimes more.
From Tanon Sai Jai, 2009

On February 26, 1909, Kinemacolor, the first successful color motion picture process, was first shown to the general public at the Palace Theatre in London.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

[Poem] The Shape

What is the shape of the wise man?
Is it the unblinking eye or the open hand?
Is it the restless foot or the compassionate heart?
Is it a book of prayers or a moment of silence?

Is it a wild horse in the fields of Shangri La
Or a bolt of lightning over Angkor Wat?

Is it that fragile water lily in a pond in Luang Prabang
Or the croaking frog in a Mississippi mudslide
Gone now, without a trace.

No one says it is an unsheathed sword.
Few would argue for a cracked atomic mushroom
Boiling an ocean of sharp-toothed sharks to prove an equation.

Uncertain judgment should be noted
Regarding tiny infants on University Avenue
Or humble ants packing their ditty bags
At the first hint of a cloud of RAID coming their way.

And it is almost certainly never found in a mirror.

From On The Other Side Of The Eye, 2007

February 25th, 1996 was the death of Cambodian actor Haing S. Ngor, known for his Oscar-winning performance in The Killing Fields.

Friday, February 24, 2012

[Poem] New Myths of The Northern Land

"Dream," I said,
"Aren’t you tired of making new legends
That no one but I ever hears?"
"Bones," she said,
"Aren’t you ever tired of asking questions
That only I can answer?"

I went back to bed,
Waiting for the new king to arrive,
His talking mirror filled

With dire pronouncements of flame.
From On The Other Side Of The Eye, 2007

February 24th, 1909 is the birthday of August Derleth, a noted Wisconsin writer.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Haiku Movie Review: Ghost Rider 2: Spirit of Vengeance

Run, Nick Cage agent.
This hella better than first,
But that wasn't hard.

On the Long Poem, the Profound and Lao American speculative poetry

"The long poem is an attempt at a major poem. Though most modern poets have worked in the short forms, many have also been tempted by the longer distance. Eliot emphasized "concentration." Pound derided yet practiced Imagism. Yet both Eliot and Pound were called toward the epic. William Carlos Williams, in his aims for Paterson, claimed that "the longer I lived in my place, among the details of my life, I realized that these isolated observations and experiences needed pulling together to gain profundity."

- From "A Lost Classic: David Shapiro's Lateness,"  
Frederick Smock, American Poetry Review, Jan./Feb. 2012 

There are many approaches to poetry, but within speculative poetry, I think it is important that we continue to keep abreast of many of the questions more conventional poetry is examining. What constitutes a major poem of deep, transformative meaning for its readers when we are exploring the worlds of the fantastic, the alien and the far-flung future? 

Who has it within them to write a modern work of 24,000 verses on par with the Ramayana or Phra Lak Phra Lam? In the classic days of the Lao epics, it could take almost a week to recite the full epic every evening, much akin to the work of Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung.

Today, we barely get 15 minutes on stage. 

I might argue that this sort of time frame can be a relief when you're dealing with tedious poets. But at the same time, we also see so many pieces designed as if we're in a rush to say something profound. This isn't always how profound works. Sometimes it takes certain kinds of literary spacing for it to unfold properly in its scale and magnitude. 

Wagner's ambition was amazing with Ring of the Nibelung in both its scale and scope but it also something that could be accomplished within poetry. How might Lao American speculative poets follow the struggle of gods, demons, heroes and the creatures of myth and their struggle over an object on par with the ring that would grant dominion over the world, or a beauty like Sita from the Ramayana? In The Ring of the Nibelung, we follow three generations of protagonists that culminates in a final cataclysm. Those are some pretty big stakes.

Within modern poetry it can often be difficult for us to find work that gets beyond the street corner. This is not to say that the street corner is not a part of the epic, but we're also talking about an inability to see the forest for the trees. The line from Casablanca comes to mind: "The problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world."

For Lao American speculative poets, my charge would then be: Think bigger. Dream bigger. Otherwise, we cave into an internalized oppression that says our works cannot be more than those of a self-absorbed, tiny, petty people who can speak of nothing tectonic, nothing that transforms worlds. Yet, as I've often noted, Laos is a nation the size of the United Kingdom, and once, Britain was a significant force in the affairs of the world.

What might we add to the greater dialogues for the ages yet to come?

[Poem] Insomniacafe

If God with his hundred sacred names
must caper about
like a young child full of infinity
hiding among a blade of field grass,
grey cathedral cornerstones
or the wizened hands of a stranger in Calcutta
overcome with kindness
in a cosmic game
of peek-a-boo,
how can he hold a grudge
against those honest enough to say
"I don't know if I've really seen him lately?"

Lording over a cup of cappuccino
like an Italian monk on watch at midnight,
I wonder briefly if the faithful will have to sit
in a corner of paradise for a while
for perjury.

With another sip,
eyes wide as Daruma
or some crazed cartoon cat,
I wonder if I'll ever get to sleep this way...

From BARROW, 2009

February 23rd is generally considered the first publication date of the Gutenberg Bible. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lao American counterpart to the National Student Poets Program?

The President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services have partnered with the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers to launch the National Student Poets Program (NSPP), the country's highest honor for youth poets presenting original work.

What would it mean for the Lao American community or other Lao communities in diaspora to develop a similar program? There are many elements to it that would be intriguing to implement that could have significant long-term benefits for us in the future.

In the US version of the program, they are seeking 5 "outstanding high school poets whose work exhibits exceptional creativity, dedication to craft, and promise will be selected annually for a year of service as national poetry ambassadors."

National Student Poets will be chosen from among the national medalists in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards by a jury of literary luminaries and leaders in education and the arts.

Student Poets will receive college scholarships and opportunities to present their work at writing and poetry events, and will be featured at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC, in cooperation with the Library of Congress. Awards will be presented in September 2012. Each National Student Poet will receive an academic award of $5,000 and an acknowledgement of their accomplishment. It is anticipated that these young poets will work with poet mentors and serve as a resource for the U.S. Department of Education and the Library of Congress during their one-year tenure.

