Tuesday, November 24, 2009

[Puppoetics] The Indonesian Wayang Golek tradition

In the distinctive Indonesian puppetry traditions, we find the three-dimensional puppet form of Wayang Golek. It was performed in Java for all audiences, not only the aristocratic class.

Although children are often fascinated by the art, it is a thoroughly adult form of entertainment, drawn from Hindu and Islamic tales including the Mahabharata.

The puppets are made of wood, with the facial features, colors and costumes defining which characters they represent. The heads can turned by the puppeteer, with the rods attached to hinged arms that move at the shoulders, elbows and wrists. This allows a significant degree of versatility in expression. The costumes are made from leather, sequins, beads, batik and other fabrics.

The audiences are familiar with the characters and all of their personalities, powers and weaknesses to such a degree that one can often make pop culture allusions to them in Indonesia and be understood.

This is a demanding tradition- it's a solo show as the puppeteer handles all of the characters and speaks for all of them, making sound effects and directing a live musical ensemble. A puppeteer can have between 50 to 90 puppets. The larger collections are found in West Java where the Hindu epics tend to be the most popular and require more individualized characters. In northern coast of Java, the collections tend to be smaller, and many puppets act as more than one character.

A show lasts many hours and can't be interrupted, or else tradition suggests it will cause disruption in the everyday world it is paralleling. These shows depict war and comedies, confront social problems of poverty and relationships between the state and the people, and a master of the art is considered to have significant spiritual power.

The puppets basically break down into those with refined or crude personalities.
Refined characters tend to have white faces, bowed heads, narrow eyes and noses.
Crude, villainous characters have red faces, round eyes and big noses.

Refined nobles are given slow, smooth gestures and the voices are soft and elegant. Cruder characters are given wide gestures and grating, harsh voices.

When a puppet is not being used in a performance it is lined on the side of the stage. Those on the right side of the stage are heroes, those on the left, the villains.

William Blake, Orc and Blade Runner

William Blake was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. Like many artists of his age, he was mostly unrecognized or considered mad while living, but his importance and significance have grown over the centuries. He was something of a mystic and visionary but while he was reverent of the Bible, he was hostile to the church. Overall, he's considered difficult to classify.

In Blade Runner, one of the interesting lines by Roy Batty is a misquote of Blake's poem:
"Fiery the angels fell; deep thunder rolled around their shores; burning with the fires of Orc"
This line was suggested by Rutger Hauer, adapted from Blake's America: A Prophecy.
"Fiery the angels rose, and as they rose deep thunder roll'd. Around their shores: indignant burning with the fires of Orc."

Interestingly, Orc in the mythology of Blake is a complicated figure, and not the monstrous sea monster or humanoid cannon fodder of Tolkien and 20th century fantasists. Orc appears in four of Blake’s prophetic books: America, Europe, The Book of Urizen and The Four Zoas

Shortly after his birth, Orc transformed from a worm into a powerful serpent. There's all sorts of relationship drama that results in one character using the Chains of Jealousy to confine Orc to a mountain, until the power of Orc's imagination awakens a deity who frees him to then go on a rebellious rampage. Orc is a force of revolution and revival with most interpretations regarding him as a largely positive figure of creativity, passionate energy.

The Tate notes that "the scholar Foster Damon believes that the name Orc derives either from Cor (the Latin word for heart), or from Orca, meaning ‘whale’."

Which isn't to say this makes Blake very easy to read by today's standards, but it's still one of the fascinating, more modern efforts to create new mythologies for the world.

But what are we to make of the significance of Roy Batty "misquoting" within Blade Runner? Is it a signifier that the lead replicant is fallible? Or is this a knowing shift to the text and its meaning. Many scholars have pointed out that the character of Orc embodies the young striking down the old, and has parallels in the revolt of  a son against the father. As the replicants of Blade Runner try to revolt in order to renew and extend their lives, and fight their way towards their creator, Eldon Tyrell, the imagery seems apt. Orc's activities are driven by emotion, and gradually degenerate into unpredictable chaos, terrorizing those around him. So, too, the degeneration of the replicants even as they seek vindication or redemption for their excesses. It's a matter of some interest to consider what it means for the angels to fall, according to Roy Batty. With whom, then does he feel the replicants should identify with, even as they're shackled with such limited time remaining to them?

But these are some of the ideas that I've considered at length as I composed my own books On The Other Side Of The Eye and BARROW, which even have a poem or two directly and indirectly inspired by Phillip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and Blade Runner, in addition to thematic elements I thought compelling. I think there's some very interesting material worth revisiting in Blake if one makes the effort.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Tellabration! 2009 in the Twin Cities

This Saturday in Minnesota is Tellabration! an all-day storytelling event that brings together the MN storytelling communities. It's an all-day free event during that culminates in the Evening Concert, featuring some of the best story artists in the state.

Running from 10 am – 10 pm, you'll have a chance to "Hear Good Stories and Tell your Own." This annual event features performances by local and regional artists, family friendly storytelling room, storytelling workshops, liars contest, story swaps and open mics.

This year's concert features:
Katherine Glover, Khary Jackson (aka 6 is 9), Alison Bergblom Johnson, Rachel Nelson, Rik Reppe and Sara Boyle Trautner and is hosted by Katie Knutson. ASL Interpreted by Renee Kerrigan and Krystal Riordan. Each performer is telling his or her version of Hansel and Gretel, and the results are astounding! Note: this part is a concert for adults. For family-friendly events, come to the daytime activities at Tellabration!

Holiday Ordering!

My big thanks to all of you who've been so supportive since the release of BARROW and Tanon Sai Jai. Right now, I'm out of copies of On The Other Side Of The Eye, but if you'd like to order a copy of my other books, please let me know by December 10th in order to ensure that you can get a copy in time for the holidays.

As always, all copies ordered through me come autographed with a nice mesage. If you'd like a copy signed to someone besides yourself, be sure to let me know in the notes section of the order form! Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Films Set In San Francisco

While I'm out here in the Bay this week, it got me to thinking about films I connect to San Francisco. There's a lot but only a few that really, really linger for me: Big Trouble in Little China, the Dirty Harry series, The Joy Luck Club, Star Trek IV, Vertigo, The Conversation, The Rock and for some bizarre reason, The Presidio, with Sean Connery kicking some poor schmuck's behind with just his thumbs. Go figure. What are some of your favorite San Francisco films?

[NAM] The Immortal Game and Blade Runner

November is National Adoption Month, so I usually write a few posts on films like Blade Runner. One interesting bit is that the chess game played in Blade Runner is adapted from a real match known as 'The Immortal Game':
1 e4 e5 2 f4 exf4 3 Bc4 Qh4+ 4 Kf1 b5 5 Bxb5 Nf6 6 Nf3 Qh6 7 d3 Nh5 8 Nh4 Qg5 9 Nf5 c6 10 Rg1 cxb5 11 g4 Nf6 12 h4 Qg6 13 h5 Qg5 14 Qf3 Ng8 15 Bxf4 Qf6 16 Nc3 Bc5 17 Nd5 Qxb2 18 Bd6 Qxa1+ 19 Ke2 Bxg1 20 e5 Na6 21 Nxg7+ Kd8 22 Qf6+ Nxf6 23 Be7 Checkmate.
This match was played on June 21, 1851 by Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritzky. The theme is usually considered the use of very bold sacrifices to secure victory, showing that as few as three active pieces could be worth more than a dozen at home.

