Friday, March 24, 2017

Exhibit: The Spirit of Invention by Tim Hawkinson

On exhibit until April 14th at Pasadena City College is Tim Hawkinson's Spirit of Invention. It's a short visit, but there are a few noteworthy pieces to consider, primarily his Average Vitruvian Man and Thumbsucker. Admission is free. It's a quick stop but an enjoyable one.

Hawkinson is recognized internationally for his creativity. His approach is to mix "high tech and low tech in unexpected confluence, his resulting artworks are a wonder of creative ingenuity. Because of his remarkable spirit of invention and the wonderfully unpredictable outcomes of his inquisitive postulations."

His 2016 Average Vitruvian Man references the famous Vitruvian Man drawing by Leonardo da Vinci, which was based on the correlations of ideal human proportions with geometry and classical architecture. Here, all the main body parts have been photographed in the round, and averaged into identically sized 8 1/2 x 11” prints wrapped around plastic soda bottles.

Hawkinson's work has been called "a playful dance with life itself." In his 2015 Thumbsucker, we see a moon "formed from enlarged and reduced casts of the artist’s mouth, and the astronaut is formed through casts – also enlarged and reduced – of his thumb and fingers. " 

Pasadena City College notes that "This exhibition of Hawkinson’s work offers a sampling of artworks throughout his career, in hopes that the viewer may witness this ongoing thread of creative genius, this unexpected, serendipitous pairing of high and low that marks Hawkinson’s innovative process of discovery."

Per his bio:
Tim Hawkinson's (b. 1960, San Francisco) idiosyncratic creations are meditations on nature, machines, mortality, the body and human consciousness. Since the 1980s, the artist has used common found and store-bought materials, handcrafted objects, and machines to shift familiar subject matter off-kilter, creating visual conundrums and conceits imbued with deeper meaning. His inventive works range in size from monumental kinetic and sound-producing sculptures to almost microscopic pieces created from such unassuming materials as fingernail clippings and eggshells. Driven by ideas, materials, and an interest in transformation, Hawkinson continues to create unlikely and thought-provoking associations by transforming common materials into works of art. Hawkinson received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2015.

[Road Trip] Museum of Neon Art, Glendale, CA

Founded in 1981 the Museum of Neon Art is a definite treasure of Southern California. The Museum of Neon Art "encourages learning, curiosity and expression through the preservation, collection and interpretation of neon, electric and kinetic art. Neon is a gateway between scientific principles and artistic expression. Neon illumination integrates electrical technology, creative design, and fundamental concepts of physics and chemistry."

The Museum of Neon Art currently holds the distinction of being the only museum in the world devoted exclusively to art in electric media, exhibiting electric and kinetic fine art, and outstanding examples of historic neon signs, for over 30 years. Which may sound like hyperbole, but I found it to be an apt description.

Presently, their main exhibit is the art of plasma, which I found extremely fascinating. It's on display until July 30th, and well worth the visit no matter what your artistic discipline. There's much to consider with this medium, and I'd love to see how Lao artists might take on such a form even as it would require an engagement with the sciences and the humanities in a way that not all of us have ready access to.

It's been 18 years since the Museum of Neon Art last presented an exhibit on plasma, and director Kim Koga was a wonderful host during my visit recently, putting it all into context.

Here are just a handful of the amazing and wonderful displays I saw:

I particularly appreciated this because we often think of neon art as a very two dimensional affair to appreciate primarily from a single angle, but here the plasma art made a very good case that much of it must be seen from 360 degrees, and the very best pieces allow for tactile engagement, although the general public rarely gets to do so. Private collectors would do well to obtain such wonders.

Presently, the MONA is open only from Thursday to Sunday, typically from noon until 7pm, except for 5pm on Sunday. Admission is typically $10 or $5 if you're a Glendale resident. Children under 12 can come for free. It's located at 216 Brand Street and is near some good restaurants and shopping before or after.