During their year of service, the National Student Poets will promote the appreciation of poetry and the importance of creative expression through readings and workshops at libraries, museums and schools in communities in the five different regions represented by the awardees. The National Student Poets will be announced next summer and introduced at the Library of Congress’s National Book Festival in Washington, DC in September 2012.

For Lao Americans, we too could certainly use at least 5 outstanding emerging Lao American poets in our community who would serve as literary and cultural ambassadors in their region. It would be important to have an ongoing commitment to these writers and to have some sense of how we might encourage them to be bold and experimental, excellent in craft but also innovative. And were the program to become popular enough, how might we continue to reach out and meet the needs of younger Lao American poets and writers?

Hugo Ball, Dada and Lao American poetics?

"The war is founded on a glaring mistake, men have been confused with machines." 
-Hugo Ball, commenting upon World War I and the invasion of Belgium.

 The work of Hugo Ball is connected with the Dada movement, which was outlined significantly in the Dada Manifesto of 1916. Nearly 100 years later, there are still many possibilities within Dada as well as Fluxus, which is particularly interested in the concept of Intermedia.

The Lao American writer Saymoukda Vongsay, I and the Lao American painter Mali Kouanchao have in particular worked frequently with Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis, as have many other Lao American projects of the 2000s. Dick Higgins of the Fluxus movement considered Intermedia as "the tendency of the most interesting and best in the new art to cross the boundaries of recognized media or even to fuse the boundaries of art with media that had not previously been considered for art forms, including computers." How much of this would have been possible without the groundwork laid out by Hugo Ball and the Dadaists?

One description considered Dada "the groundwork to abstract art and sound poetry, a starting point for performance art, a prelude to postmodernism, an influence on pop art, a celebration of antiart to be later embraced for anarcho-political uses in the 1960s and the movement that lay the foundation for Surrealism." 

Hugo Ball was the inspiration for the classic Talking Heads song I Zimbra with his poem "Gadji beri bimba." He is also well known for the poem "Karawane," which explored the potential of an irrational, chaotic language to yet still create an artistic experience, an almost primal or futuristic language that evokes even as it has no direct or deliberate meaning.

At one point, discussing Dada, Ball said "For us, art is not an end in itself ... but it is an opportunity for the true perception and criticism of the times we live in."

Many examples of Lao American poetics and art can definitely be seen as an effort to explore the questions asked by Ball and the others, although it remains unclear at the moment how much of this was by conscious choice and how much emerged from the subconscious influence (if any) of the Dadaists or those who rejected the Dada approach. I suppose the Dada response would be "Does it matter?"

As a young artist in the Rudolf Steiner school in Ann Arbor, I recall first hearing the mention of Dada and something of a brief explanation of it. The name of the movement would come up repeatedly throughout my formative years although it often felt like the majority of the artists I was meeting considered it a dead end.

Among the Lao Americans, I don't know if Dada is explained well by mainstream teachers, let alone encouraged. The bigger trend seems to be to find a way to understand one's artistic position in relation to hip-hop these days. But this is not necessarily a conflict with Dada or Fluxus principles, such as they are.

Naturally, I think there can be some intriguing intersections when one considers Dada's relationship to protest and rejection of the 'rationality' and 'logic' that led to global conflicts and oppression.

In the Dada manifesto, Ball points out "A line of poetry is a chance to get rid of all the filth that clings to this accursed language, as if put there by stockbrokers' hands, hands worn smooth by coins."

This is in line with the work I'd been doing within BARROW and On The Other Side Of The Eye, as we explore the possibilities of a new Lao American vernacular.

Ball concluded the manifesto with "Each thing has its word, but the word has become a thing by itself. Why shouldn't I find it? Why can't a tree be called Pluplusch, and Pluplubasch when it has been raining? The word, the word, the word outside your domain, your stuffiness, this laughable impotence, your stupendous smugness, outside all the parrotry of your self-evident limitedness. The word, gentlemen, is a public concern of the first importance."

Bearing this in mind with Wittengenstein's aphorism "The limits of my language are the limits of my world," I would say this search for meaning, for exploration are at the heart of BARROW and it would be hard not to read it as an intermedia text with roots in speculative poetry, Laoglish, and the Dada and Fluxus movements. It is all of these things, some of these things, none of these things.

I would hope readers don't always encounter BARROW reading it as a documentation of an artful moment but see the book and its different aspects as the art itself. There's a fine difference to note here.

It will remain a challenge for arts educators working with Lao American students because there is a tendency to push towards mainstream art or else, when encountering Lao art to encourage Lao traditional art, not recognizing the inherent trend within Lao art to encourage individual expression even within formal images. Lao aesthetics are not concerned with 'the uniform,' by and large. There are patterns and themes, but diversity has almost always been encouraged as part of the core of the Lao aesthetic experience.

Because so many of our artists are also involved in community building, there are, perhaps rightfully so, concerns about what would happen if a more overtly dadaist influence emerged while building a community.

Certainly, one cannot help but worry what a set of by-laws that are also an homage to "Karawane" might produce, but then again, given what's happened to date in our Lao American community leaders' efforts to make pseudo-white cogs that perpetuate ineffective and ethically dubious systems of governance, commerce and expression, I can't help but think: It can't be worse than many of the systems we have today.

But what do you think?

[Poem] Tiger Penned At Kouangsi Falls

roars like an orphan
         her dreams flooded with running water
ambles her cool square
ready to ambush giant grasshoppers
who rub their legs to smile

at night, she’s just shadow
and a dying pyre.

above, a mango hangs his head,
an impotent heart filled with murder.

From On The Other Side Of The Eye, 2007

February 22nd is the birthday of Hugo Ball, a founder of DaDa.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

[Poem] Loom

Build a frame for tapestries,
Rouse we, these hands of stories,
These eyes for the hidden gazing!

A loom in silence? Nothing comes.
A loom alive, might bring a bolt,
A suit, a sin, a magic carpet for some.

Arachne, Ariadne, Aladdin, Inktomi, Anansi.
Each laughs, bound in their own way.
Some to vanity, to wit, to beauty,
Like fierce Circe among her swine
And incantations,

Challenging our shouldered world to be
Not practical banality but labyrinthine,
From BARROW, 2009

On February 21, 1842, John Greenough gained the first U.S. patent for a sewing machine

Anais Nin and a certain kind of death.

“Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.”
- Anais Nin, born on February 21, 1903.

Monday, February 20, 2012

[Poem] Lady Xoc

Jesus marimba, lady, your noble rite
Leaves me with nightmares.
Jack the Ripper and Doctor Lecter
Have nothing on your offers
Of paper, blood and flame
From your well-traveled tongue.

The taste of midnight thorns from
Fragrant Yaxchilan shrubbery
Are regal semaphore flags 
Fluttering for the coldest heavens.

Shield Jaguar with his raging torch covertly 
Averts his stony gaze from 
The barbed stingray tail dangling within 
Your delicate hands, struggling not to wince.

"It is the smoke," he mutters.
To blanch: Unbecoming of a warrior king.

My department says I’m an ethnocentric brute 
Who understands nothing
Of the demands of power among the Maya.

My American judgments have no place
Amid your holy incantations, and I will be
Ostracized like Socrates for suggesting 

Our First Ladies should be grateful 
Things turned out this way
And not the other.

From BARROW, 2009
February 20th is Presidents' Day

Sunday, February 19, 2012

[Poem] Song For A Sansei

I remember her story

Of a white life

That took some getting used to.

White family. White holidays. White food:
Codfish, cauliflower, vanilla pudding, potatoes and
Gravy, poultry, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

A life of snow in which
I, too, find the mirror of I Am

Not necessarily followed by "made of,"
Perhaps simply "Among, with love,"
That you can’t help in a world like this

I’d meditate more on her graying words
But the jazz-soaked bartender at the edge of this dark room
Is reminding me

We only get 5 minutes each
To talk about our own yellow lifetimes.

From Japonisme, Laoisme and Other Poems, 2012

On February 19th, 1976, President Ford's  Proclamation 4417 rescinded Executive Order 9066 for the relocation of Japanese Americans to internment camps during World War II.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Borges on Time

"And yet, and yet. . . Denying temporal succession, denying the self, denying the astronomical universe, are apparent desperations and secret consolations. Our destiny is not frightful by being unreal; it is frightful because it is irreversible and iron-clad. Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire. The world, unfortunately, is real; I, unfortunately, am Borges."

Essay: "A New Refutation of Time," 1946 

It remains true, as much as such things ever remain true.

[Poem] Anger

Coiling within, this? Not the face I would show you.
The roar beneath wires, the roar hushed by white noise
Blanketing the land.

Shadows, night's exiles: "Go fugitive in the streets."

Skylines punctuate sentences of geography with
Incessant luminescence.
Our world is aglow. There is no time
When all of the citizens of our city
Are asleep at once anymore.
I learned to despise without passion.
I rear up, a dragon.
I open my jaw, a tiger defending the last hour men drink.

I cleave open the heart of my lovers that I may rest in them,
Nestled against the storm.
My dispositions:
Codified response, taking flight through banks
Of predictable information for the sake of cool conformity,
Instead of soaring

Across landscapes wired solely by
Rivers and the silence.  

From BARROW, 2009 

On February 17th, 1933, the Blaine Act ended Prohibition.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Steampunk Opium Wars at the National Maritime Museum

Madam Miaow's The Steampunk Opium Wars at the National Maritime Museum: A satirical extravaganza about China, Britain, imperialism and drugs in the 19th century in verse & music. See narco-capitalists & Chinese lawmakers slug it out, take part in a poetry slam, and watch the weirdest tea ceremony ever.

Of course, now I have to wonder what the Lao Steampunk response would be like.

[Poem] A Vision of Invasion

Someday I expect
Egypt will launch

A surprise attack
And pry the hands off Big Ben.

Whisk away the antenna of the Eiffel Tower
And carry off the rubble of the House of Commons.

Students of archaeology will travel from far abroad
To witness a history reclaimed and preserved

Beneath an unflinching sun
While Euromania sweeps the country

And bad copies of Spice Girl photos are sold to decorate tacky homes.
Oh, what do you care, poet?

They don’t even bother trying to preserve your heart.
My poems must serve as my canopic jars.
from BARROW, 2009

On February 16th, 1923, Howard Carter unsealed the tomb of Tutankhamen in Egypt.

Ishmael Reed and the purpose of a book

In his novel Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down, Ishmael Reed wrote: "No one says a novel has to be one thing. It can be anything it wants to be, a vaudeville show, the six o'clock news, the mumblings of wild men saddled by demons."

Reed is a poet, novelist, and essayist whose work has often been concerned with the neglected and underrepresented. He's also the author of one of the finer horror poems of the 20th century: "Beware: Do Not Read This Poem," well worth finding online or even better, in a book, when you can.

"Beware: Do Not Read This Poem," written in 1969, has been cited as one of the approximately 20 poems educators have identified as the most frequently studied in literature courses.

In 1998, during an interview he stated "I've probably been more influenced by poets than by novelists — the Harlem Renaissance poets, the Beat poets, the American surrealist Ted Joans. Poets have to be more attuned to originality, coming up with lines and associations the ordinary prose writer wouldn't think of."

As a poet, I can appreciate that assessment.

Looking at BARROW, I can see how not just a novel, but even a book of poetry has a tendency to become anything it wants to be. The best of books are given the freedom to breathe and become, they don't come forth as a product of pure will. There's a wilder element to a true book that bucks and chafes and takes not just the reader but the author in directions less planned. A writer should be prepared for that.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Lao American Blogosphere

I don't write in a vacuum.

One of the best parts of being a Lao American writer comes from some great interaction with other writers and artists  across the country, especially a network of Lao and Lao American bloggers who frequently give me some really great things to consider.

This week, I'm highlighting a few of those colleagues running around on the blogosphere:

Little Laos On The Prairie: is a fairly new blog but it's already showing promise as a voice for over 20,000 Lao Minnesotans. Once in a while I do a guest post over there, particularly a Lao American Haiku of the Week.

Lao Cook: A blog by Lao-Spaniard Viengphranom Senathit featuring some amazing recipes and a great perspective on the Lao experience in other countries.