There's a lot that can be said about the metaphor of this match. The whites sacrificed both rooks, a bishop, then ultimately, the queen, to secure a checkmate in what seems like it should be a devastating form of self-defeat. In the end, the blacks are defeated by two knights and a bishop. This was from an era when bold, rapid moves of gambits and counter-gambits were applauded, while holding on to too much material was scorned by most players.

In Blade Runner, the game is more than just a fight of corporately-manufactured 'replicants' against their human creators. 'The Immortal Game' is an apt description of the search and struggle for the longer life the replicants, and really, everyone, thinks they want in the film.

During the Minnesota Transracial Film Festival this month at the Oak Street Cinema, I read my poem 2019 Blues for the first time from BARROW.  My new book frequently draws elements and structure from Blade Runner and the Phillip K. Dick novel that inspired it, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

The chess metaphor and 'The Immortal Game' also serve as symbols of our desire to escape our status as pawns, sacrifices and disposable humans that are bought and sold, trafficked to the highest bidder. Although the line is excised in later versions of the film, the classic remark that resonates with me is: All he'd wanted were the same answers the rest of us want. Where did I come from? Where am I going? How long have I got?

Next to The Seventh Seal, where a knight challenges death to a game of chess until he can get home, Blade Runner is one of the great classic games of chess depicted on screen.

'The Immortal Game' was played as an informal game played during a break at an English tournament. I find it a classic example of how often the most remarkable things happen in between what's 'planned' to be the great works.

You can see this in the case with Chungking Express, which, despite being intended as a quickie to recharge the creative juices, wound up being far more popular than director Wong Kar Wai's epic Ashes of Time. Funny how things work out like that.

The term checkmate comes from the Persian phrase "Shāh Māt" which means 'the King is 'ambushed, helpless or defeated.' For a while it was thought to mean 'The King is dead.' The etymology seems to suggest the king is in mate when he is ambushed, at a loss, or abandoned to his fate.

For some unrelated fun, here's a few retro shots of my old co-workers and my neighborhood playing a game of live chess in North Minneapolis in 2008, as part of the FLOW Northside Arts Crawl. These pictures were taken by blogger Johnny Northside.

This was one of the last projects I helped to coordinate for the organization as a staff member, but it was a memorable one between members from the City of Minneapolis and the residents of the Hawthorne Neighborhood. For locals, that's the Hawthorne Hawkman as a rook in these shots.

It would be fun to see the Hawthorne neighborhood bring back the tournament again. We even had a blog dedicated to the idea, but alas, we haven't really revisited the idea yet. Maybe in the future, and hopefully before 2019.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

[The Loft] Stephen King today at the Fitzgerald

A few of you might have heard of this fellow by the name of Stephen King.

Tonight, he's appearing with Audrey Niffenegger, who wrote The Time Traveler's Wife, which became a runaway bestseller (and is now a movie). Niffenegger's second novel is Her Fearful Symmetry, a contemporary ghost story about 20-year-old American twin sisters who inherit their aunt's flat in London.

Thanks to the Loft and the Talking Volumes Regional Book club program, they're reading and discussing their work on Wednesday, November 18, 7 pm, at the Fitzgerald Theater, in Saint Paul.

Unfortunately, for some reason, tickets are sold out already, alas. I'm going to be up in Saint Cloud around then, so I don't think I'll make it back in time to catch them. (Plus, I forgot to pick up tickets. Nuts. Buy them early, is my advice.)

In May, Monica Ali, the British-Bangladeshi author of Brick Lane, is coming to the Talking Volumes series. She was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2003. She was also voted Granta's Best of Young British Novelists on the basis of the unpublished manuscript. There IS a movie based on it, but try and read the book first. ;)

But back to my Stephen King musings.

I was introduced to most of his work by his films first and find that I enjoy more of his short stories than his novels. I rank his Cat's Eye as one of my top guilty pleasures as far as films go. Well, that, along with Hudson Hawk and Big Trouble in Little China, but let's not go there.

IT, Christine, Silver Bullet and Salem's Lot remain the films that have lingered with me the most. Needful Things and Apt Pupil remain the biggest disappointments to me- I admit, I expected more. Ok, I also expected way more from Maximum Overdrive, too.

Stephen King's audiobook version of Nightmares and Dreamscapes remains my all-time favorite audiobook. Well, next to John 'Mighty Mouth' Moschita's Ten Classics in Ten Minutes, but that's a different story. Tim Curry, Yeardly Smith and even Whoopi Goldberg all put in great readings on this audiobook, and to me it's a classic example of how it should be done.

Anyway, for those of you who got tickets for Talking Volumes tonight, lucky you! :) Enjoy and bring back notes!

[Diversicon] Arthur C. Clarke's VERY SHORT STORY

In 2006, Wired Magazine had a great project asking horror, fantasy and science fiction authors to submit six word stories in the tradition of Hemmingway's famous 'very short story,' which Hemmingway considered his best work.

Diversicon's 2010 posthumous guest of honor, Sir Arthur C. Clarke submitted:
"God said, 'Cancel Program GENESIS.' The universe ceased to exist."

True to form, he refused to trim it. But it's not a bad story. ;) You should take a look at the others submitted by Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, William Shatner, Margaret Atwood, Neal Stephenson and Ursula K. Le Guin, and many others. Steven Meretzky apparently had a real field day with it.

Hmm. If I wasn't in the middle of NaNoWriMo I'd totally be doing this this weekend. :)

Roland Barthes

The London Review of Books made a note of two newly issued books by the late Roland Barthes. I hadn't really been familiar with Barthes' work until this article, but I'll have to reconsider it for the future

One book is set of transcribed notes of his from a 1974 trip to China in spring 1974, and the other is considered his diary of mourning following his mother’s death in 1977.

Michael Wood makes note of one of Barthes' quotes, that 'To write is to engage in a difficult relationship with our own language.’ And that Barthes considered himself:
‘un sujet incertain’: in Richard Howard’s translation, ‘a fellow of doubtful nature, whose every attribute is somehow challenged by its opposite’.
Well, how can I not be intrigued by that. Woods wrestles to present the significance of Barthes' work in the article- it's not always easy reading, but when he helps clarify many of the ideas, it's illuminating:
Emboldened by these lines, we could rephrase his own definition: to write is to have ideas in and through language, to look for what is missing from the words you have, and to learn to live with old tunes rather than dig into them.
This would intersect with my approach, especially with BARROW and poems like 'What Tomorrow Takes Away.' Although, I certainly also consider digging into the words an option.  So, some more things to plug into the grey matter and see what emerges.

Among the more interesting lines in Wood's remarks was his assessment that for Barthes, "It’s not that we keep meeting the dead. We keep meeting our failure ever to meet them again."

Reading at St. Cloud State University, Nov. 18th

I'm reading at the Atwood Little Theatre at the Atwood Memorial Center on St. Cloud State University on November 18th to celebrate Asian Students in Action's great Social Justice Week. This year's theme is "Open Your Eyes, Here I Stand: Asian American," and it all starts at 5pm.

I'll be reading a number of poems including 'Hunting The Asian American Male', 'Midwestern Conversations,' and 'Japonisme, Laoisme,' among others, concluding with a short conversation discussion on how Asian Americans have often been invisible within American society and institutions-politics, entertainment, education, etc-and the effects of this on our community. I'll examine some of the personal issues its had on me as I grew up in the Midwest, and what I've done over the years to overcome those obstacles and gain visibility for myself and our community.