Parking is somewhat tricky because the back lots behind the museum fill up fast, but it is not impossible.  $35 also gets you a year's membership, which I think is more than reasonable to preserve such treasures.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

50 Years Later: Remembering Otto Rene Castillo

It's time I think for a repost of Otto Rene Castillo's poem "Apolitical Intellectuals," here in the August 1970 edition of the Ann Arbor Sun. Born to the middle class family in Quetzaltenango, Otto Rene Castillo wrote 2 volumes of poetry in his lifetime. In 1967, he was interrogated, tortured, and burned alive by the Guatemalan government. This year, March 23rd marks the 50th anniversary of his death. He would have been 83 years old on April 25th. Keep involved.

Doxiepunk Dachshund Adventure of the Week!

"When you meet a philosopher on the road..."
Cal-Tech, Pasadena, CA.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Presenting at G-Fest XXIV!

art by Chris Scalf

For the very first time, I'll be presenting at G-Fest, the international Godzilla Convention this July on "Kaiju and Speculative Poetry"! See you in Chicago on July 16th in the Kennedy Room at noon at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare! The hotel is located at: 5440 N River Rd, Rosemont, Illinois.

Special guests for G-FEST XXIV include composer Michiru ƌshima, designer/illustrator Yuji Kaida, director and special effects director Shinji Higuchi, actor Ryuki Kitaoka, assistant director Kazuhiro Nakagawa, comics industry veteran Tony Isabella, and actor Robert Scott Field. Movies to be announced.

As the author of 6 books of science fiction poetry, my very first featured many poems that first appeared in G-Fan Magazine (a poem cycle entitled 'The Kaiju and I'). This year it's celebrating its 10th anniversary. On The Other Side Of The Eye qualified me for my 2009 NEA Fellowship. My book of Lao American Lovecraftian poetry, DEMONSTRA (Innsmouth Free Press, 2013) won the Science Fiction Poetry Association's 2014 Elgin Award for Book of the Year and continued to expand upon the kaiju tradition in Laos.

This year, I'll be discussing the work of Jay Snodgrass, Bao Phi, Yusef Komunyakaa, Bryan D. Dietrich​, Simon-Bucher Jones, and other poets who've addressed Godzilla, Gamera, Ultraman, and other legendary giant monsters in verse.

I'd like to put together a reasonable introductory list to kaiju poems for our participants, so if you have a poem or even a whole cycle or chapbook of poems you think are appropriate for the conversation, drop me a line at by May 1st, so I can get started putting the list together!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Visiting Artist at UC Merced!

I'm excited to announce that this April I will be the Visiting Artist for the University of California-Merced from April 2nd to 30th thanks to their Center for Humanities.

This will include a variety of readings, workshops, and brownbag talks with the community both on campus and in the city examining the intersections of the humanities and the arts with our world, particularly through the lens of refugees, immigrants and science fiction poetry. This is a groundbreaking project and I'm honored to be selected for it. More details to come soon!

[Poem] Here, the River Haunt.

The opening poem to my second collection of Lao American speculative poetry, BARROW.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

#Blessed comes to Philadelphia May 6, 2017!

I'll see you in Philly during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month with Catzie Vilayphonh and Laos In The House as they continue their innovative pop-up program combining refugee stories, the culinary and literary arts in the City of Brotherly Love. I'm so proud of her continuing journey to share Lao culture with the world.

This time around I'll be discussing the meaning of refugee and immigrant journeys four decades later for Southeast Asians in today's political climate and how we respond to that as artists, as human beings. And maybe who puts the Phi in Philly, but that comes much later in the evening. ;) It's been 7 years since I last visited Pennsylvania, so I look forward to seeing how much has changed. And of course, eating a genuine cheesesteak again. :)

#TBT: Lao American Writers Summit

7 years ago we received word that our 5-page grant I wrote had been accepted, giving us $5,000 to start the first National  Lao American Writers Summit in Minnesota. We eventually raised $13K and set in motion a vital gathering that continues to meaningfully bring our refugee writers and community builders together to share our stories and expand our sense of what we can do together.