One of the Fulbright Fantastic Four Laos-ETAs: a blog by a Fulbright scholar's experiences in Laos as an ETA, including some recent poetry that emerged from their experience.

I Eat Padek a fairly topical blog with regular updates and some good commentary and questions. One to watch.

Refugenius: is the blog of Lao American spoken word artist Saymoukda Vongsay, although it's been a little while since she's updated her blog.

Chantalism: the blog of Chantala Kommanivanh, a Midwest-based Lao American artist and writer.

50% Falang: Austin Outhavong's blog. The author of 50% Falang, currently based in Tennessee.

Crinkly: by Khonnie L. is a quirky tumblr based in Sacramento.

Yellow Rage: is the blog for Catzie Vilayphonh and Michelle Meyers of the spoken word duo, Yellow Rage.

Refugee Nation: It hasn't been updated in a while, but it is the official home for the Refugee Nation play presented by Ova Saopeng, Leilani Chan and Lidet Viravong.

Photo from Village Science

Village Science: Based up in Luang Prabang, they're teaching science principles to Lao villagers. We expect some awesome things will come out of this over time. Hopefully they'll post some more regular blog posts in the week ahead.

Than Toot Karen: is a great blog by the US Ambassador to Laos that is highlighting some great and interesting projects going on out there.

But who are some of the other Lao bloggers you enjoy following?

[Poem] Tetragrammaton

Among the monotheists: We are children of the Word,
From the very first second in which light came to Be,
Before a witness was, a single eye blinked.

A mystic in New York will tell you:
He believes in the 72-syllable secret name of God,
Even more than the genome we spent half his lifetime collating.

"God is certain, chemicals are not," he says confidently,
His shallow face lit by a thin scented candle from India,
His great wall of used books behind him filled with unread passages.

In September in the basement of Qwest's center:
Young Khadra confirms for me
She knows all of the sacred names of Allah and still believes

As our world crashes.
Her faith, unfashionable, my words, so small.

We, laid off in October:
Barely warning or fanfare
While Russians remember
Their Great Revolution for Red Square.

Only a handful still revere the State's blushing face
Twisting on giant banners in the cold Muscovite wind.

"My name means 'Green'" Khadra says, waiting for our bus one last time.
"And it's true, I come from a nation of poets. Is yours such a place?"

I do not know how to reply, distracted. Thinking
How hard it was, to imagine

That single perfect word by which a universe might be made,

Watching a nearby wild flower and a monarch butterfly
Who both seem so free without these questions:
Destined to die with the first winter frost

But still enjoying their time together.

from BARROW, 2009

On  February 15, 20001, NATURE printed the first draft of the complete human genome.

Gabriel Celaya on poetry and opinions

In his poem "La Poesia Es Un Arma Cargada De Futuro" Spanish poet Gabriel Celaya wrote: "Maldigo la poesía concebida como un lujo cultural por los neutrales que, lavándose las manos, se desentienden y evaden. Maldigo la poesía de quien no toma partido hasta mancharse."

Or: "I detest the kind of poetry which is nothing but an intellectual pastime for the middle-of-the-roaders, who wash their hands and splits hairs to evade the issues. I detest poetry written by those do not take sides, do not commit themselves for the fear the dirt might stick."

To put him into context, Rafael Gabriel Múgica Celaya was born in 1911 in Hernani, Guipúzcoa. He would become a member of the Student Residence in Madrid. After his studies were completed in 1935 he returned home and published his first book while helping his with his family's business. He and his wife Amparo Gaston funded the poetry collection 'Norte' shortly after the end of World War II in 1947.

Around 1956, Celaya began to dedicate himself full-time to writing, leaving behind a career as an engineer. He went on to become a strong critic of the Franco regime. His career as a poet was rewarded in 1986 with the National Spanish Literature Prize. In 1991, he passed away in Madrid. But we rarely see him discussed in the US.

I first ran into his quote as the opening to You Better Believe It: Black Verse in English a 1973 anthology edited by Paul Breman.

As a poet, I would concur with Celaya's condemnation of gutless poetry. Although Ezra Pound notably writes "poetry is news that stays news," Celaya is also correct that poetry should take a stance. It should have a position and not be afraid to present something another will question and should question. I've done this the most overtly in poems such as "five fragments," "Anthology," "Oni," "Hunting the Asian American Male," and "Khop Jai For Nothing, Farangs." Saymoukda Vongsay and Catzie Vilayphonh do this frequently in their work as Lao American poets and spoken word artists, as does Guante.

As Bei Dao and the Misty Poets demonstrate, sometimes, by necessity, our opinions will be veiled, but that does not mean the position has not been taken. The poem should have a position, but it should never be artless in presenting that position. It must still abide by the variform rules of poetry. And we should always remember, at the end of the day it is souls talking to souls.

If we cannot say something meaningful within a few words, why should we be given many to speak? I feel a good poet trusts their audience can discover an opinion and form one of their own, even one in disagreement with the poet.

But what do you think?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

[Poem] Kawaii

Mad master Muramasa at his forge
Made blades to bite the Tokugawas
From beyond the grave
Before poor Ieyasu was born.

“What a spirit it took!” I said at my desk.

Alas, in contrast,
my pencil can not kiss you
in even this brief lifetime.
from Japonisme, Laoisme, 2012

How (Not?) to Read Poetry

Cleveland Poetics recently pointed out a great video on How (Not?) to Read Poetry.

Orwell famously points out that "a poetry reading can be a grisly thing." This is a good illustration of how not to do a reading.

Obviously, beyond having a good poem to read, I think there should be some life to the process, clarity, variance of tone, rhythm, and musicality in your delivery, and good visual expression. Keep the performance engaging, and freak your audience out in the right way, when you must.

Some debate the movement of the poet, but I'd argue that becoming the static pillar hardly has any interest for those of us in a live audience.

At the end of the day, give them something to talk about. It's best if it's the poem and the poet, but if it comes down to an either/or, I would argue they should walk away thinking about the poem, foremost.

But what do you think?

[Poem] A Thousand Smiles

What is beautiful if not unique?
Wisdom without kindness?
Life, free of true challenge?
May as well seek dreams without change,

        Poems without language.