I look forward to seeing you there!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

MN Transracial Film Festival a success

A big thanks again to all of you who came to join us for the MN Transracial Film Festival of Saturday, November 14th at the Oak Street Cinema. It was a brisk day but everyone reports there was a great attendance throughout the day. Considering the great lineup and the historic nature of the festival it was wonderful to see such vibrant support, and I hope we'll see more of these in the future.

I particularly applaud the festival's commitment to also showcasing the music and writing of other adoptees and our allies, with work from me, Sun Yung Shin, Mayda and Ed Bok Lee being included in the program. This isn't always an easy programming decision to make, and I deeply respect this commitment to all of the diverse voices of our community. Judging from the applause I would say our audience enjoyed this, and I hope it will continue to be a part of the festivals in the years ahead.

For my part, I read selections from Tanon Sai Jai and BARROW, opening with the poem "A Sum of Threads". I read some newer pieces from these books and regulars like "Midwestern Conversations". Sun Yung Shin debuted newer work, while Ed read three poems reflecting his experiences as a Korean American. Unfortunately, I couldn't stay as long as I wanted due to a most unfortunate shortage of quarters, a Minneapolis traffic cop and the onset of the sniffles. But I'm definitely putting this event on my calendar for future years.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Umberto Eco interview at Der Spiegel

Umberto Eco is one of my favorite living authors, and he has great and lively interview at Der Spiegel that I would consider essential reading for the year: http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,659577,00.html

For those of you in Paris, he's curating a new exhibit there at the Louvre. I imagine it's quite intriguing and would recommend you visit it.

Friday, November 13, 2009

[The Loft] Mystery, Crime & Thrillers

Over at the Loft Literary Center this weekend is the sold-out Mystery, Crime, & Thriller Festival featuring Vince Flynn, the New York Times bestselling author. (Who started out self-publishing. Interesting.)

Other award-winning writers include Carl Brookins, Philip Donlay, Jan Dunlap, Lois Greiman, Masha Hamilton, Ellen Hart, Erin Hart, Julie Kramer, William Kent Krueger, Mary Logue, Jess Lourey, Susan Runholt, and Richard A. Thompson. It's Saturday & Sunday, November 14 & 15.

It's a great lineup. There's also a great graphic novel & comic book festival coming up in 2010 I definitely want to catch, and will try to keep the rest of you updated on it as well. Gene Yang will be one of the key participants if I've read that correctly.

I enjoy the Mystery, Crime & Thrillers genre but haven't been reading much in it, lately.

My favorite authors in this genre who I recommend includes John Le Carre. I deeply admire the realpolitik feel of his writing, particularly his Smiley Trilogy which includes Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Le Carre broke ground as the first major writer who didn't sentimentalize or romanticize the world of espionage. This was such an important break from the trend, and opened the field wide open for good spy literature. It also spawned some unfortunate pale imitators whose work dilutes the poignancy of Le Carre's perspective to the point of what may seem like cliche today. But back then, it was a bold statement. I prefer his Cold War work including The Spy Who Came In From the Cold to his post-Cold War material. As an aside, he even includes a nod to the Lane Xang Hotel in Laos in his book The Honourable Schoolboy.

I'm old-school, and like classic hard-boiled detective stories and characters like Dashiell Hammett's Phillip Marlowe series, including The Maltese Falcon.

I can't get into Dan Brown. I find Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum much more intelligent and amusing, as well as The Name of the Rose. They've continued to linger with me for much of my life long after I'd read them. Jorge Luis Borges shouldn't be mentioned in these categories any more than Franz Kafka should, but when their work goes mysterious, I find them intellectually rewarding and satisfying.

Graham Greene wrote The Quiet American, but my favorite of his is The Captain and the Enemy, which is a strange little work but it's filled with some fine passages, and it lingers with me.

I'd also point out Colin Cotterill's work with his Lao detective character Dr. Siri Paiboun in books such as The Coroner's Lunch. One day, I hope we see Lao writers emerge with their own Lao mysteries.

I really wanted to enjoy Tom Clancy's work, but only The Hunt for Red October stood out for me. However, Frederick Forsyth's The Dogs of War and Day of the Jackal are great reads, although the Bruce Willis version of Day of the Jackal must totally be avoided. See the one with Edward Fox, instead.

For quick, cheap thrills, growing up I enjoyed many of the old Gold Eagle 'adventure' series including Mack Bolan: The Executioner, Phoenix Force, Able Team and SOBs. You can usually pick these up for a buck and they're fast reads, plot driven more than character driven. And they were among the first books I encountered that featured, for better or worse, depending on the setting Lao and Hmong characters. Inauthentically written, mind you, but it was precedent.

Have a great weekend!

Transcultural Adoption and Cinema II

There's a lot of science fiction films with adopted protagonists out there. Batman, Superman, Hellboy, Luke Skywalker. And antagonists, such as the Omen and Rosemary's Baby. As far as dramas go, not much worth remark, to me, although I'm sure there's one or two out there.

But here's my shortlist for films that to me, captured the essence of my experience, although they were not written or necessarily intended as such.

Alien Nation

Blade Runner


And a nod to 1987's Angel Heart, among others.

Transcultural Adoption and Cinema

With the very first MNTRFF at the Oak Street Cinema, I find myself deeply excited about the meaning and significance for transcultural adoptees, who have one of the largest populations in the world in Minnesota. The doors open at 1:30pm, with tickets sold until 5pm. And with those doors opening I think about the films that meant the most to me growing up as an adoptee.

In the cinema of my youth, I can't think of any dramas where I meaningfully saw my experience, my voice, my feelings reflected in what was on-screen. This has been a recurring complaint of Asian Americans, and one deeply felt as a transcultural adoptee. A TRA experience is almost never presented as anything but device and joke. This occurs often enough that I think: You know what? Forget it. I really just don't want to see TRA characters now, because people will never get it right. And I hate that it has come to such a point where I would be pushed away and repulsed by the depiction of my own culture's stories or the story of others in similar situations.

The worst of these, however, that still lingers in my mind, is Justin Lin's TRA character in 'Better Luck Tomorrow'. Which may not be fair, I admit. The thrust of Lin's story was not to be an expose or a meditation on Asian American TRAs, it was a first attempt at creating a majority Asian American film. The film was vital in a Hollywood environment where, despite the large concentration of Asians in California, their presence is all but ignored. Our issues as TRAs? Afterthoughts and throwaway moments.  Watching Lin's inauthentic TRA character Stephanie was more painful than any depiction I've come to expect from Hollywood.

This character was essentially a message:TRAs can never expect to be presented authentically in full-depth or context except by productions made by our own hand. 
That's why I find the MNTRFF filled with so much potential even as I go in knowing much of the work may be rough or worse, as dull as an Eric Byler film.

Let me be clear: I don't go to see a film to watch a TRA character 'on a journey to discover themselves/their lost family/their alienation'  any more than I go to see an Asian American film to watch a 'Wendy Wu' /'Joy Luck Club' Old Country vs. New Country kung-fu or an immigrant/refugee melodrama like Oliver Stones' 'Heaven & Earth'  Barf.

When I see a story with a TRA, I want to see an authentic consciousness depicted, no matter how absurd, fantastic or dramatic the situation is. I'd prefer a TRA film to have TRA characters and households within it, where their presence as TRAs is organic and integral to the story, but it is NOT the story.

The story should be the story. Characters should have a natural flow and response to conditions within that story. Not a 'Look at me! I'm TRA!' self-consciousness. That's amateurish and beneath us.

To me, watching a TRA 'Roots' a 'Daughter of Da Nang'-style documentary is about as compelling as watching spackle dry. Pass.