We convened in August, 2010 at the historic The Loft Literary Center in Minnesota, gathering together nearly a hundred emerging and established Lao refugee artists and writers to share and exchange their work and ideas. This was an audacious, perhaps even outrageous idea for its time, but as we see the continued, tangible impact of that gathering it reminds me of the importance of the arts in our lives and valuing our voices.

This all reminds me how much can be done even on a shoestring budget. Gatherings that can make such a pivotal difference in our world. Many of these artists would meet for the very first time in 40 years. Many of them have continued to collaborate since then.

I thank my amazing fellow founding co-chairs who were with me at the beginning: Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay, Catzie Vilayphonh and Chanida Phaengdara Potter. For all of my fellow refugees in diaspora from so many nations and cultures, I hope this message resonates with you: It's Possible.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

[Poet Spotlight] Leah Silvieus

Leah Silvieus is the author of Anemochory from Hyacinth Girl Press. She was born in Seoul, South Korea, and was raised in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley. She is the recipient of awards and fellowships from The American Academy of Poets, Kundiman, and US Poets in Mexico.You can get a sense of her poetry at the Four Way Review, with poems such as "Still Life with Fallen Game."

Her work has also appeared in CURA, The Collagist, and diode, among others. She has been nominated for The Best of the Net Anthology. Her multimedia poetry projects have been featured at the O, Miami Poetry Festival, The Paragraph Gallery in Kansas City, MO, and the Asian American Women Artists Association in San Francisco. She is a certified yoga teacher and holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Miami. The Collagist has a fine interview with her to get a sense of where she's coming from as a writer.

She currently divides her time between Florida and New York where she works in the yacht hospitality industry.

Monday, March 13, 2017

[Poem] Little Bear (Ursa Minor)

My poem, "Little Bear (Ursa Minor)" first appeared in Astropoetica, and then in my first full-length collection of Lao American speculative poetry, On The Other Side Of The Eye in 2007.

Friday, March 10, 2017

When Everything Was Everything reading: March 12th with Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay

Demonstrating the power of short notice, Lao American poet Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay has announced her reading of her manuscript as partial fulfillment of her Masters of Liberal Studies Final Project. If you can make it to Goldne's Lowertown in St. Paul on Sunday, March 12th from 2-4 PM, you're in for a treat.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

International Women's Day: Women of Speculative Poetry

Happy International Women's Day!

As a poet, I've been honored to have the privilege of reading the work of many outstanding women who've added greatly to science fiction, fantasy, horror and the imagination through their verse. I regret that I can't share pictures of everyone who's been involved with growing the cosmos of arts and letters, but here are just a few who've been making a difference and adding their voice, and I hope you'll all take the time out to find even more writers out there and encourage them.

I will say, this was a LOT of reading, but it was an effort happily undertaken! I look forward to seeing so much more from all of them! his fine assembly includes a Pulitzer Prize winner, PhDs, SFWA Grand Masters, SFPA Grand Masters, Rhysling, Elgin, Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award winners, and so many more. There can be no argument this is fine company to keep. It also includes emerging writers from whom I expect great things in the future.

What makes me particularly excited is that many of them are among the very first in their cultures to be writing speculative poetry. This is no small thing.

As always, please accept my apologies that this can't be an encyclopedic post, but I hope that others will share their favorites here or elsewhere to help us expand our familiarity with so many of the imaginative voices of speculative poetry.

[Poet Spotlight] Do Nguyen Mai

Do Nguyen Mai is a Vietnamese-American poet and musician living in the Los Angeles area. Her work has been published in the Rising Phoenix Review, and her debut poetry collection is Ghosts Still Walking was released in 2016 from Platypus Press, which is a 2017 Elgin Award nominee for Book of the Year.

In her collection there are a great many poems to admire, with my personal favorites including "Knitting Needles," "Firestorm" and her brief "Devour," whose imagery definitely lingers for any of us with roots in the Southeast Asian diaspora. I'm definitely looking forward to her follow-up, which hopefully won't be too long from now.

