Thursday, September 22, 2011

Gaps in Lao American Poetics

There are only a handful of full-length books by Lao American writers at the moment, even after nearly 40 years. Of these, most are memoirs. And this isn't to say that I have anything against memoirs. They're an essential part of any culture's body of experience.

As a writer of speculative literature, I often argue the need for a body of writers to also articulate futures for a community or the persistent fears that our experience will simply be mothballed WILL happen.

Poetry as a literary form is also essential, and these are not being written as books in large numbers within this generation. Not in a proportion that makes sense for a community of 200,000+.  Neither in Lao, nor in English. Nor do I get a sense that there are that many texts even close to being completed.

There are over 70 writers who've written more than one poem. Many made efforts to get them published among fellow Lao Americans and within the mainstream community, based on the submissions printed by the SatJaDham Lao Literary project between 1994 to 2001 and elsewhere.

This isn't a bad sign, but surely there's at least 1,000 of the 200,000 who could be adding their voices to the body of Lao American poetics, both older and younger writers.  Centuries ago, poets were considered the eyes of the city and deeply valued. I think we would benefit a great deal by reconnecting with that tradition.

More can be done to connect with emerging poets to help them complete and refine full manuscripts and assist them to find publishers, and more importantly, their true audiences. 

As Lao American writers and their friends, we need to work together to help each state, each enclave develop its own voice and sense of its history.

I'm not arguing for poets to only be poets. They should also explore the other literary forms, such as short stories, novels, theater and song. But in all forms they should be striving for the best they write within these.

But where are you seeing the gaps in Lao American poetry, and what would you recommend to address it?

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