Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Remembering Pom Outama Khampradith

As someone who worked with her frequently on her artistic and community building projects, and understood much of the significance and cultural context of her life's work, I received a number of requests for a write-up regarding Pom Outama Khampradith, who passed away earlier this week.

To make it clear, this is not an official biography, nor can one page ever fully capture a person's life or impact, particularly someone as well-lived as she was. But there are many of her friends who are understandably unsure where to even start, and it is my hope this humble note will give them some place to start.

Please accept my apologies ahead of time if there are any omissions or details you feel should be revised. I'll make corrections accordingly:

Pom Outama Khampradith (1970s-2014)

Pom Outama Khampradith was a key figure in the Lao cultural reconstruction after the wars of the 20th century.

Born Chittraphone Pom Outama in the early 1970s, she was the Director of the Lao Heritage Foundation (LHF) Pacific Northwest Chapter. She also held the position of Public/Community Relations at the national level, furthering LHF’s mission to promote, preserve, and transmit Lao culture through the arts all throughout the US.

She was proud to be the founding Artistic Director of Kinnaly – a Lao traditional music and dance troupe based in Seattle, Washington. There, she taught over 60 second-generation Lao American youth the art of Lao traditional dance in all its rigorous training and original choreographies. Many of her students continue to be active in the arts and the community today.

She lived near Seattle with her family, including her husband William and her son Ravi. When the rain kept her inside, Pom Outama Khampradith loved to "cuddle up with Lao and French literature in their original language." She loved to spend her time with local community children, sharing and teaching her art of naathasiin, the Lao traditional dances. She performed widely at various fundraising events with her students and hoped to keep our heritage alive through the arts.

She was acclaimed for her innovation and experimentation, incorporating contemporary Lao music and dance styles into the modern repertoire.

A dancer for over 25 years, Pom Outama Khampradith set a high standard for Lao dance troupes nationally, insisting that Kinnaly performances be accompanied by a live traditional Lao deum band almost all of the time, rather than using pre-recorded music. She valued her students and their families deeply and inspired many to pursue their dreams.

In 2009, she was one of the lead organizers of the very first International Lao New Year Festival, held in San Francisco. In 2011, she was part of a groundbreaking Lao Cultural Exchange Program in Vientiane, Laos. During this exchange, she and her students met with masters of Lao dance, art and music over 35 years since the beginning of the Lao diaspora. The Kinnaly troupe would return again to Laos in 2013 to meet with the faculty and students of the National School of Performing Arts, sharing ideas and best practices that could be passed on to the next generation of artists and community builders.

One of the first major performances of the Kinnaly dance troupe was in May, 2003 at the History Symposium on Laos at the University of California-Berkeley. Since then, Pom Outama Khampradith successfully worked with communities across the United States and internationally to bring the Kinnaly troupe to events such as the International Conferences on Lao Studies in 2005 and 2007, as well as the 2010 International Lao Artists Festival.

She and her younger brother left Laos in 1982, first moving to France. Her two older sisters had gone to Thailand before resettling in Hawaii with an aunt. In the aftermath of the conflict, her father had been sent to a re-education camp in Northern Laos. She and her family would not be reunited until 1990, rebuilding their lives in Washington after being separated for nearly 15 years.

She was educated at the Lycée François Premier in Le Havre, France, and studied at the University of Washington. She had the honor of training under Laos’ most celebrated dance master, ajarn Kongseng Pongphimkham.

Pom Outama Khampradith was widely recognized for her gift in generating a genuine interest and passion in her students to explore their heritage beyond dance. Her dance curriculum integrated the additional study of traditional Lao arts and crafts, Lao language and folklore.

In addition to her skills as a dancer and teacher, she was well-regarded for her literary talents as both a poet and a short-story writer. Many of her pieces were featured in the literary anthologies of the SatJaDham Lao Literary Project. This includes her poem "I Learned to..," her non-fiction story "Please Rewind After Reading," and her prose piece "For you, I will..." In recent years she had begun to blog at "House on the Mekong," sharing her reflections on life in addition to many of her favorite recipes from Lao cuisine.

She volunteered as the HR/PR Core Facilitator of the SatJaDham Lao Literary Project and helped to organize and attend many of the conferences organized by the Lao writers and artists. Friends and community members have expressed their condolences from around the world, remembering her for her honesty, integrity, kindness and modesty, with a vibrant mind committed to Lao arts and heritage in all forms.