In what little free time she has, she can be found researching Southeast Asian history, ranting about current Southeast Asian political events, and teaching Vietnamese to young children.   She's the ambitious founder and editor-in-chief of Rambutan Literary, which is now accepting submissions for its fourth issue:

Do Nguyen Mai wears many hats, as writers are wont to do, including serving as the social media manager for The Fem and previously helped the journal Half Mystic in a similar capacity.Whether awake or asleep, she often dreams of a day when her family will have a home to return to.

Don't miss Ghosts Still Walking.

Monday, March 06, 2017

2017 ALEC conference comes to Sacramento

Hosted by Lao American Advancement Organization (LAAO), the 2017 Annual Lao Education Conference will connect Lao American youth who are prospective college students with leading scholars, artists and community builders to discover the opportunities ahead of them and how to succeed. Among those presenting will be Sahtu Press author and founder Nor Sanavongsay. Other confirmed speakers include web-developer and project manager Emmaly Manchanthasouk, Tony Ouk, a Silicon Valley business manager. and tech start-up founder Sysamone Phaphon.

ALEC is a one-day event, Friday, March 10 at 9 AM - 4 PM and will be held at CSU Sacramento at 6000 J St, Sacramento, California 95819. ALEC is a free conference for all middle and high school Lao American students! Registration is required to attend ALEC. It's particularly designed for students in the Sacramento City Unified School District or Twin Rivers Unified School District.

[Poem] Golden Triangle, Holy Mountain

Saturday, March 04, 2017

[Road Trip] A Visit To Tankland!

Known by several different names, including the American Society of Military History or the American Military Museum, Tankland is located in South El Monte near Los Angeles and Pasadena California, right next to the Whittier Narrows Recreation Area.

Naturally, enough, this is an outdoor museum that closes during bad weather, and it has limited hours relatively speaking. The museum is open to the public Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 10:00AM to 4:30PM. They have tour booklets in English, Spanish, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese.

 Arrangements for vehicle or equipment rental, school tours, group tours, photo shoots, special event, birthday parties, or any other questions can be asked during office hours, which are Tuesday through Friday from 8:00AM to 4:00PM. Admission is $5 for adults which is a great price if you're into this sort of thing. They can only take cash, as an FYI but there are gas stations nearby with ATMs. Be aware that the entrance to the museum can come up a bit quick.

Presently, it's all American military vehicles, some in better shape than others. There's no throwing rocks, climbing on tanks, or smoking for a variety of good reasons and decorum.

They have a number of artillery pieces, a Police Rescue Vehicle with battering ram, jeeps, supply trucks from different eras and even an imitation of a Japanese tank used during the MGM film "Windtalkers."

They also have a UH-1B Huey helicopter which is handy if you want to get a good dramatic shot for whatever reason:

They're presently in the process of restoring a P61 "Black Widow" quad gun turret thanks to Steve Wagner, a 1950's M38A1C Jeep and 106mm Recoilless Rifle thanks to Mark Walter and Daniel French is restoring a 1940's Air Raid Siren.

Overall, I think you can spend a good half-hour to an hour looking at the various vehicles and getting an appreciation for what we put into use around the world. You can see how far we've come with some of our vehicles, and what technologies have remained difficult to improve upon.

The selection of vehicles reflects all of the branches of US military service, and they have a handy tour booklet you can take with you across the grounds if you want to read more about the specific pieces there. I wish them continued success and more support in the years ahead as we preserve and appreciate this aspect of our nation's history and the men who were a part of it.

As someone with an interest in the Secret War for Laos, I found it an enjoyable visit and would also pair this with a visit to the nearby March Field Air Museum, which is about an hour away. It's relatively easy to do both in a single day.

Serial Flirtations: Rotari’s Muses Opens at Norton Simon Museum

This weekend the exhibit "Serial Flirtations: Rotari's Muses" opened at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California.

