Saturday, October 22, 2011

Ghost poems and Nang Nak

For Halloween, the Academy of American Poets presented a list of poems by prominent poets including Yusef Komunyakaa, Garrett Hongo and some guy named William Shakespeare dealing with ghosts at

I would also point out that in America, at least, this is a great validation of the work of speculative poets who write around themes of horror, fantasy and science fiction. also has a great article "Forget why does fantasy matter. Why does realism matter?," which I would argue applies not just to prose narratives but also to poetry.

While doing a recent call for submissions for an anthology of Lao American speculative art, I received a few responses that suggested speculative poetry wasn't something that serious Lao poets wrote about.

When we look at the Odyssey, the Ramayana, the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Canterbury Tales, the Lais of Marie de France, Le Morte de Arthur, Beowulf, and the Raven, these are speculative poems of the highest order that transformed entire cultures and affected the world.

In the Lao culture, our poetry included Phra Lak Phra Lam and the epic of Sinxay that began as poems. If anything, I would argue the maintenance of  our cultural traditions that our elders so fervently argue for obliges us to continue to write poetry that touches upon the mythic and the fantastic. Speculative poems are not the only thing to write of, but neither are they nothing to write of.

As for me, I've written a number of ghost poems over the years that have been published. This year, I present one of my favorites of these, based on the classic Thai legend of Nang Nak, which first appeared in my collection, On The Other Side Of The Eye. Have a happy Halloween season!

The Ghost Nang Nak 

Hates the draft.
Isn’t very good on issues
Of fertility

But isn’t too bad
With the lottery
If you pay your respects
Properly by the takian trees.

She’s eating diced mangos
With a mouth of ebony ants.

Kept company by a
TV tuned to tacky Thai soap operas.

Surrounded by white mutts
Who hate black dogs of any pedigree.

Wants a simple life again.
To set down the Buddha’s yellow candles
For just a minute.

But she has a lot of karma to pay off
For trying to keep her family together

Spooking mischievous children at night
Who thinks she’s looking for playmates

For her beautiful baby
Toddling between Wat Mahabut 
And the Prakanong River. 

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