She leaves behind an indelible legacy that will inspire generations yet to come

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Nak of Wat Lao Riverside

A fairly new addition to the temple complex in Riverside, California, this is a guardian Nak at the doorway to the monks primary sleeping quarters. The Nak were completed last year. This year was the first Lao New Year they were a part of the festivities. An auspicious way to end Year of the Snake.

[Poem] Na, 2009


Her eyes weave stories
Worth seeking

Who can speak of khuam ngam,
The heart, without the spirit?

May as well
Ask rivers to leave the shore,

The moon to abandon the night,
Dreams to leave our lips.

-From Tanon Sai Jai, 2009

Sabaidee Pi Mai Lao from San Diego

San Diego holds claim to the oldest Wat Lao in the United States since the Lao Diaspora began in 1975. On April 19-20th, 2014, they ushered in the Year of the Horse in style as thousands gathered to Wat Lao Buddharam on 44th street.

As in Fresno, rather than major images of a horse, the Tiger was prominent instead. More research will have to be done to discuss the significance of this.

Buddhist monks gave blessings to community members who gave offerings during tahk baht and through many other avenues to donate and build merit for themselves and their families. There were many non-profit organizations reflected at this year's New Year Festival, including Lao Golf Association, the Modern Lao Lady Association, and the Lao Parent-Teacher Association.

Masks and a dance performance from the traditional Lao epic Phra Lak Phra Lam were a part of the weekend festivities.

The youth dancers of Wat Lao Buddharam had a chance to display their skills and talents throughout the weekend to the delight of the crowd.

Friday, April 18, 2014

ArtSlant announces Georgia Fee Artist/Writer Residency Shortlist

ArtSlant, the global contemporary arts network and magazine, has released its shortlist of applicants for the Georgia Fee Residency, Summer Term 2014. This is a paid, two-month residency that takes place in the Montparnasse neighborhood of Paris.


Rachel Adams, Curator and Writer, Austin, TX
Assaf Evron, Photographer, Chicago, IL
Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, Visual Artist, Brooklyn, NY
Laura Mclean-Ferris, Arts Writer, London, UK / New York, NY
Kelly Fordon, Writer, Detroit, MI
Steve Fossey, Artist and Lecturer, Nottingham, UK
Kaitlin Freewind, Visual Artist, Brooklyn, NY
Shannan Lee Hayes, Installation Artist, Durham, NC
Edgar Mosa, Jeweler and Sculptor, New York, NY
Lorena Muñoz-Alonso, Arts Writer and Critic, London, UK
Jamilee Polson Lacy, Writer and Curator, Chicago, IL
Sara Shaoul, Video and Performance Artist, Brooklyn, NY
Walker Thisted, Video Artist, Chicago, IL
Joseph R. Varisco, Historian and Curator, Chicago, IL
Lindsay Preston Zappas, Visual Artist, Los Angeles, CA

From this shortlist our panel will select the residency recipient, which will be announced in early May.

This is the second year ArtSlant has organized this residency. The residency takes place in July and August; applications for the Winter term (January/February, 2015) will open in July/August.

The Georgia Fee Artist/Writer Residency was established in memory of ArtSlant's Founder who passed away December 8th, 2012. Georgia was dedicated to supporting and investing in young artists and writers, and she had a deep connection with the city of Paris. This residency, which offers artists and writers the opportunity to create work in Paris, has been created in Georgia's memory.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

[Poem] Laos In The House

As part of National Poetry Month, and to call attention to Catzie Vilayphonh's current efforts to raise funds for the Laos In The House project to bring Laotian American artists from across the US to Philadelphia for the first time, here is a more modern iteration of my poem "Laos In The House" from 2009, which first appeared in my book Tanon Sai Jai. You can check out the Laos In The House indiegogo campaign at:https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/laos-in-the-house

Laos In The House

When has a house gone Lao?
There may not be one precise event.

It's not just the first time a fresh batch of padaek is made by grandma.
It takes more than a few servings of tom mak hung in the kitchen.

A six-pack of cold Heinekens and BeerLao in the creaking cooler,
Bottles of very fine cognac and homemade rice whiskey 
Can't combine by themselves in the cabinet
For this magic moment, awaiting the change like good guests,
Or a cluttered porch of friendly shoes and worn sandals.

Yes, a living room baci calls many things, so can talk of pi mai lao 
Or makeshift shelves for those Lao icons we all know so well,
But even a happy nop in the hall is not all that's needed for transformation. 

