Monday, August 10, 2015

8 Years of On the Other Side of the Eye

So, August 10th is the 8th birthday for my first full-length book, On the Other Side of the Eye, which was originally published by Sam's Dot Publishing. We held the book release party at the Loft Literary Center and it was attended by friends and family from across the country.

It's out of print these days, although you can find hilariously overpriced versions on Amazon from time to time. But I feel it made its mark, and did what it needed to do as a book of Lao American poetry, opening doors and challenging expectations.

This was a book that was a collection of Lao American poetry, but it wasn't cliched, it didn't follow the typical arc and direction of a book of poems from a Southeast Asian refugee. I wanted it to be a challenge to reconsider where we placed the imagination of refugees in the world of arts and letters and to keep the door open for Lao science fiction, the fantastic, and the horrific, but at the same time to remember Asian American history, world history and the works of so many others who'd come and gone before us.

And it was certainly not written with any sense that this would be my first and only book. This mindset, I feel, is deeply critical for us to instill in our community today. That we can have more than one book within us, and that there are many ideas we can share.

I've since followed it up with BARROW, Tanon Sai Jai, Winter Ink, and DEMONSTRA, and continued to write and publish. Sometimes I share it through a journal or an art installation, in other cases I might just publish it on my own because in an era of democratized publishing technology, I think we need to be comfortable doing that.

I'd like to think that the good majority of my readers have found me by serendipity rather than some dreary teacher's assignment. Perhaps they're looking up an obscure term like hapax legomenon, or Mongolian Death Worm, or the secret history of Laos, and there they find me. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, "So it goes."

It's come to my attention that there are a few pirated copies of On the Other Side of the Eye that are running around out there, and the most interesting of these was a hardcover edition. As a poet, I'm not particularly upset to see someone wants to go that much effort to share my work with others. In fact, I think we'd all be more open to the idea if there were more pirates who took it upon themselves to say: "This is a fine book, but it deserves even better typesetting, illustrations, and a hardcover, embossed, gold-foil cover on acid-free archival paper," or something to that effect.

One common element I've found is that the majority of the pirated copies of On the Other Side of the Eye are missing the foreword by the wonderful poet Barbara Jane Reyes, which I consider particularly tragic. Be sure to keep an eye out for her next book of poetry, by the way, inspired by the ancient Filipino legends of the vampiric Aswang.

Among the highlight of this journey, I'm delighted to have seen the Beyond the Other Side of the Eye exhibit of Lao American speculative art take place. Thanks to its publication, On the Other Side of the Eye allowed me to become eligible for the 2009 NEA Fellowship in Literature, and I also received the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans Asian Pacific Leadership Award for my work in the arts. It allowed me to make headway in organizing the first National Lao American Writers Summit, and opened the door for me to become a Cultural Olympian during the London Summer Games in 2012. I became the first Lao American poet highlighted at the Poetry Foundation, and was a guest of honor at the CONvergence science fiction convention this year. I've seen poems from On the Other Side of the Eye translated into numerous languages and even featured at stops on the Minnesota Light Rail.

But most importantly, it's brought me into contact with so many of you as my readers, and I'm deeply thankful for that. That's the most priceless outcome. Here's to the years yet ahead!

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