Her stride awakes our stories.
Her smile,
Her breath,
Dawn at the edge of Nam Ou,

Returns our hearts to our limitless nations within us.

From Tanon Sai Jai, 2009

Monday, February 13, 2012

Poet highlight: Claude McKay

This week, the Academy of American Poets is highlighting Claude McKay.

My favorite poems of his is "If We Must Die," which informed a few of the poems from my book BARROW. But he has many others well worth seeking out.

As the Academy points out, "Claude McKay was born in Jamaica, West Indies, in 1889. He was educated by his older brother, who possessed a library of English novels, poetry, and scientific texts. At the age of twenty, McKay published a book of verse called Songs of Jamaica, recording his impressions of black life in Jamaica in dialect."

This is one of the things I would hope younger poets remember and appreciate about McKay's work. Today it's relatively common to see it, but in the past it was a deeply controversial move. Even as I incorporate Laoglish into my work, or others use Spanglish, pidgin or other forms of non-standard English, poets like McKay and others did much to lay the groundwork for this technique, often to much early criticism. But through this technique, McKay and others broadened English and moved it away from being a self-constricting language and expanded the artful possibilities within it.

I'm not always enamored by his rhymes, but he was consistently working with some wonderful images and ideas. One of my favorite quotes of his is "If a man is not faithful to his own individuality, he cannot be loyal to anything."

Keep this in mind as you take on your own journeys as artists, as thinkers, as human beings.

Innsmouth Magazine #9 now available

The ninth issue of the Innsmouth Magazine is online:

Six stories are featured this issue: “The Grey Cairns”, which is set in a shadowy, 19th-century Scotland. “The Wouri Horror” functions almost as its complete opposite, taking place in near-future Africa with a dash of sci-fi. “Five Houses on the Shore” also takes place in Africa, though it’s a very different Africa from the one envisioned by “Wouri”. “The Divers” moves the action to Singapore, where pearl divers discover the secrets hiding beneath the waves. “Full Moon” uses an abandoned observatory near Slovakia as a creepy backdrop for some even-creepier happenings. Finally, “A Man of Letters” provides us with the ultimate fiction review.

So, all in all, a great range of short stories. I think they could use some more poetry for their pages, but all in good time. Be sure to check out the issue!

[Poem] Maggots

Chew their meals with
Draughts of iron and salt.

They know they hunger,

These mechanics,
These instruments of turning

With their quiet arias of change,
Their inventive waltzes
For raw lacerations.

Live flesh is spared their deliberate groping.

They only have bellies for the dead.

A shaved monk dreads samsara,
The eternal return.

A young boy saves
Coins for a bicycle.

Many mothers understand all of these routines,
Circumambulating their prams before nursing.

From On the Other Side of the Eye, 2007

The trouble with flies...

Paisley Rekdal's "Intimacy"

Just in time for Valentine's Day, I recently came across Paisley Rekdal's "Intimacy," which raises some interesting questions about what we can and can't consider speculative poetry.

As a quick background, Paisley Rekdal grew up in Seattle, Washington. She is the daughter of a Chinese American mother and a Norwegian father.

Rekdal is the author of a book of essays, THE NIGHT MY MOTHER MET BRUCE LEE (Pantheon, October 2000 and Vintage Books, April 2002), and three books of poetry, A CRASH OF RHINOS (University of Georgia Press, October 2000), SIX GIRLS WITHOUT PANTS (Eastern Washington University Press, November 2002) and THE INVENTION OF THE KALEIDOSCOPE (University of Pittsburgh Press/Pitt Poetry Series, April 2007).

Later this year, she'll be releasing INTIMATE, a hybrid photo-text memoir that combines poems, nonfiction, and fiction with photography, is forthcoming from Tupelo Press in April 2012. The award-winning author also has another collection of poems, ANIMAL EYE, is forthcoming from Pitt in February 2012.

Among her accolades are a Village Voice Writers on the Verge Award, an NEA Fellowship, the University of Georgia Press' Contemporary Poetry Series Award, a Fulbright Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize, and the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Fellowship.

"Intimacy" is a poem with a lively, conversational energy to it. It reads well aloud, and can be read to interesting effect next to poems such as Komunyakaa's "Ode to the Maggot," the work of Souvankham Thammavongsa in Small Arguments or my own  poem "Maggots" to demonstrate how writers find the poetry within unsettling subjects.

In our continuing discussion of what could be considered speculative poetry, this is one I consider an interesting case. It has a clear nod towards speculative literature, opening up with a recap of the Jeff Goldblum remake of The Fly by David Cronenberg.

Ordinarily, a reference to a science fiction film may not be enough to justify classification as a speculative poem. But, with "Intimacy" the film is used to set the first framing image, and create a lurking background that empowers the horror and unease of the rest of the poem. When read properly, this is clearly NOT a throwaway reference but an essential element necessary to carry us to the intended power of the concluding lines "Darling, what I love in you I pray will always stay/ the hell away from me."

I think we can give it latitude for consideration because of this.

As always, in speculative poetry, I think things have to go case by case. It's not necessarily a binary distinction of either/or but degrees of speculative elements within them that we are obliged to consider.

Be sure to check her work out and consider it for yourself.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

[Poem] Notes Regarding The Living Heart

A single seed can turn into a forest.
A single heart can transform a nation.
To be brave is jai ka.
To be generous is jai kwan.
To test the body, climb a mountain.
To test the soul, meet another.
To find happiness, meet as strangers,
But don't stay that way.
With a sabaidee, greet the days, one by one.
With a khop jai and a smile, do what you can
To change worlds, even one inch, one hand at a time.

That is the path of the jai,
Human and forever growing.
from Tanon Sai Jai, 2009

Strange Horizons seeks Fiction Editor

Strange Horizons is staffed entirely by unpaid volunteers, and that while staff members sometimes contribute nonfiction to the magazine, they do not receive payment for it.

Strange Horizons is currently looking for fiction editors. These are editor positions, not first-reader positions; the new editors will be part of the team that decides what fiction Strange Horizons publishes, among other responsibilities.

