Thursday, November 03, 2011

Journal of the Day: Other Voices International Poetry Project

Today in history, in the year 1838 the Times of India was founded, originally called The Bombay Times and Journal of Commerce. Marking 173 years, it's the world's largest-selling English newspaper. In 1913, the U.S. government introduced income tax. You take the good with the bad, I guess.

Today is also the birthdays of two of my favorite manga artists, the late Goseki Kojima and the late Osamu Tezuka, who helped bring to life Lone Wolf and Cub and Astro Boy respectively. Given that November is National Adoption Awareness Month, it seems strangely fitting.

To that end, the Journal of the Day is the Other Voices International Poetry Project, whose editors are now on their 45th volume this year. I met them face to face in 2004 in New York while attending events celebrating the release of Jessica Hagedorn's second Asian American anthology, Charlie Chan Is Dead 2: At Home in the World

Among the artists who've been featured over the last 7 years years were poets such as Mong-LanNguyen Duc BatnganChangming Yuan, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy CollinsLeila Montour, and Tammy Ho Lai-Ming, the co-founder of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal.

One of my favorite poets, Yevgeny Yevtushenko was featured in 2008. His 1979 book The Face Behind the Face was deeply influential on me over the last 20 years, as was Ray Mcniece, whose book Dis was a strong influence on me during the 1990s, both found among the used bookstores of Ohio. Ursula K. Le Guin's poetry can be found here, too. So there are some truly remarkable voices who've come to be a part of this ambitious project.


The Other Voices International Poetry Project is an invitation only journal. It was envisioned as "a cyber-anthology that erases the boundaries of nations, ethnicities, religions, cultures, and age to bring you some of the world's best poetry." Other Voices is listed in the journal section of the World Poetry Directory of UNESCO.

In 2004, they'd just started getting the project off the ground when I met them. I submitted in time to be in Volume 4.  I hope we'll see more work from other Lao poets around the world invited someday.

That year, I submitted 5 poems to them which were accepted: "Perspectives," "Riding the 16," "The Talk," "Iai (The Art of Drawing The Sword)," and "Democracia." 

"Perspectives" and "The Talk" were poems I'd written around the early 90s (1991-1992) at Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio  following my time in the computer labs and coffee shops after class. "Iai" was written later in the early 2000s, but was drawn from a time in college when I'd been drawn to the art and met briefly with one of the members of Kogen Itto Ryu, whose approach is quite different from that of the Yagyu school. 

"Riding the 16" was derived from frequent cross-town trips I took on the #16 bus from the Frogtown district of Saint Paul to Minneapolis, written around 2001. Ten years later, many of the businesses that inspired this poem have since been bulldozed or gone under along University Avenue, most recently Porky's, which was one of the landmarks that really made the city stand out to me. However, in their place we'll soon see light rail

"Democracia" later appeared in my first full-length book, On The Other Side Of The Eye, and was written in 2003 following my first trip back to Laos in 30 years, looking for my family. The title was a multilingual play on words, given the role of the Central Intelligence Agency in the war for Laos, and the Latin American word for democracy. "Democracia" appeared in my 2003 chapbook Touching Detonations as one of several poems addressing unexploded ordnance. It was a poem where "ghost children talk to ghost grandparents / and the parents are nowhere to be seen at all." 

The Other Voices International Project is made up of a small dedicated staff whose desire is to bring readers the best poetry possible from around the world in the form of a cyber-anthology.  They wrote "As the project grows so does our belief that the bottom line for this project is the poets and their voices as they look upon the world and attempt to find some way for us to meet and understand the consequences of what it means to be human..."

So, 7 years later, they're still going strong, and that says something. Here's to their continued good fortune and a celebration of their vision and faith in the human spirit!

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