Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Profiled at the Poetry Foundation

Photo by Boon Vong

As a nice milestone today, I just became the very first Lao American poet to be featured on the Poetry Foundation website. It has been a long journey. One might argue well over 40 years of Lao in America. But the journey has let us learn many things, meet many people. As I noted elsewhere, I may not always be able to talk you about everyday life. But we can almost always talk of the world and art, and that is a grand point to meet.

Another point of interest connected to this: In Chicago, is the Poetry Foundation is exhibiting the handwritten versions of the poems from the Poetry Parnassus of the 2012 Olympics. There, you can see my handmade version of my poem "On A Stairway in Luang Prabang" that was part of the Olympics.

I hope my fellow Lao Americans see this not just as a personal victory, but a community victory, and that we recognize the value of our words and the things we can change from sharing our voices. That comes with responsibilities, but also infinite potential worth fighting for.

I have also now been included on their list of Asian American poets the Poetry Foundation presented earlier this month. In another post, I mentioned a number of Lao American poets who could also be included as significant and emerging voices in Lao American and world arts and letters. No one list will be completely comprehensive or complete, but it's impractical not to make an effort to start somewhere.

I have seen critiques that Asian American poetry can not be distilled into a list or manageable categories,  but I far more fear an environment where we do not make an effort to recognize individual and distinctive voices in our community.

For over six centuries, Lao culture has enjoyed a profound journey of over 160 ethnicities within our borders. Plurality and diversity and an amicable approach to life have been great hallmarks of our culture. The Lao have almost always held deep contempt for monolithic voices and uniformity. This has its disadvantages at times, but for every generation, learning to navigate that has been a journey that strengthens us rather than diminishing us. I would deeply hate to see that change.

Within the US, I particularly believe we are obliged to create and express ourselves to the limits of our imagination.

Five years ago, when I became the first Lao American to hold a fellowship in literature from the NEA, I wrote "I recognize those who gave so much around the world to bring us to this point. Some names we know, so many we do not. I thank those voices, those souls, and add my own to our collective story of freedom and dreamers. And to those who come upon these words of mine: Write. Create. Add your voice to this magnificent tale."

Those words still hold true.

Thank you all for your wonderful support over the years, and I hope we see this moment not as an end but another step in a journey that began long before us, one that will continue long after us.

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