They're looking for "people who love short fiction, who are passionate about speculative literature, and who believe that there are a wide range of voices in our field that deserve to be heard. Prior editorial experience is nice, but not a requirement." If you're interested in applying, go to:

Friday, February 10, 2012

Lao Buddha of the Day: 18th Century (1700-1799)

Because they're so rarely seen, or else seen among Buddha statues from other cultures, a lot of Lao and non-Lao have trouble seeing the distinctive styles characteristic of authentic Lao / Lan Xang representations of the Buddha. Hopefully, this will help provide a start for a reference point and encourage both scholarship and innovation in the way Lao artists depict the Buddha in coming years ahead.

In your textbooks

Over the years I've found myself being cited in a number of papers, dissertations and textbooks but only a few copies ever seem to get sent to me. Just the same, here are some of the ones more widely available to the public:

Emerging Voices: Experiences of Underrepresented Asian Americans by Huping Ling, 2008

Culture and Customs of Laos (Culture and Customs of Asia) by Arne Kislenko, 2009

Culture and Customs of the Hmong (Culture and Customs of Asia) by Gary Yia Lee and Nicholas Tapp, 2010

Journal of Asian American studies, Volumes 11-12, Association for Asian American Studies, August 13, 2010
"So There It Is": An Exploration of Cultural Hybridity in Contemporary Asian American Poetry (Cross/Cultures) by Brigitte Wallinger-Schorn (Nov 30, 2011)

Multicultural America: An Encyclopedia of the Newest Americans by Ronald H. Bayor, July, 2011

Doing Literature: The Wife of Bath

Remeber, this Saturday, February 11th, 2012 from 10:00 am to 11:30 am, we are hosting the ongoing "Doing Literature" discussion group will meet at the Hemet Public Library at 300 East Latham Avenue in Hemet, California.

This month's book is Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, specifically "The Wife of Bath's Tale," although readers are invited to discuss any of Chaucer's classic stories during the discussion. On March 10th, the group will be discussing "A Man For All Seasons," a play by Richard Bolt on the life of Sir Thomas More.

The discussion group is free to attend.

 "The Wife of Bath's Tale" is among the best-known of the Canterbury Tales, and is typically remarked upon for the how well-developed the character is compared to many of the others in the book. This particular tale is important for the insight it is believed to give about women's roles of the the Late Middle Ages.

 The story centers on a knight who has been condemned to death for a heinous crime, but who will get a reprieve if he can answer the Queen's riddle, 'What is the thing that most women desire.' He is given a year to find the answer, but everyone he asks gives him a conflicting answer, until an old woman offers to supply him the correct answer, in exchange for a payment later. And as so many of these stories go, there's a bit of a catch to that...

 Join us, if you can!

Family Style Open Mic in Philadelphia, Spring 2012

Hosted by spoken word duo Yellow Rage (Michelle Myers & Catzie Vilayphonh), Asian Arts Initiative's monthly open mic series invites the sharing of stories, song, dance, poetry among Asian Americans and extended "family" from all communities and cultures.

This season's open mic dates features some amazing performers this season. Don't forget to come early for the popular pre-show reception with food generously donated by local restaurants. The pre-show reception is FREE for all open mic guests! Want to take the stage? Sign up in advance for a 5-minute open mic spot! Please sign up at least 2 days in advance of the event if you wish to receive confirmation of your open mic spot.

Family Style Open Mic
Third Fridays of the month
 Asian Arts Initiative
1219 Vine Street
General Admission*: $5-10 Sliding Scale

Larry Hama, a veteran comic book writer and artist as well as an actor and musician. Hama is best known for his work for Marvel Comics's G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero series. He has also written for the series Wolverine, Nth Man: the Ultimate Ninja, and Elektra. He created the character Bucky O'Hare, which was developed into a comic book, a toy line and television cartoon. Larry will share his insiders view of the comics industry, discuss his experiences working on comics such as Marvel's G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero series and give us his uncensored take on the state of comics today

Dakshina / Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company is a leading DC-based company with trademark programming featuring Bharata Natyam (classical Indian dance), and Modern dance side-by-side. The company combines the arts with social justice issues both by incorporating the themes into our work and via partnerships with local community centers and schools. As part of a weeklong residency in Philadelphia, hosted by Asian Arts Initiative, Dakshina will treat the Family Style audience to a preview of their feature length matinee performance on Saturday March 17 at Haverford College's Marshall Auditorium in Roberts Hall. Stay tuned for more information about this FREE performance!

Mystery Guest in April!

Robert Karimi is an interdisciplinary playwright, multimedia humorist, activist, and poet and the artistic director of kaotic good productions. A San Francisco Bay Area native and son of Iranian and Guatemalan parents, Karimi's work has been featured from Alaska to Australia. A National Poetry Slam Champion, and Def Poetry Jam performer, his works include self (the remix), The Cooking Show con Karimi y Comrades, Shaving time, and the Approximate Value of a Foot Bubbler. Karimi's awards include a National Poetry Slam Championship, an Alliance of Artists' Communities Midwestern Voices & Visions Award, a Verve Spoken Word Grant, and a Kohler Arts/Industry residency.

For more information: visit

Little Laos on the Prairie and Miss Minnesota

Little Laos on the Prairie features a new interview with Miss Minnesota 2012, Nitaya Panemalaythong. The first Lao Miss Minnesota, Panemalaythong is also the first Asian American to hold the title. Check it out. With her victory in a mainstream competition, it has lead to some great and constructive discussions in the community on what is beautiful, what constitutes good character, and what does it mean to be a role model. She competes for Miss USA in the summer. Good luck!

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

2012 Magazine markets for Lao American speculative literature

For Lao American writers seeking places to submit science fiction, fantasy, horror and other stories, reviews and poems to, consider some of the following magazines. Some pay, some do not. Naturally, of those who do pay, some pay well, and others barely provide enough for a cup of cyber-coffee and bus ride home.

But all of the ones listed below are still currently or will be accepting writing in the future.  Some may be more receptive to stories that have overtly Lao or Southeast Asian American elements to them, but this is the sort of thing one finds out only by applying.

Remember, do your research and read a few issues ahead of time to get a feeling for whether or not your work would be a good fit with them. Don't send science fiction splatterpunk short stories to a journal that only accepts fantasy poetry, for example.