I'm also totally uninterested in watching a dramatized sociology textbook on the politics of transcultural adoption. That's just my taste in films.

There are often overt or implicit suggestions TRA don't have our own culture. That we are neither fully 'white' nor fully 'Asian' or whatever our ethnicity or root culture may be. I, and I believe many others, grew up with a sense we belonged nowhere, truly-There is no place for us, unless we make it ourselves. Fair enough. So be it.

I go into the MNTRFF understanding that most of these films were produced with limited resources, certain necessary compromises and different aesthetic tastes, but I am sure there are also a few bright gems in this year's selections and I hope, over time in future festivals we will see work of great depth, great art that speaks with authenticity and honestly, kicks ass.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

[Musing] Sins of Writers, I.

There's not a lot I consider unforgivable sins when it comes to writing and literature.

Some are obvious, terrible, but not necessarily unforgivable. Merely unfortunate: Being boring, mediocre and unambitious. Others I take a firmer stance on. A writer gets many tools at their disposal. Tools that are prohibited to many other professions, such as lying. Fiction and many other forms allow and encourage lies to strike at deeper truths.

Still, even a writer has some responsibilities.

One unforgivable sin for a writer?

I'm going to call out writing to deliberately make another person or even one's self stupid.

I'm not talking about writing that's nonsensical like 'The Jabberwocky' or Vogon poetry. I'm not talking about policies or ideas that are wrong, confusing, vague or uninformed. I'm calling out work that has been written with the clear and deliberate intent of creating stupidity and somehow lessening intelligence within another being.

To have woken up and said, by god, I'm looking for a way to make a complete stranger a numbskull, for whatever purpose, be it commercial, political or some other ill-conceived social gain or even just for the hell of it.

To me, that would be one of the most unethical and unforgivable crimes a writer could deliberately commit. Now, this is not to say that this might occur unintentionally. But, the wanton intent would be reprehensible, the uncrossable line.

Visiting Oakland 11/19-21: APEN and Enter The Green Dragon

In a sudden bit of news, I'll be visiting Oakland, California from November 19th-21 to visit with the wonderful folks at APEN, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, who are celebrating their 15th year anniversary.

In particular, I and my colleagues at the Lao Assistance Center will be visiting the members of the acclaimed Lao Organizing Project:
The Laotian community in Contra Costa County, CA lives in one of the most toxic regions in the nation. Surrounded by more then 350 industrial sites and toxic hazards, their home, school, and work environments are exposed to dangerous levels of lead, pesticides, and other chemicals on a daily basis.

As refugees who entered the U.S. in the 1970's, the Laotian community is still a relatively new population with little voice about the policies affecting their lives. LOP was started in 1995 to bring together the diverse Laotian ethnic and tribal groups in Contra Costa County to respond to the needs of the community, work toward change, and provide a vehicle to build the community they envision. LOP has a membership base of 200 families and over 20 leaders.

"Enter the GREEN Dragon-APIs Winning Environmental Justice In California" 
“Enter the GREEN Dragon – APIs Winning Environmental Justice in California” is going to be a milestone 15th anniversary celebration for APEN and the low-income communities they organize, and a fun filled evening with their many supporters. They will be addressing the emerging importance of the Asian and Pacific Islander community to issues critical in CA and the US, such as climate change, as well as updating everyone about their current work.Oakland Rotunda: Thursday, November 19th 6pm -9pm

Interviewed at MNArtists.Org

Minnesota author Britt Aamodt did a great interview with me over at the famous MNArtists.Org website.

We discuss poetry, the uncertain terrain of personal history, and the day I heard from the NEA. And a lot of zany things in between, from the first poem I ever wrote to ovens, sex bombs and ways to make oatmeal when you're laid off. It's a deeply personal interview, but I hope it also inspires other poets and writers to keep at it.

And in case I haven't said it before, thanks everyone for all of your support over the years!

Claire Light reading in San Francisco 11/12

Sorry for the short notice, but Asian American writer Claire Light, a good blogger and writer is reading tonight, November 12th at Modern Times. 7 pm. It's at 888 Valencia St (@ 20th) in San Francisco.

She has an upcoming chapbook of work "Slightly Behind and to the Left" due next year, barring sabotage by gremlins. She's been actively involved with Hyphen Magazine, the Carl Brandon Society and many other interesting causes over the years. She has a master of fine arts degree in fiction writing from San Francisco State University and is a suspected cyborg. Considering I've only met her as a text-based entity, she's pretty cool in my book. But my books are quite strange, just as a heads up. Even so, check her out, tell her I said 'hi' if you go. Or tell her I said something really deep, profound and madness-inducing about the elder gods. That works too.

Call for Asian American Submissions: Kartika Review

Kartika Review is accepting submissions for upcoming issues of their online Asian American literary magazine.
They're accepting: fiction, flash fiction, creative nonfiction (memoir, reportage, essays, letters), poetry and visual art by Asian American artists. A quarterly journal, they read submissions all year. Full submission guidelines, including the email addresses for submitting work, are available at: http://www.kartikareview.com/submit.html
Kartika Review serves the Asian American community and those involved with Diasporic Asian-inspired literature. They scout for compelling Asian American creative writing and artwork to present to the public at large. The editors actively solicit contributions from established virtuosos in our community in hopes their works here will inspire the next generation of virtuosos. They also want to promote emerging writers and artists they foresee to be the future powerhouses of their craft. Ultimately, Kartika strives to create a literary forum that caters to and celebrates the wordsmiths of the Asian Diaspora.

Report from Normandale Reading Series 11/10

Matt Mauch from the Normandale Reading Series at Normandale Community College provided a great overview of the presentation on Tuesday, November 10th in Bloomington, Minnesota. My deep thanks again to the wonderful students, staff, faculty and community members who came to attend. It was a great evening with some excellent questions from young writers from diverse backgrounds around the world.
Bryan mixed talk on craft and theory and language with poems from his latest book, "Barrow." What was so great is that the talk on craft and theory didn't feel talk on craft and theory; it felt like one writer encouraging other writers to take risks, to listen to and trust themselves, to remain humble before the words. Allusions to pop culture and the literary canon shared the stage (which was a table and a stool, because podium and mic were never delivered). The audience asked great questions (they must have had good teachers somewhere along the line) and Bryan gave lucid, anecdotal, in-depth responses that were as factual as they were inspiring. All in all, a fantastic night overlooking the moonlit Japanese Garden at Normandale Community College.

MN Transracial Film Festival: Saturday!

MNTRFF is only two days away at the Oak Street Cinema!!!

Doors will open at 1:30pm and tickets will be sold until 5pm.
There is a parking ramp adjacent to the theater, as well as street parking.
Student IDs are required to obtain student rate.

Whether you are able to join us for the entire event or just part of the day the organizers hope you come out and support the transracial adoptive community!!!  This is the very first time this festival has been brought to Minnesota and there is an exceptional range of films being shown in addition to readings, musical performances and other festival activities!  http://www.mntrff.org 

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

[Upcoming Reading] A.S.I.A. Social Justice Week, 11/18

I'm reading at the Atwood Little Theatre at the Atwood Memorial Center on St. Cloud State University on November 18th to celebrate Asian Students in Action's great Social Justice Week. This year's theme is "Open Your Eyes, Here I Stand: Asian American," and it all starts at 5pm, but I'll be around to talk with many of you before and after, as well.