Such a house does not require Lao dramas, but it's surprising
If those don't eventually show up, as certain as
A child's tears from their first taste of jaew at the family table. 

Scents of mint and bamboo and barbecues sunk into the beams?
Watching someone live out their silapin dreams in a basement
Just because they found a microphone and synthesizer? 
Not the sole keys, and neither is a sincere khop jai, surprisingly. 

Maybe you invited mae and I and all of my family from every corner.
We might speak of numbers and lotteries and years as refugees,
Host to a thousand small arguments and soft mangos,
Memories of Chinatowns, gilded wats and the buildings of antiquity. 

These all build a house, a nation, a people holding together. 
And in that house there will be dreams, things lost and things sought.
One by one, they shuffle in with a bright smile white as grains of warm khao. 

But a house has gone Lao only when the hearts within have chosen so,
Free as the wind, remembering like stones, 
Growing flowers for moving stars. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Meanwhile, Sharing Knowledge with the Smithsonian for Lao New Year :)

Catzie Vilayphonh and I recently had fun helping the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center put together a fun meme for this year's Lao New Year. It's currently making its way around Twitter and Pinterest. :)

Last day to back Excelsior: An Inspired Steampunk Pen and Paper RPG

Today's the last day with only 10 hours left to back it, but Excelsior is an e-book set of rules for a steampunk roleplaying game. For $15 you can name an adventurer, or at higher levels, name inventions (within reason) that characters can create and/or discover. I'm particularly enthused because the head of one major faction in this game is going to be Lao (or Lao-ish. It's a steampunk setting, after all.)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Happy Lao New Year from Fresno

Lao New Year Fresno, 2014.

As the Year of the Horse arrives, we see Nang Songkran with a sword riding a tiger, along with her six sisters, the self-severed head of a four-faced riddling king while a Nak comes forth from a cranky Ngeuk's mouth. Circling the Buddhist temple of Lao refugees in America after 40 years, it seems like there should be a story in here somewhere.

Interviewed by Innsmouth Free Press about DEMONSTRA

Nathaniel Katz interviewed me recently about my new book of poetry, DEMONSTRA, available now from Innsmouth Free Press!

If you're looking for Lao American speculative poetry examining the intersections between the Secret War for Laos, UXO, refugee resettlement, science fiction and the Great Old Ones, I've got you covered. DEMONSTRA also features the work of Lao American visual artist Vongduane Manivong, who's from Vientiane, like me. Be sure to check her work out at: http://www.vmpaintings.com/

Two poems appearing in the 2014 Rhysling Anthology

My two Lao American speculative poems, "The Robo Sutra" and "Five Flavors," which appeared in 2013 in Expanded Horizons will now be appearing in the Rhysling 2014 Anthology from the international Science Fiction Poetry Association later this year.

That's a good way to start the new year! It's also the first year my work has ever been nominated for the award, so I'm touched.

 In 1978, Suzette Haden Elgin founded the Science Fiction Poetry Association, along with the Rhysling Awards. Nominees for each year's Rhysling Awards are selected by the membership of the Science Fiction Poetry Association.

There are two categories: “Best Long Poem” (50+ lines; for prose poems, 500+ words) and “Best Short Poem” (0–49 lines; for prose poems, 0–499 words) which are drawn from poems published for the first time in the preceding calendar year. The awards are voted on by the membership of the SFPA, which are presented in the Rhysling Anthology. This anthologizing is done to make it easier for members to review and consider all of the nominees who appeared in diverse publications from around the world.

The winning poems are often reprinted in the Nebula Awards Anthology from the SFFWA and Rhyslings are are considered  to be "the equivalent in poetry of the awards given for "prose" work— achievement awards given to poets by the writing peers of their own field of literature."

A big thanks to my editor Dash at Expanded Horizons for taking a chance on these works. They recently released their March issue, so please check that out!

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Water Lore: Thai-Tai Folk Beliefs and Literature

Prakong Nimmanahaeminda has an interesting article, "Water Lore: Thai-Tai Folk Beliefs and Literature" that may be of interest to many segments of our literary community seeking a broader understanding of the folklore, beliefs and customs of the region.

