Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Science Fiction Poetry Handbook and science fiction poetics

Next week, I'll be giving a lecture to a class in New York on fantasy, horror and science fiction poetry, or what we tend to call speculative poetry these days. To that end, this week and next I'll be discussing a number of issues and opportunities related to the subject that may be of assistance.

One of the leading organizations on the subject is the Science Fiction Poetry Association, founded in 1978 by the writer Suzette Haden Elgin. One can only imagine the initial number of eyebrows raised at the notion. In 2005, Elgin published The Science Fiction Poetry Handbook through Sam's Dot Publishing, which has also published my two collections, On The Other Side Of The Eye (2007) and BARROW (2009).

As a quick background, Arkansas resident Suzette Haden Elgin is also a novelist, known for Coyote Jones and The Ozark Trilogy. She also has a number of non-fiction books under her belt including The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense, Genderspeak and How to Disagree Without Being Disagreeable. Alas, given the tenor of much of today's political debates, clearly many would-be candidates have not read these. She's been retired since 1980 and had run the Ozark Center for Language Studies.

The Science Fiction Poetry Handbook is the first official book of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, although they produce a fairly regular newsletter, Star*Line.

To Elgin, personally, there are three key elements of science fiction poetry:

"1. A science fiction poem must be about a reality that is in some way different from the existing reality.

2. It must contain some element of science as part of its focus.

3. It must contain some element of narrative-some "story" element."

This is principally her personal definition, mind you. But it's an interesting starting ground. To that end, one might expect that for horror and fantasy poetry, the key change is in principle 2: "It must contain some element of horror or fantasy as part of its focus," would be the presumed, logical iteration.

I do think there's a nice out for science fiction poetry in Elgin's definition in that she does not strictly include 'accurate science.' Although one might argue it's inferred.

I think the field has diversified dramatically today in terms of the languages, styles, and subject matter that ask to be considered science fiction poetry. So, I personally weigh in that there are some parts of the Elgin definition that can be quibbled with, and lead me to prefer the term speculative poetry.

If we're going to call it science fiction poetry, then, by the use of the word fiction, there must be a narrative.

But there are forms of poetry that are not strictly narrative in the conventional sense. Symphonic or tone poetry comes immediately to mind, which had its roots in the dada movement and other examples of surrealist and absurdist poetry. Hugo Balls' "Gadji beri bimba" which is the inspiration for the Talking Heads song, "I Zimbra" is a good example of poetry absent of narrative. To me, it's almost a European koan. But it's not impossible to create poetic work with elements clearly influenced by the imagination we normally reserve for science fiction, fantasy and horror.

To me, a poem, if we choose to write a poem, should clearly be a poem, and not a short story or a novel with bad formatting.

We see in books like Toby Barlowe's Sharp Teeth, an interesting example of the speculative prose poem. While it deals with lycanthropes in modern California, it would not strictly be considered science fiction under the Elgin definition. Under that definition, we would have to look for where science must be a focus in part of the poem. It's possible to find it, but it also feels like we're stretching it.

Ridiculous as it is, the notorious satire Elektronik Supersonik is a fairly good example of an experiment in science fiction poetics set to music, but not necessarily a coherent narrative.

This is part of why I prefer the term speculative poetry. To me it catches a wider swath of some of the interesting things being done in the field. The term speculative poetry can encompass the scifaiku movement, for example.

One ongoing point of interest is how we will see the development of multicultural speculative poetics. 

What is interesting to a speculative poet in one culture, might not even be considered speculative poetry in another.  There may be critique regarding the use of language and repurposing of cultural symbols and myths, or the degree to how far someone presents a reality unlike our existing reality. 

If alt-history poetics is just starting to emerge, what will happen within multicultural or post-colonial alt-history poetics? Is it science fiction poetry to present sonnet about a world where French did not colonize Indochina, for example? Or do we need to incorporate something outlandish such as steampunk technology to fully cross the threshold?

There can be some humorous exchanges that emerge with speculative poetry. One's use of an alien language or language such as that in Caroll's Jabberwocky might not get called out, but bad French or English grammar, questionable romanization of Indian or Lao, or misuse of the Oxford comma and punctuation? That's fair game.

I've had poems called out for suggesting that the legendary nak could be found at the Talaat Sao marketplace in Vientiane, for example.

The Science Fiction Poetry Handbook provides some interesting things to consider. Elgin asks us to consider how a poem looks, how it sounds, and how we choose words to make our poems successful. These are good ideas that can be applied and considered in any form of poetry. She discusses the additional challenge a poet faces when one has to address the suspension of disbelief, or the credibility gap.

How does Poe engage us in "The Raven" that we so readily accept a big black bird coming in to a narrator's room to perch upon a bust and taunt's him with the word "Nevermore!"

There's great deal of world-building in Homer's The Iliad, Dante's Inferno or Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, but how do we get to the point where we say: Ok, I understand the rules of this poem and what can and can't happen here so that suddenly this becomes fantastic and interesting, but not so ridiculous I give up on it.