The discussion will center on how Asian Americans have been invisible in American society and Institutions-politics, entertainment, education, etc-and the effects of this on our community. I'll examine some of the personal issues its had on me as I grew up in the Midwest, and what I've done over the years to overcome those obstacles and gain visibility for myself and our community.

I'm looking forward to seeing many of you there!

[Retroview] The Year in Books 1995

So, obviously I'm having a lot of fun looking back over yesteryear with this 1995 Nov./Dec. issue of A. Magazine. June Unjoo Yang had taken on the year in books and cited "Five Books I Would Have Read Even If Weren't A Books Editor."  Can you guess what they were?

The Winged Seed: A Remembrance. The memoir by poet Li-Young Lee.

Reef by Romesh Gunesekera, shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

Discrepant Histories: Translocal Essays on Filipino Cultures by Vicente L. Rafael

China Pop: How Soap Operas, Tabloids and Bestsellers Are Transforming a Culture by Jianying Zha

Muae: A Journal of Transcultural Production, edited by Walter Lew, which technically wasn't a book but apparently still interesting to look at.

She also gave a snarky nod to The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan, Home Was the Land of Morning Calm: A Saga of a Korean-American Family, by K. Connie Kang, and got a nice jab at Andrea Louie's convoluted opening line to Moon Cakes: "I want to tell you a love story. It has no beginning, no end. So I simply must start somewhere in the middle, which is now."

Dinesh D'Souza's The End of Racism earned her 'Howler of the Year' for his line: "As a self-described conservative, I also acknowledge that the political right has a mixed-to-poor record in supporting civil rights during the 1950s and 1960s."

Again, this is all 15 years ago,but I find it deeply interesting to see where we've been, what held up, and who's still writing. Interestingly, back then she cited the Best and Worst Book Trend of 1995: The Memoir. Which leads in to the interesting question, what's the Best and Worst Book Trend of 2009?

[Retroview] Asian American Primetime 1995

Back in 1995, the now-defunct A. Magazine was looking at the best and worst of 1995, including a sub-article by Emil Guillermo about what was happening in TV.

Guillermo pointed out: Connie Chung was a CBS anchor, Russell Wong was on 'Vanishing Son' and Margaret Cho had her show 'All-American Girl'. And this was all pretty exciting, although it was also all over in a flash within months for each of these projects.

Back then, highlights were limited roles for Asian Americans as 'The Other Woman' with Lauren Tom's arrival as Julie, a girlfriend for Ross on 'Friends' while Amy Hill got to be in 'Seinfeld' as a Korean nail salon owner or 'The Rookie' pointing out the Star Trek series 'Voyager' with Garrett Wang as Ensign Kim and Joel de La Fuentes in 'Space: Above and Beyond.'

Guillermo also pointed out roles as 'The Gunga Din' or 'The Victim,' including an episode of 'Picket Fences' that had a storyline concerning Hmong bridal kidnapping and killing chickens.

Guillermo's closing question back then was: 'Is Asian as anything but normal better than Asian as nothing at all?'

Interestingly, in that same issue, A. Magazine was on a bit of a roll, giving the 'I'm Every Asian' Plastic Casting Cast for Ethnic Flexibility award to Jason Scott Lee citing his string of as roles as Chinese, Eskimo, South Asian, Polynesian and the Buddha in films such as Dragon, Map of the Human Heart, Rapa Nui, The Jungle Book and Buddha Siddhartha.

So, that's close to 15 years ago. Has a lot changed? And arguably, have we been a part of that change?

Monday, November 09, 2009

[SEATTLE] Lao Heritage Foundation 3rd Annual Benefit Dinner

The Lao Heritage Foundation Pacific Northwest Chapter is hosting their Third Annual Benefit Dinner on Saturday, November 14th, 2552! Join them in celebrating, promoting, preserving, and transmitting Lao culture through the arts!

There will be a formal dinner of Lao cuisine, traditional music and dance programs, all for a great cause! The famous Lao morlum singer NumOy GoyJai will also be performing that evening. Of course, there will also be silent auctions, raffles, Washington wines, gourmet coffee/dessert bar, and much more!

The event is from 6:00 PM - 12:00 AM. Admisssion: $50 at the Renton Community Center. 211 Burnett Ave N. Renton, WA 98057.

[Introduction To Lao Writers] Mali Phonpadith

Mali Phonpadith is a Lao American writer who's consistently done excellent work over the years, and worked hard to develop her own creative lifestyle and an approach that reflects both modern and traditional tastes.

She's one of the key Lao American writers located near the Washington D.C. area and has been involved with many of the major artistic and literary projects of the community over the years in a variety of capacities, including the Lao Heritage Foundation and SatJaDham: The Lao Literary Project.

She's been published internationally and has established a well-deserved reputation as a thoughtful, charismatic and energized community leader who works hard to support causes she believes in. One of her interesting projects is Reflections Within which has explored photography combined with poetics. Voice of America's Vannasone Keodara did an interview with her on her Reflections Within showcase.

12th Annual Asian American Literary Awards Announced

The Asian American Writer's Workshop announced its winners this year for the 12th Annual Asian American Literary Awards. No surprises in the decisions, really, but some very good work to choose from. For the categories I'm most interested in:

The Asian American Literary Award in Poetry
The winner of the Twelfth Annual Asian American Literary Award in Poetry is Sesshu Foster for his collection World Ball Notebook. The two finalists are Monica Ferrell for Beasts for the Chase and Jeffrey Yang for An Aquarium. I haven't had a chance to read the other two, but I deeply enjoyed Jeffrey Yang's work.

The Asian American Literary Award in Nonfiction
The winner of the Twelfth Annual Asian American Literary Award in Nonfiction is Leslie T. Chang for her book Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China. The two finalists are Kao Kalia Yang for The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir and Kavitha Rajagopalan for Muslims of The Metropolis: The Stories of Three Immigrant Families in the West. Big congratulations, of course to Kao Kalia Yang, who continues to blaze trails for Hmong writers!



Here's an interesting reality check.

If you offered it right now, I bet more people would take classes about the Juggalos than Lao or Hmong literature.

When I look at how many thousands of people happily come, of their own free will, dressed in the defiant regalia of the Juggalo, and have whole songs memorized, compared to the work of Lao writers and musicians, it makes me pause.

REALLY pause.

To its credit, on paper, if in somewhat dubious practice, Juggalos, have a very progressive membership in many ways. Juggalos are typically fans of the band Insane Clown Posse or the other hip hop bands attached to Psychopathic Records. You can find a number of quotes online that state there's no one definition of a Juggalo. In a press release, the band has declared: "there are no requirements to being a Juggalo. We don't care if you spend a dime on merch, or if you know the words to every song. If this music touches you, and you get some positive experience from it, we would be honored to have you consider yourself a Juggalo."

One 2005 interview has a band member explaining: "you could be a Juggalo and not even listen to ICP. A Juggalo is a frame of mind and what not." and "Juggalos are Juggalos." Which oddly reminds me of the great Wole Soyinka quote: "Un tigre ne proclâme pas sa tigritude, il saute sur sa proie" or, "A tiger doesn't talk about its tigerness, it pounces on its prey!"

Overall, the openness with which people can enter, to their own particular level of contentment, within Juggalo culture, may be something other societies should consider. Especially those that are emerging as post-geographic, post-national cultures, where more members exist outside of any one nation than within it. Just an idle thought for the day.

[Puppoetics] Doglion, Magic, and more.

Doglion is one of the great full-sized, classic Muppet characters from Jim Hensons, seen here in an amazing performance with Doug Henning. Personally, I think it would be great to see a Lao American Yuk or similar character design.