In Prakong's abstract it is noted: "Water is essential in the Thai-Tai way of  life. Thai people in Thailand as well as Tai  peoples outside Thailand depend on water for agriculture, domestic daily uses, transportation and recreation. This paper is a result of an in-depth study of the relationship between water, beliefs and literary traditions of the Thai and some ethnic Tai groups. The findings reveal that the Thais and the Tais have religious beliefs involving water concerning four important water beings: first, the water spirit, known as sua nam (เสื้อน้ํา); second, the water serpent known as nguek (เงือก); third, the great serpent or naga (นาค); and fourth; the river of the dead. 

Of the four beliefs, the first two concerning the water spirit and nguek could date back to very ancient times and are common among several Tai ethnic groups. They provide a clear indication that the Thais and Tais hold nature in high reverence and awe. With the notion that nature is regulated and protected by a life-force, a rite to ask permission to use water from the spirit is almost always staged prior to the actual use. While Thai and Tai people recognize the benevolence of water and perceive it in life-form, they are fully aware of the precariousness of nature. The pervading influence of the mythical naga can be seen in Thai art, and the naga character in literature, folktales, legends concerning city building, religious architecture, and in rituals. The role of the naga in Thai and Tai narratives has been modified or adapted in various local traditions. 

River and water motifs are woven into Thai –Tai literature in both form and content. Impromptu recitation of sakawa (a form of folksong), niras (travelling-narration poetry), and Karb hey Rua are related to waterway in form; while idioms and metaphors, prays of characters in dilemma, waterborne society in a drama or play, and marine warfare, etc. are in content."

There are some great leads here for emerging and established writers to consider, particularly the four key water beings. It would be interesting to see an exhibit of artistic responses to each of these, especially in light of environmental issues emerging in Southeast Asia at the moment involving the various water bodies and modern development.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Refugee Nation returns to Minneapolis

This will be a very special New Year for the Lao community as we welcome the Year of the Horse. Intermedia Arts is bringing back the acclaimed play Refugee Nation after 4 years to Minnesota, and they really hope to connect with old friends and new ones this time around.

Told through a series of skits, dialogues and experimental performances, Refugee Nation is about a young generation seeking to understand their history and a community healing from the traumas of war.

Over 1,000 people came to see this play the last time it came to Minnesota. In this iteration, guest performances will be performed by Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay, Karimi Robert, Ibrahim Kaba, and more.

This production was made possible in part by National Performance Network (NPN) Performance Residency Program and by a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. A grant from the National Endowment for the Arts also made this year’s presentation possible.

Tickets are on sale now at: http://www.intermediaarts.org/refugee-nation

It will only be presented 8 times, from April 10-13 and April 17-20. The Sunday shows are at 2:30 in the afternoon. The Thursday, Friday and Saturday shows start at 8pm promptly. Tickets are $15 at the door, although $12 advance, student and senior discounts are available.

Friday, April 04, 2014

[Poem] Try This

One day, a moment might bloom
Like a wild frangipani or an urban forsythia.

Mae, looking at your body, your hair,
These grown hands that hold her,
Will lean near your ear and whisper:
“You are not my only masterpiece,
But you are still one of mine.”

She takes a familiar brush out.
You know what comes next,
But even routines can teach
As we ponder whose arms
Will stretch out to embrace us from tomorrow,
Those galleries prepared for the wondering soul.

From Tanon Sai Jai, 2009

GHOSTS: Revisited in Los Angeles

On April 1st, the Goethe Institut hosted an artists discussion with Michael EB Detto and Sayon Sypraseouth regarding their exhibition GHOSTS: Revisited which is up for two weeks in Los Angeles. It was a nice-sized crowd for a Tuesday night. There weren't as many pieces on display in this space as there was in the earlier GHOSTS exhibition but there are still enough to make it worthwhile to see the pieces in person.

At the heart of the discussion was the proposition that "Cultural memory is collective memory, and the artist plays a part in it."

Of particular concern is what the curators noted regarding the complicated nature of memory and how we share those with others. In their artists description they state: "Today’s notions of history and memory may be flawed and disputed, but they are especially problematic for the individual that has experienced tragedy. The notion of “victims’ silence” following tragic events has often been the subject of discussion, and is frequently linked to suffering. Should victims decide to speak about their experiences, they are likely to relive past suffering, often making it unbearable."

There's much within this question that should be of interest to anyone with a background in Southeast Asia.

The exhibition itself was inspired by the works of  German writer W. G. Sebald. Sebald examined esthetics and its link to memory. In this particular exhibition, we see the Aragna Ker, Denise A. Scott., Ken Gonzales-Day, Prumsodun Ok, Sayon Syprasoueth and Michael Detto,.