As they note in their introduction, "Rotari began his career in his hometown of Verona. As he gained recognition, he traveled widely throughout Italy, studying the works of Venetian, Roman and Neapolitan artists. In these early years, he painted primarily religious and mythological subjects. But by 1750, when he was called to Vienna to work for Empress Maria Theresa, and then Dresden, where he was summoned by King Augustus III, his attention would turn to painting bust-length portraits of elegant members of their courts. In 1755, Rotari was summoned by Empress Elizabeth of Russia to work in St. Petersburg, where he and his prolific studio would produce hundreds of depictions of young girls, all of them demonstrating varying degrees of emotion—subtle, but clearly legible. The painter’s virtuosity for such work earned him great acclaim, both for his talents and his prodigious output..."

As a whole, the installation commemorates Rotari’s inclination to summon his muses and celebrates the 310th anniversary of the artist’s birth. 

This is also the last weekend to catch Van Gogh’s iconic ‘Bedroom’ on loan from the Art Institute of Chicago and see it in person, not just on postcards or a computer, to get a sense of its size and shape, and its true tones and colors as they've endured over the decades  when it was first painted in 1888, nearly 130 years ago. This is the first time this particular painting has ever been displayed on the West Coast!

The Norton Simon Museum is known around the world as one of the most remarkable private art collections ever assembled. Over a thirty-year period industrialist Norton Simon (1907–1993) amassed an astonishing collection of European art from the Renaissance to the 20th century and a stellar collection of South and Southeast Asian art spanning 2,000 years.

Approximately 1,000 works from the permanent collection of 12,000 objects are on view in the Norton Simon Museum’s galleries and sculpture garden throughout the year. The museum is closed on Tuesdays. Adults are $12. Seniors are $9. Students, veterans and youth under 18 get in free. On weekends, it opens at 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. (5 p.m. on Sunday)

Parking is free, and it is located at 411 W. Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena, CA 91105-1825. The turn into the driveway can come up a little fast, as an FYI if it's your first visit there.

Notably, if you time it right, admission is free for all visitors the first Friday of every month from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

[Poet Spotlight] Hoa Nguyen

Born in the Mekong Delta and raised in the Washington, D.C. area, Hoa Nguyen studied Poetics at New College of California in San Francisco. With the poet Dale Smith, Nguyen founded Skanky Possum, a poetry journal and book imprint in Austin, TX, their home of 14 years.

Robert Tejada of Tripwire praised her book Dark saying "Through a torsion it effects between the representation of memory and immediacy, Hoa Nguyen’s Dark comprises a series of self-portraits weathered into the magenta fade of Kodacolor prints; into the warp of random perspective as viewed from the telescoping lens of time. Nguyen has wrought a music whose candid nature is identifiably her own, with its unique attention to the embarrassments of the spoken.[...] Stretching sense with clamped sound, Dark is articulated in a language that enacts the amazement and discomforts in the transit from childhood to adulthood; the shaping of self from passive recipient to active subject."

She is the author of several poetry collections, including Red Juice: Poems 1998-2008 and As Long as Trees Last.  Her 2016 collection was Violet Energy Ingots, which the publishers noted "contain a sense of dis-ease, rupture, things frayed, and grief—as love shimmers the edges. Ryo Yamaguchi describes Nguyen’s writing as “a kind of stuttering with intelligences, impressions, and emotions flaring up as the words find their pathways.” As grounded in the earth as in the stars, her poems are reminders of the possibilities of contemplation in every space and moment. It was listed in the top poetry books of Fall 2016 by Publishers Weekly.

Her poetry has also been collected in the anthologies Days I Moved Through Ordinary Sound: The Teachers of WritersCorps in Poetry and Prose (City Lights, 2009), The Best of Fence (Fence Books, 2009), For the Time Being: A Bootstrap Anthology (Bootstrap Books, 2008), Black Dog, Black Night: Contemporary Vietnamese Poetry (Milkweed Editions, 2008), and Not for Mothers Only (Fence Books, 2007).

She often has a spare, brief style such as her poem "Pharoah Notes" from Violet Energy Ingots: 

She lives in Toronto, Ontario where she curates a reading series and teaches poetics privately and at Ryerson University.