Here, we also see the classic character of Sweetums. I rather like the chair Sweetums is sitting on. I think there's some very interesting work that could be done, over time, if one were to actively pursue it.

[Puppoetics] When in doubt, make your own.

One of the long-term projects I'd been thinking of developing over the years had been exploring the zone of puppoetics. Can a meaningful art form emerge that embraces puppetry, poetry and the literary arts, especially for a Southeast Asian American perspective.

The idea first emerged for me while observing the Joe Louis Puppet theater in Thailand where the puppets were used to retell tales from the Ramayana and other Thai epics.

Lao puppet shows are either traditional tales or incorporate public service announcements like "Don't touch the leftover bombs." Personally, I'd like to see more contemporary and meaningful works emerge within a contemporary context.

Lao American and Hmong American puppet traditions in the US have not really taken off to date.

I find this odd, considering the presence of Heart of the Beast Theater and other related arts organizations in Minnesota, where a significant number of Hmong and Lao artists reside.

To be fair, the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent has one set of giant puppets which are used, but considering there's over 80,000 Lao, Hmong and other Southeast Asian Americans in Minnesota, there could be so much more and such a vibrant and interesting scene.

But again, this also goes back to the ongoing problem that there isn't enough infrastructure in place right now to allow deep artistic risk for most of our would be artists.

A special nod and thanks, then, to Gordon Smuder, of Minnesota's hilarious Transylvania TV for pointing out www.puppetproject.com which provides a starting point for people interested in making great and innovative fabric and foam puppet characters. Some great examples of the versatility of these patterns can be spotted here. Hopefully, it won't be too long before we see some more Hmong and Lao American puppet work!

In the meantime, enjoy some of Transylvania TV:

Building Lao and Hmong literary cultures

The growth of Lao and Hmong literary traditions is important for a number of personal, professional and cultural reasons. They are a great mountain ahead, and we've not even begun to reach the summit. I always bear in mind the words of Winston Churchill, who says "This is not the end. It's not even the beginning of the end. But it is perhaps, the end of a beginning."

For Hmong, there's an amazing tract before them. Every page is history, even those pages that are, for lack of a better term, 'failed' works. For the first time in 4,000 years, Hmong have an opportunity to tell their story from their own perspective in their own way. Free of censorship, political 'expedience,' the social 'ass-kissing,' if you will, that has often been required for survival within other societies.

Scholars may debate, but ultimately, until the last 50 years, there was no writing system, no works of literary art, no poems, no novels, not even a short story that was written down. This is not to say that there weren't oral works. Far from it, there's an amazing wealth of music, much of which has unfortunately been lost. You'll find no books, no manuscripts or scrolls from ages past.

So, what's written down today should be of extreme interest. Some choose to preserve the folktales and old proverbs, some want to create memoirs of the last 50 years and the war for Laos and resettling in America. Only a few are choosing to venture well beyond 'expected' territory. And we should value all of these.

This doesn't mean we check our critiques out the door. There are those whose work sells out. Whose work is mediocre or derivative. Whose work regurgitates but does not recast the story in particularly interesting ways. But, this is every writer's growth process and journey, and I think over time we've been rewarded with some very vibrant material, and with encouragement we will see even more unique work from Hmong writers. I wish there were more programs and resources to meaningfully encourage these developments and let writers consider paths as professionals.

But, like the hard stone of the old Lao mountains that can be made to flourish, perhaps what's meaningful is what emerges in spite of the excessively harsh literary conditions Hmong and Lao writers face.

For Lao writers, I see the role as essential to the continuing growth and definition of Lao culture. There was a time when literature and poetry were considered more valuable to the Lao than even academia. Not everyone could go to school, but the arts helped level the playing field and united the country. There's a fine tradition to uphold, with work that caters to some distinctively Lao sensibilities and preferences.

People can be governed by laws, but under the healthiest of conditions they -choose- to be a people because of the arts and what the arts create: The conversations, the expressions of shared and personal dreams and hopes. We may not know the implications of Section II, Paragraph 6, Line 2 of a particular legal code, but we can appreciate the story of Sithong and Manola or Nerakhoon at whatever level works for us.

Nearly 35 years since the end of the war in 1975, Lao literature is in its most curious state. Desired but difficult to come by. Experimenting and transforming. Full of potential, but clearly in a zone of crisis if we cannot begin a meaningful resurgence, interest and commitment to literary excellence AND literary risk.

At the very least, bad writing produces bad entertainment. But bad writing also creates stagnant cultures and we don't have to have that.

[Retroview] The Qatsi Trilogy (1982-2002)

The Qatsi trilogy is a collection of cinematic tone poems containing no words, no narrative, only music and a variety of photographed images. Landscapes, cityscapes, etc. filmed with time-lapse photography among other techniques.

These films were:
Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out Of Balance (1982)
Powaqqatsi: Life In Transformation(1988)
Naqoyqatsi: Life As War

Koyaanisqatsi was the most well known of the films, which all featured scores by composer Phillip Glass, and for most people it was the make or break film. You either responded to it or you didn't. A trailer can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PirH8PADDgQ

As an artist, I think it's a brave approach to strip out the narrative and word and let readers judge and ask for themselves, forming their own connections to what they would see on the page, the canvas, the screen. There are many questions with all of these.

In 1982 it was hailed as a very visionary concept, when many films of the early 1980s were still suffering from excess of narration and explanation, and MTV videos were just starting to emerge with their vacuous, overproduced commercial imagery.

To me, I continue to wonder, where is the fine line between 'meaningful' juxtapositions, the presentation of an artistic object free of narrative and imposed judgement, and when is it a cop out? And worst of all, when does it become merely boring?

To put images next to one another and add music risks being no more meaningful than seeking the art in random arrangement of books on a shelf. Randomness is simply randomness, sometimes. Creating prompts like this but 'excusing yourself' from the dialog with the audience seems bold, but a cinematic way of saying: 'Here, sit in the room and watch some stuff I found lying around. Do, you know, whatever,' which becomes funny because it seems the films wanted to discuss our 'humanity' or our increasing distance from it and the world.

Powaqqatsi has several meanings including "parasitic way of life" or "life in transition". Powaqqatsi has more familiar human figures and imagery, but the result is often a feeling of watching culture-vulture tourism and an artwork assembled from a dangerous zone of privilege, one that exoticizes and romanticizes the struggles of third world development between traditional live and industrial modernization. I find myself asking many more questions here at an aesthetic and social level. An excerpt for Powaqqatsi can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E4mSEou1zhA

Naqoyqatsi was deeply experimental to create what the director considered "virtual cinema." The key change is archive footage and stock photography is edited then digitally manipulated and employs CGI. This differs from the other films that shot workin the real world. The trailer can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOaemcoMrFI

Overall, I credit the Qatsi Trilogy for raising some classic questions for cinema and art, opening the way for many others to attempt cinematic tone poems.

This is a set of films that long after their first release continue to provoke a wide variety of responses from me. There are moments where I find it deeply compelling and others deeply troubling, and sometimes, simply boring. But it is in provoking that wide range of responses that I find myself returning to it, and the final verdict is: Fish.

Appearances this week!

On Tuesday, November 10th, I'm reading for the Normandale Reading Series at Normandale Community College in Bloomington, MN. Copies of BARROW and Tanon Sai Jai will be available for sale, and I'll sign them. :) This is the first college I've read at in Minnesota in over a year, especially since the NEA Fellowship.