When the exhibit was presented at Arena 1 earlier this year, they were asking “How should we treat the Ghosts each of these leaves behind – in real life, as metaphor, as a tool? The very own substantiality each one thing in itself exhibits, its innate properties, its relation to subject, time space, and language are altogether qualities which suddenly start to dissipate when we have to deal with ghosts. It is hard even to agree on one word for them: there are specters, phantoms and wreath, genie and spirit, the apparition and many other denominations to describe a phenomenon that tends to blur the demarcation line between subject and object, past and presence, here and there.”

I think there remain some very important questions to explore here, and while GHOSTS is not the definitive statement on the subject, there are are ideas that I think will resonate throughout much of the remaining year and perhaps many years ahead regarding the question of horror, memory, art and Southeast Asian voice. 

I hope it won't be too long before we can see what happens if this exhibition is brought to other galleries and spaces across the country. 

In Minnesota, the Banfille-Locke Center for the Arts has issued a call for paranormal art for "The Art of Darkness" exhibit they are preparing for August-September later this year. So there's something that's capturing the imagination of today's curators. Some will take a more literal tack, while others appear interested in a more intellectual, theory-centered processing of the subject. But I hope we can appreciate that there are in fact exhibitions planned for everyone's taste in the matter.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

[Poem] "La scalinata di Luang Prabang" or "On a Stairway in Luang Prabang," in Italian

Over on Twitter, a wonderful Italian friend of mine in Laos, @OrbisTertius translated my poem,"On a Stairway in Luang Prabang" to start off National Poetry Month. That was an amazing surprise. Here, then, for your enjoyment:

"La scalinata di Luang Prabang"
Sali come nella vita,
In mille modi e in mille luoghi.
Porta una casa nel cuore

O passa anni a cercarne la porta
Dove l'anima sorriderà in eterno.

Stai facilitando il cammino agli altri,
O semplicemente per te stesso?

Ti arrampichi su grandi vette
Solo per lasciarle immutate?

Un giorno l'altezza del sacro Phu Si
Si staglierà come una valle dolce.

Noi, solo ricordi.
Ma i figli dei nostri figli?
Avranno anche loro motivi per sorridere

Come questi viaggiatori sorridenti
Che hanno scalato Phu Si
Al posto nostro?

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay kicks of National Poetry Month in MN

It's a busy week for Lao American writer Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay. This Thursday April 3, 11am-12:30pm she is guest lecturing at a Asian American Identities, Families, and Communities class at the University of Minnesota.

On Thursday, April 3, 4:30pm-6:30pm, Duangphouxay Vongsay is speaking at Metro State University on how her Lao-ness "made me an awesome artist." Come join the conversation.

On Friday, April 4, 7pm-9pm, she's performing at this month's Poetry for Thought at the Demera Ethiopian Restaurant and Bar 823 W. University Ave, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55104. Come hear them. Free to the public!

Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay is an award-winning Lao American poet and playwright whose poetry, essays, plays, and short stories have been published by literary journals, lifestyle magazines, almanacs, newspapers, anthologies, and scholastic journals nationwide. Her play Kung Fu Zombies vs Cannibals was named Best Production of 2013 by L'Etoile Magazine and as Theater Mu's 45th world premiere is it's highest grossing production to date.

She currently serves on the Board for Intermedia Arts, Saint Paul Almanac, Saint Paul Foundation's Asian Pacific Endowment, Dispute Resolution Center, and the Asian Economic Development Association's Arts Advisory. She's the Lead Chair for the National Lao American Writers Summit and Chair of the Twin Cities World Refugee Day Celebration Committee. Get to know her at www.saymoukdatherefugenius.com

[Poem] April Reflection

April begins as a joke in a house of children:
A surprise, a word, a laugh if we‟re lucky.
There are still bills and taxes and poems ahead, at least in America.

With a "sabaidee" we say hello to a new year,
"La kawn" to yesterday and the many mornings before.
The flowers begin to bloom, the rain and wind are welcome.

There are so many places to go these days,
But only one body and never enough money

To journey to every city where a Lao song, a wise word,
A festival of dreamers wants to greet you with a smile,
A nop

Between friends and strangers who might become family
Or a nation ready to create a better tomorrow
With the same ease as a wonderful today.

From Tanon Sai Jai, 2009