As always, caveat scriptor. Most have been vetted for reliability and good terms regarding their publishing rights and professionalism, but one should do their research on other writers experiences with them when you can. Most of these journals should provide interesting opportunities and good homes for many of your works.

Good luck!
  1. 365 Tomorrows  
  2. Albedo
  3. Allegory  
  4. Analog  
  5. Andromeda Spaceways  
  6. AntipodeanSF  
  7. Aoife's Kiss  
  8. Apex
  9. Aphelion  
  10. Asimovs  
  11. Aurealis  
  12. Bewildering Stories  
  13. Big Pulp  
  14. Brain Harvest  
  15. Chizine  
  16. Digital Dragon Magazine   /  
  17. Electriic Velocipede  
  18. Emg-Zine  
  19. Everyday Weirdness  
  20. Expanded Horizons
  21. Fabulist  
  22. Fantasy and Science Fiction  
  23. FlashShot  
  24. Future Fire  
  25. Goblin Fruit
  26. Grantville Gazette  
  27. Ideomacer  
  28. Indian Science Fiction & Fantasy  
  29. Innsmouth Free Press
  30. Jupiter Science Fiction  
  31. Kaleidotrope  
  32. Kissed by Venus  
  33. Leading Edge Magazine  
  34. Lightspeed Magazine
  35. Locus Magazine    
  36. Luna Cat  
  37. M-Brand SF  
  38. Morpheus Tales  
  39. Neo-Opsis  
  40. New Bedlam  
  41. On Spec  
  42. Pigasus  
  43. Polu Texni  
  44. Polyphony  
  45. Presto Strange-O  
  46. Quantum Muse  
  47. Raven Electrick  
  48. Raygun Revival  
  49. Reflections Edge / 
  50. Residential Aliens  
  51. Revolution Science Fiction  
  52. Scifi Space  
  53. SF Reviews  
  54. SFrevu  
  55. SF Worlds  
  56. Shimmer  
  57. Silver Thought  
  58. Some Fantastic  
  59. Space and Time  
  60. Space Squid  
  61. Starburst  
  62. Strange Horizons  
  63. Surprising Stories   
  64. Tales of the Unanticipated  
  65. Tangent Online  
  66. Ticonderoga  
  67. Tiny Globule
  68. Titles Goes Here  
  69. TTA  
  70. Vestal Review  
  71. Zone   
If you have additional journals to suggest, please let us know!

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Online Interviews

I recently received a few requests from students asking if there are any interviews online where I talk about my work. Here are a few that might be good to start with.

One of the more recent interviews I did was with Land of a Gazillion Adoptees on June 29, 2011. 

Asianweek has a 2009 article about my work as a Laotian American poet, written just shortly after I received an NEA Fellowship in Literature. Hyphen Magazine also has a brief article on the news of my fellowship and why it meant so much to me and my community. Britt Aamodt wrote an article for MNArtists.Org called "Hard Rhymes"  that provides a good overview of some of the challenges

Altra Magazine did a brief interview with me in 2009. Catzie Vilayphonh did an interview with me for 2.1.5. Magazine in 2009.

2009 was also a year that I was interviewed for Tales of the Unanticipated that included a discussion of my work with speculative poetry. The link only includes an excerpt of the interview but it provides a start.

Over the years there have been other good interviews, but unfortunately many are harder to find. There was a 2008 interview in the now defunct Lao Roots Magazine by April Phomtavong, but that issue is very hard to find now, and it is not archived online. There were also interviews with the Saline Reporter and Boston Progress Radio that are also currently offline unfortunately. My advice for emerging writers would now include: Archive interviews when you can for your own personal collection.

In the meantime, if you have any questions, please feel free to write me and ask!

2012 Kundiman Prize Deadline: March 1st

The deadline for the 2012 Kundiman Prize is coming on March 1st.

The Kundiman Poetry Prize is dedicated to publishing exceptional work by Asian American poets.

The winner receives $1,000, book publication with Alice James Books and a New York City feature reading. Alice James Books is a cooperative poetry press with a mission is to seek out and publish the best contemporary poetry by both established and beginning poets, with particular emphasis on involving poets in the publishing process.

 In August 2004, Kundiman presented its inaugural Asian American Poetry Retreat at The University of Virginia. This annual retreat was created by poets Sarah Gambito and Joseph O. Legaspi. Through their own experiences as writing students and poets, both recognized the need for a nurturing and yet rigorous space for emerging Asian American poets: such a space would facilitate creation of new work, create mentoring relationships with established Asian American poets, and address challenges that uniquely affect Asian American poets.

 Kundiman sees poetry not only as vehicle for cultural expression but also as an instrument for political dialogue and self-empowerment. They recognize the need to create an Asian American poetic community, and, at the same time, engender a commitment among poets to give back to their own communities. You can learn more about them at

Be sure to check out the competition!

Asian American Speculative Poetry: Dance Dance Revolution

Based upon a central question, 'What happens after the revolution has been televised?' Cathy Park Hong's Dance Dance Revolution came out in 2007, around the same time as my book, On The Other Side Of The Eye.  It's not always the easiest text to get into for many students, but I think it's a rewarding venture and what many would call slipstream literature, and which I would say should be considered a volume of speculative poetry.

It's officially described as "The Guide" is a former South Korean dissident and tour guide who speaks a fluid fabricated language; "the Historian" interviews the Guide and annotates the commentaries. Cathy Park Hong's passionate and artful poem sequence weaves an ultimately revitalizing dialogue on shared experience in a globalized world, using language as subversion and disguise."

To me, it has always been hard not to call to mind the Cityspeak of Blade Runner, or the work of Barbara Jane Reyes in her books like Gravities of Center and Poeta en San Francisco, or Umberto Eco's polyglot in The Name of the Rose.