On Saturday, November 14th, I'm reading at the Minnesota Transracial Film Festival at the Oak Street Cinema. The entire day is filled with great films and performances and I hope many of you can make it as transracial adoptees from around Minnesota come together to see this emerging genre of films, music and literature from an authentic transracial adoptee voice.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

[Creature Feature] Trolls

Trolls are fearsome creatures, similar to the yuk of Laos. Many are large, even giant, tusked creatures, with some skill in magic, usually for malignant purposes. However, there are reports of female trolls who are quite attractive and quick-witted compared to the lumbering, dull-witted males of the species.

Troll women often cavort in the forest in lavish finery too beautiful to be of human fabrication. They let themselves be seen by human men to attract servants or pets. These men often returned after decades, wandering, with no memory of their time with the trolls.

Some Swedes say "Det verkar som om det går troll i det här projektet" or "It looks like there’s walking trolls in this project," when things go amazingly wrong, because trolls are connected with bad luck and accidents.

Like the yuk, trolls are confirmed shape-shifters. Known forms include rolling giant balls of yarn, animals, or they simply remain invisible with their predatory intents.

Most Folk Metal bands consider trolls to be naturalists, fond of drinking, very anti-Christian and anti-human. But oddly, some trolls let humans raise their children, secretly switching human babies who haven’t been christened. Many trolls have taken to living under human bridges in recent centuries. Trolls find goats quite tasty but may be wary around them these days.

Stones with roughly man-like features could be explained by folklore as trolls petrified by sunlight or curses.Theodor Kittelson is one of the leading artists of the world to successfully depict trolls.

In America, the troll capital is considered Mount Horeb in Wisconsin, where the downtown streets are lined with troll statues. Yoopers of Michigan consider those who live in lower Michigan trolls because we live "under" the Mackinac Bridge.

[Creature Feature] Gremlins

Gremlins are fairly new creatures of the world, who’ve taken to mechanical sabotage, particularly aircraft.

Although the word gremlin may come from the Old English word gremian, ‘to vex,’ modern gremlins first came into common knowledge in the military during the first world wars among aviators. The earliest known reference is a poem in the journal Aeroplane.

Worldwide awareness of gremlins outside of the military is credited to airman Roald Dahl, who was once attached in the Middle East to the 80th squadron of the Royal Air Force, and had a crash landing in Libya. He penned a novel that identifies males as widgets and females as fifinellas. He speculated they were angry about the destruction of their homeland to make an airplane factory.

Gremlins are equal opportunity tricksters and nuisances, spotted on both sides of conflicts.

The Minnesota Wing of the Civil Air Patrol in Inver Grove Heights adopted the gremlin as their mascot. AMC once made a car named after the Gremlin for 9 years, saying a gremlin was “a pal to its friends and an ogre to its enemies.”

There’s a peculiar musicality attributed to their work, as machinery and cables snap with melodic twangs, according to many survivors. This is probably not immediately of much use. Most gremlins are considered fairy-sized, but a classic Twilight Zone episode suggests they can be man-sized or larger.

[Diversicon] Asian American Speculative Literature

As we start the conversation regarding Asian American Speculative Literature, the Carl Brandon Society has previously suggested a number of great titles to consider in the discussion. Narrowing it down to writers from North, South and Central America, among the standouts we have are:

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
Atomik Aztek by Sesshu Foster
Hopeful Monsters and The Kappa Child by Hiromi Goto
Salt Fish Girl by Larissa Lai
The Poet's Journey by Amirthi Mohanraj
Of Love and Other Monsters by Vandana Singh
And of course the work of William F. Wu.

There are many others who I'm probably missing on this first list, so by all means, as always, suggest away!

[Diversicon] 2010 Posthumous Guest of Honor: Arthur C. Clarke

We recently discussed that Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards nominated writer William F. Wu will be the guest of honor at next year's Diversicon in August, 2010 in Minnesota.

For Diversicon in 2010, we're also posthumously recognizing the work of Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008) and Fritz Leiber (1910-1992) and having a number of great debates including the great AI Faceoff and Asian American Speculative Fiction, discussing the work of William F. Wu, Ted Chiang, Marjorie Liu and others.

So who's Arthur C. Clarke?

Sir Arthur C. Clarke was born in England but eventually emigrated to Sri Lanka to study scuba diving. Most readers will be familiar with his work with 2001: A Space Odyssey, 2010, and Rendezvous with Rama, but also his television show Mysterious World.

He also made the following 3 "laws" of prediction:
* When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

* The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

* Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

One of Clarke's key contributions to science is to help promote the idea geostationary satellites can be telecommunications relays enabling, oh, cell phones, the Dish Network and other goodies. He also has a number of other books out including The Other Side of the Sky, Tales of Ten Worlds, The Nine Billion Names of God, A Meeting With Medusa and 3001: The Final Odyssey.

Here you can see a segment from his show Mysterious World:

We'll take a look at more of his work in the coming months ahead!

[Creature Feature] Makara

A Makara is a sea creature often used as a mount by a variety of dieties. It is also the insignia of Kamadeva, a god of love and lust. There's debate about its similarity to a crocodile, a dolphin or a creature with the body of fish body and the head of an elephant. It corresponds in some ways to the symbol of Capricorn as the goatfish.

The Makara is currently considered under the category of cryptid as there's a possibility it is in fact a real creature. Some think it may be an aquatic pachyderm, such as a variation of the Moeritherium.

There's also connections to the cryptid referred to as Trunko, which seems to be a large, hairy aquatic creature with an elephant trunk that has been spotted fighting orcas.

[Creature Feature] Apsara

An Apsara goes by many names including Tep Apsar in Khmer, Accharā, A Bố Sa La Tư, Bidadari or Vidhya Dhari. In the simplest term, you can think of them as an attractive cloud and water spirit who exists in the celestial realm. As with many beings of this sort, they are able to change their shapes and have special dominion over gaming and gambling.

The European counterpart is typically considered a nymph and siren, but they also have duties similar to valkyries. They're supernatural, beautiful and elegant, with a tradition of dancing, usually to the music made by their husbands in the palace of the gods to entertain the gods and fallen heroes.

Some Apsaras are seen as nature spirits who can lure a man to his death- but it should be noted that most existing literature suggests it's because he just doesn't want to leave and grab some lunch, so they typically starve to death, entranced by the Apsara's beauty, and not due to violent action.

The ancient courts of India identify 26 Asparas who each embody a specific aspect of the performing arts. As can be expected, they are also associated with fertility.

There is an interesting and popular story of an Indian epic heroine, Shakuntala, who is the daughter of a hermit-sage whom the gods sent an Apsara to tempt. The deities were fearful of the amazing spiritual energy the sage was accumulating, worried that he might one day challenge them.

So, reluctantly, the Apsara Menaka was given the duty to 'distract' him. As she approached the sage, the wind god tore away her garments, and even the sage couldn't ignore that. At this point, the account says they had sex "for some time," but then he went back to his business of meditating and became a deadbeat dad while Menaka had to return to the heavens, and she leaves Shakuntala on the banks of the river to be raised by birds and eventually, adopted by a passing stranger.

But it worked out.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Dead (Poe)ts & Writers Halloween Party a Success!

A very big thanks to the nearly 100 people who showed up to help the Loft Literary Center and Kieran's celebrate Halloween in style and to raise awareness about the great literature and art in our community.

This year we saw costumes of Jack London, Edgard Allan Poe, Calliope, Kurt Vonnegut, the Great White Hunter, an imprisoned Muse, Dorothy Parker, Mary Shelly, Anais Nin and many more imaginative figures, including the 2009 winner for most scary costume, Ann Coulter!

