Wednesday, November 27, 2013

DEMONSTRA: The Deep Ones, an overview

We're counting down the days until my new book DEMONSTRA starts shipping, clocking in at nearly 170 pages of Lao American speculative poetry from Innsmouth Free Press. So, as promised, one thing I'm doing until January 1st is discussing the different poems and their inspiration, including some of the images and sources that went into composing the poem.

"The Deep Ones" is one of my more frequently republished poems, first appearing in Illumen in 2007, and my book On The Other Side Of The Eye (Sam's Dot Publishing, 2007) in that same year. It was also included in two editions of Future Lovecraft from Innsmouth Free Press (2011) and Prime Books (2012).

I decided to include "The Deep Ones" in DEMONSTRA because it fits in thematically with the other poems, and because  On The Other Side Of The Eye is harder and harder to come by even on the reseller's market. I think it is a particular key to adding an extra dimesnion to some of the other poems in the collection, including "The Dream Highway of Ms. Mannivongsa."

 Interestingly, Asian American poet Beau Sia had a poem, "I'm So Deep," that made the rounds on Russel Simmons' Def Poetry Jam a few years back, but I hadn't run into it in the years leading up to "The Deep Ones," which I would say had been in development for a few years, most likely between 2004-2006, based on the notes I've found.

We can argue "The Deep Ones" has its foremost roots in the first time I read "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" and when I began playing the old Call of Cthulhu role-playing game. This would have been around 1987, because I'd started with Chaosium's 3rd edition (1986) and Del Rey's 1987 collection The Best of H. P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre.

Formally, H.P. Lovecraft described them in "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" by writing: 
"I think their predominant color was a greyish-green, though they had white bellies. They were mostly shiny and slippery, but the ridges of their backs were scaly. Their forms vaguely suggested the anthropoid, while their heads were the heads of fish, with prodigious bulging eyes that never closed. At the sides of their necks were palpitating gills, and their long paws were webbed. They hopped irregularly, sometimes on two legs and sometimes on four. I was somehow glad that they had no more than four limbs. Their croaking, baying voices, clearly used for articulate speech, held all the dark shades of expression which their staring faces lacked ... They were the blasphemous fish-frogs of the nameless design - living and horrible."
I've mentioned before that I have a particular dislike for frogs and toads, so the horror of these entities resonate with me. You can see one cinematic interpretation of the Deep Ones in Brian Yuzna and Stuart Gordon's Dagon. 

In some ways, "The Deep Ones" takes a big cue from my 2001-2002 short story, "The True Tale of Yer," which debuted in the Minnesota Historical Society's Bamboo Among the Oaks. The key device being inverting the antagonist to reconsider things from the perspective of The Other. It also has some influences from the poems I'd been writing like "Before Going Feral," inspired by H.G. Wells The Island of Dr. Moreau. 

The challenge with this and other poems in this vein is that I want to be true and consistent with the source material, while expanding our sense of it. At the same time I was intrigued to see if we could create a great poem where someone can come into it without any familiarity with the work of H.P. Lovecraft.

Would "The Deep Ones" in such a context simply be read as an abbreviated version of T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men"? In the writing process, I often considered Eliot's hoary line "We are the hollow men. We are the stuffed men. Leaning together. Headpiece filled with straw," which was alluded to in the climax to Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now.

Is there value in connecting the Lao experience to that of Lovecraft's fictional Deep Ones? Should we question this process? Many Americans and others have no conception of Laos yet. Arguably, there's no prevailing idiom or turn of phrase they can readily connect Lao to, the way they might connect communities like the Vietnamese to the term "Boat People" or the Cambodians to "The Killing Fields." It would be quite a stretch, considering the Deep Ones are fearsome oceanic beings, while Laotians come from a landlocked-nation. If someone seriously considered Lao the Deep Ones of Southeast Asia, well, I think there are other problems in place with thought ought to be dealt with. But for an idle thought exercise, I think it's an interesting argument, and hopefully will prod other Lao writers and artists to keep pushing the metaphors that might more aptly apply to our community.

At the heart of it all, I hope our language stretches, our imaginations take us to places we might not have previously thought we'd be, whether it's a Nak at the supermarket, a Lao on the moon, or a Deep One in a Vientiane guest house.

In the aftermath of our wars that left more Lao living outside of Laos than within it, I think, from an artist's perspective, we have more than enough impetus to say all bets are off, but who do we become, mingling with so many other cultures, so many other ways of being.

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