In Publisher's Weekly, it was hailed as: "part poetic sequence, part science fiction: in a future city called the Desert—a Vegas-like manmade tourist trap—a character called the Guide shows another, the Historian, the sights. The Guide has survived the historical Kwangju uprising, a 1980 massacre of students and other prodemocracy protesters by the American-backed South Korean dictatorship. The Guide's speeches—all in verse—turn repeatedly to her own life story, detailed in a superbly invented dialect, based on English but incorporating Spanish and Jamaican patois: "I'mma double migrant," the Guide says. "Ceded from Koryo [Korea], "ceded from/ Merikka." The "Dance Dance Revolution" the Guide has seen—described, vaguely, late (perhaps too late) in the book, and named for, but supposedly unrelated to, the popular video game—thus becomes "Kwangju Replayed," another failed attempt to destroy an undemocratic capitalist system. The Historian's own reflective autobiography, presented in a terse, melodic prose, brings in other examples of global horrors (Sierra Leonean amputees) as it mirrors a reader's own unease. Hong's earlier treatment of Korean-American themes in Translating Mo'um attracted some attention, but nothing could have predicted this admittedly flawed but highly original work: hard to excerpt, hard at times to decode, it's even harder to forget."

I would agree with much of that assessment.

To me, to enjoy it best, you definitely have to have some familiarity with a number of different languages and cultural practices, but I would also definitely say it could only have emerged from the Asian Americas. The way the language is used, the images you see the narrators focused on, how they process and organize it all. It's definitely a book to examine in studies of both Asian American literature but also speculative literature.

February 14th: Thao Worra Day 2012!

Continuing our annual tradition since 2007: We're rapidly approaching February 14th, and some of you don't like the Romantic Candy-Card Industrial Complex. So, preparing for this, I once again present the annual reminders of your options for alternate February 14th occasions to observe.

You can always celebrate these anniversaries:
1929: The St Valentines Day Massacre in Chicago.
1950: USSR and China sign peace treaty.
1963: First successful kidney transplant.

February 14th is also the birthday of:
1766: Thomas Malthus, the misanthropic British philosopher.
1817: Frederick Douglass, African-American abolitionist.
1819: Christopher Sholes, American inventor of the typewriter.

Once again, if none of these strike your fancy, I hereby endorse the continued celebration of Thao Worra Day.

Much as in the spirit of Festivus, the festival for the rest of us, you too may engage in the following activities to mark Thao Worra Day in good spirits and much amusement:
  • Send a nice note to someone you have just met or haven't talked to in a while.
  • Declare yourself Emperor of the World (or Empress) and see if anyone notices. But you have to give back everyone's stuff by the end of the day. Or before the cops come.
  • Treat yourself to a nice meal with someone you genuinely like, but in a completely non-romantic way. I totally approve.
  • Make sure all your electronic equipment is fully recharged, that it may go well for you.
  • Read a short poem out loud, even if no one is looking. No, it doesn't have to be one of mine.
  • Leave two chairs for me and my guest at your desk or table. For we may come by. But don't hold it against us if we don't. We do have a busy schedule, you know.
Though Thao Worra Day is not for everyone, it is free for all to choose and participate in. If you do so choose to mark it, let me know how it goes!

Lovecraftian Fungi Anthology Call for Submissions!


In advance of the publication of this anthology, They are assembling a fungal fiction spreadsheet. Do you know of any speculative stories, movies, TV shows, video games, or the like that feature fungi as an important plot element? Please tell them, they need your help!

The Fungi anthology will likely be released in October of 2012 as a hardcover, paperback and e-book. More information and many mushroom surprises coming up!

Innsmouth Free Press Annual Fundraiser!

One of my favorite journals, the Innsmouth Free Press is a micropress with a tiny budget. They're also the only Lovecraftian journal that consistently prints Lao American horror stories, speculative poetry and flash fiction, so they get a big thumbs up from me.

It's that time of year when they're doing their annual fundraiser. They survive thanks to sales from their books and donations. This year, They are hoping to raise $1500, which will cover their web hosting, artwork, stories, and "other sundry items." Any amount helps!

And this time around, they have some awesome books and giveaways for donors. So be sure to check them out at!

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Journal of the Day: Lantern Review

Today we're taking a look at one of the newer journals examining the writing of Asian Americans today.

The Lantern Review at aims to serve the literary community by providing a virtual space in which to promote and discuss the work of contemporary Asian American poets and artists. My experimental poem "Pen/Sword" will be appearing in an upcoming issue.

They seek to publish expertly crafted work in a variety of forms and aesthetics. They "welcome pieces from anglophone writers of all ethnic backgrounds whose work has a vested interest in issues relevant to the Asian diaspora in North America, as well as work created collaboratively in a community context."

They chose their name because to them, lanterns are "cross-cultural symbols of aesthetic beauty, hope, festivity, and enlightenment. They have historically been a feature ofcommunity celebrations, and are also linked with exploration, discovery, and the forging of new paths. By choosing a lantern as our emblem, we hope to reflect our desire that Lantern Review would help to shed light on the multifaceted, ever-evolving creature that is “Asian American poetry,” as well as to be a stage on which the question, “What is contemporary Asian American poetry and where is it headed?” can be played out."

Be sure to check them out.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

New poem up at Toe Good Poetry Journal

My poem 'Metropolis' appears for the very first time at Toe Good Poetry Journal including an  original audio recording.

Toe Good Poetry’s main goal is to publish poets who have shown dedication to their craft. They also seek to spotlight poets who hope to publish (or have just published) their first collection of poetry. As part of their mission, Toe Good Poetry intends to develop a literary community that enjoys our showcasing the vast variety in content and form of today’s poetry. They embrace diversity of races, genders, nationalities, religions, geographic locations, and shoe sizes.

The Toe Good Poetry journal supports the unknown and small press poets, and typically publishes one poet a week.

I extend my thanks to them for including my work, and encourage readers to look at other examples they have published in recent months. In Volume 1, for example, we saw the work of poets such as the speculative poet Kristine Ong Muslim, and Choctaw, Chickasaw, African American poet Asani Charles.

Their submission process is distinctive because they ask you to send a further 10-14 pages of your poetry. These additional pages will not be published, but will allow them to get an idea of your writing style, what you are doing as a poet, and how that differentiates you from others. Paraphrasing Stanley Kunitz, you need a poet’s entire body of work to fully understand their poetry. They will also be used for a review of your work. I think it's a great approach to consider.