We heard readings from Bob Subiaga, Ardie Medina, Lorena Duarte, Eric Heideman, zombie F. Scott Fitzgerald, David Zander, and many others, offering delightful readings of Poe, Lovecraft, Shelly, and many other personal favorites and some original work as well. Although I had considered reading some Vogon poetry for the evening, a reading of the Jabberwocky by a barefoot pirate filled our quota for nonsense verse quite nicely. In the spirit of Casablanca, this looks like the start of a beautiful tradition.

You can catch a few videos up on youtube including these:

[Creature Feature] Chamunda

One of the great obstacles for humanity within Hindu belief is duality structuring our thinking: good-evil, man-woman, beauty-ugliness, chaos-order, etc. So much of traditional Hindu philosophy encourages an understanding of both sides of one's being. Very similar to Carl Jung's Anima-Animus concepts in a way.

Which brings us to this fearful aspect of Devi, the incarnation of female energy. Chamunda, who is typically shown as a figure with a shrunken stomach, a skeletal face with horrifying bulging eyes,drooping breasts, bad teeth, long nails also usually has a scorpion on her belly. Her name comes from two monsters she killed, Chanda and Munda who were generals of demon kings Shumbha and Nishumbha. Her eyes are said to burn worlds, and she travels with an entourage of underworld creatures. Naturally, many of them like to drink blood.

Chamunda will have between four to twelve arms, and holds, among many possible objects, a drum, trident, thunderbolt, sword, snake, a skull-mace, a severed head, a cup and/or a skull-cup filled with blood while she's standing on a man or seated on a beaten demon. She also wears a sacred thread of skulls (normally worn by male priests). The headdress is usually tied with snakes and skulls, and occasionally decorated with a crescent moon.

And sometimes she rides an owl.

Overall, I'd say, don't mess with her.

Reading: Otterbein College, February 25th, 2010

For the first time since 1997!

It's been a long time, but I'll be reading at my old college in Westerville, OH on Thursday, February 25 at 4 p.m. in Towers Hall 112 for the 2009-2010 Writer's Series. Other writers this year include Ann Pancake, Mark Doty and Richard Gilbert.

The Otterbein Writers' Series brings poets and writers to campus for readings and workshops. Its purpose is to provide students and faculty, and also area residents, with chances to meet contemporary writers and to hear literary works performed. So, I'm quite excited. Thinking back, the writer I first really remember at Otterbein College was Heather McHugh, and her poem, What He Thought. And for years, I thought that's how poets were and should be. Of course I met many others along the way, like Diane Kendig, who taught me quite a bit about Neruda.

Otterbein is a member of the Ohio Poetry Circuit, a consortium of nine Ohio colleges that cooperate to bring nationally known poets to Ohio. Recent circuit poets have included the current and previous U.S. poet laureates, Billy Collins and Robert Pinsky, as well as many renowned poets such as William Stafford, Mary Oliver, Stephen Dunn and Yusef Komunyakaa. In recent years, the Writers' Series has been assisted by grants from the Perceval Fund of the Columbus Foundation and the Ohio Arts Council in expanding events to include a week-long festival of readings and workshops about writing and the teaching of writing.

The Writers' Series has also initiated participation by graduates of the Otterbein English program. These writers have included fiction writer Michael Olin-Hitt (class of 1986) and John Deever (class of 1990), author of Singing on the Heavy Side of the World: A Peace Corps Ukraine Story.  Otterbein College was obviously a formative part of my experience as a writer, where I also received many of my first literary awards for my work as a student.

Good memories! I look forward to sharing my new work with my old campus in 4 months, and seeing where this year's students are headed in their own work!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Reading At Normandale Community College, November 10, 2009

The Normandale Reading Series hosts a reading by me in the Garden Room, overlooking the Normandale Japanese Garden as part of the Normandale Reading Series on Tuesday, November 10, 2009 from 7:00pm - 8:00pm! It's located at 9700 France Ave S, Bloomington, MN 555431. You'll be looking for the Garden Room, Kopp Student Center.

Interestingly, Normandale Community College is the first Minnesota college I've read at since receiving the National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in Literature, and I appreciate their invitation. I'll be reading a selection of work from my new book BARROW, as well as Tanon Sai Jai and On The Other Side Of The Eye.

I'm looking forward to talking to Minnesota students again! It's been a long and exciting year!

Classic Horror Films 18: 11/7/09

Classic Horror Films Part 18. A group of horror films (yet to be determined) will be shown with refreshments for free in Room E-306 at the Holiday Inn Select in Bloomington.

You should also check out the Marscon Masquerade Ball:
The third annual MarsCon Masquerade Ball will be held at the Holiday Inn Select Bloomington on Saturday, November 7, 2009. Meet and Greet starts at 6:00 pm, the ball runs from 7:00-11:00 pm.

They’ll have a DJ, a costume contest, prizes, and dancing. It’s the perfect excuse to show off your Halloween duds one more time.

Tickets are $10.00 online or at the door. (A PayPal fee applies for online sales. They'll take the PayPal payment system down a couple days before the ball to make sure all the payments get recorded, so if you want to pay this way please do so early.)

Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Minneapolis Airport Hotel Mall of America Area is located at:
Three Appletree Square / I-494 & 34th Avenue ( Exit 1 ) • Bloomington, Minnesota 55425

**TASTE OF TOJ ROOB-THE MOUNTAINS** UW Stevens Point, 11/7/09

If you're near Stevens Point this weekend, consider:
"A Family Portrait" : Gender Roles and Generation Gaps
5:00-9:00PM -- DOORS OPEN AT 4:00PM

It is time once more to take part in an evening rich with traditional southeast Asian entrées, an intellectual presentation, and delightful and inspiring entertainment. Our student organization, the Hmong and Southeast Asian American Club (HaSEAAC), will once again be hosting the annual event, Taste of Toj Roob-the Mountains, which highlights topics related to the southeast Asian community. Following the dinner will be presentation by Dr. Zha Blong Xiong, Associate Professor of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. The audience will then be treated to entertainment put together by our very own talented students and also by community members. The entertainment will consist of dances, skits, songs, and much more. Purchase tickets by calling the University Box Office: 715-346-4100, Dreyfus University Center, (DUC) 1015 Reserve St., Stevens Point, WI. Advance tickets: $12 At the door: $15.
Discounted price of $8 for UWSP students w/student ID in ADVANCE ONLY. Children ages 10 and under receive FREE admission.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

[NANOWRIMO] 2009. The year we make novels.

It’s November, so that means it’s National Novel Writing Month.

And this time, I’m really pushing myself to get one done in between promoting my new books BARROW and Tanon Sai Jai. By the way, be sure to check out the resources and support the folks at NANOWRIMO.ORG offer. A few years back they were also very generous in using proceeds to help build badly needed libraries in Laos.

But back to the basics and to encourage you too:
If you shoot for a 30,000 word novel, giving only 4 hours a day to the matter, it’s estimated to be about 40 words a minute for 30 days. Good discipline.

I think people can cut out 4 episodes of Everyone Loves Raymond and Friends for a month to get something like that done.

I don’t intend or desire to create War and Peace, but something readable, something that isn’t out there at the moment. I’m done with research. Now it’s time to write before all of the books within me start smooshing into one big, indescribable chaos, slithering along my cerebellum. This month, let’s make it a fantastic road trip novel. The kind we don’t get to see. Wish me luck! :)