The ghost of Virgil can lead a man through the layers of hell, but speculative poets today can have a hard time getting their audiences to go with them to Mars. These are some of the questions that can intrigue those of us who are working with speculative poetry.

For several of us working with Lao American literature, speculative poetry and fiction is of interest to us for the liberty we have to address sensitive taboo topics or gaps and unresolvable conflicts in the historical record. For many other cultures, I imagine there will come a point where they, too will start to discover the possibilities inherent within this approach.

Some find a metaphor of wolf totems, the grass mud horse or river crabs useful to them. Others may turn to more traditional symbols or try to create ones that serve as a better stand-in to address our present and emerging concerns. Planet of the Apes, Godzilla and Night of the Living Dead are significant examples of how we engage in social critique through speculative literature.

In the 20th and 21st century, it's been a while since a poem in English has captured the imagination and consciousness of the community, particularly a speculative poem, but there is ample precedent, such as the Aeneid or Orlando Furioso that we should consider.

To be fair, we should expect the process will also create some very, very terrible things once in a while:

But we press on!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Robert Frost on poetry

"Poetry is what gets lost in translation."
Robert Frost, 1874-1963.


Doing Literature Hemet Discussion Group: Canterbury Tales, Feb. 11

On Saturday, February 11th, 2012 from 10:00 am to 11:30 am, the ongoing "Doing Literature" discussion group will meet at the Hemet Public Library at 300 East Latham Avenue in Hemet, California. 

This month's book is Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, specifically "The Wife of Bath's Tale," although readers are invited to discuss any of Chaucer's classic stories during the discussion. On March 10th, the group will be discussing A Man For All Seasons, a play by Richard Bolt on the life of Sir Thomas More. The discussion group is free to attend.

"The Wife of Bath's Tale" is among the best-known of the Canterbury Tales, and is typically remarked upon for the how well-developed the character is compared to many of the others in the book. This particular tale is important for the insight it is believed to give about women's roles of the the Late Middle Ages.

The story centers on a knight who has been condemned to death for a heinous crime, but who will get a reprieve if he can answer the Queen's riddle, 'What is the thing that most women desire.' He is given a year to find the answer, but everyone he asks gives him a conflicting answer, until an old woman offers to supply him the correct answer, in exchange for a payment later. And as so many of these stories go, there's a bit of a catch to that...

Join us, if you can!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Celebrate Year of the Dragon! Free E-Book Copy of BARROW

To celebrate the arrival of the Year of the Dragon, I'm giving away free e-book copies of my current book of speculative poetry, BARROW, to the first 100 people who e-mail me at thaoworra @ gmail.com this week!

If you enjoy it, please recommend it to a friend or a family member!

If you really like it, consider buying a hard copy of it (If you use the link to the right of my blog, I'll also personally sign it for you, and ship it in a snazzy envelope with a few extra goodies just for you.)

I also appreciate any reviews or blurbs you post on goodreads.com or other websites.

Have a great week!

Lao train stamps: Kinnaird

An example of a 1997 Lao stamp featuring a French steam engine on it. This particular example is a Kinnaird. It never saw use in Laos, but it is interesting to consider how different things might have been if it had.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Speculations Reading Series for February and March

The SPECULATIONS READINGS SERIES continues at DREAMHAVEN BOOKS, 2301 E 38th St, Minneapolis. Each Speculations Reading includes a reception with free soda pop and cookies.

On Wednesday, February 15, S.N. ARLY reads her fiction from 6:30-7:30. Ms. Arly enjoys writing dark stories suitable for young adults and regular adults. Her most recent publications include a dark fantasy tale in Tales of the Unanticipated (TOTU) #29 and a retelling of "Little Red Riding Hood" in the all wolf story anthology Wolf Songs vol. 1. She lives in St Paul with her spouse, two young children, and two shelties who routinely herd ideas in her direction.

 On Wednesday, March 14, CATHERINE LUNDOFF reads her fiction from 6:30-7:30. Ms. Lundoff is an award-winning author and editor from Minneapolis. Her recent works include the short fiction collection A Day at the Inn, a Night at the Palace and Other Stories (Lethe Press, 2011) and the forthcoming novel Silver Moon: A Wolves of Wolf's Point Novel (Lethe Press, 2012). She is the editor of Haunted Hearths and Seraphic Shades: Lesbian Ghost Stories (Lethe Press, 2008) and the co-editor, with Josella Vanderhooft, of the anthology Hellebore and Rue: Tales of Queer Women and Magic (Lethe Press, 2011). In her other lives, she's a professional computer geek and teaches writing classes at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. Website: http://www.catherinelundoff.com

Speculations is a co-production of DreamHaven Books and SF MINNESOTA, a multicultural speculative fiction organization that also hosts a midsummer SF convention, DIVERSICON, the 20th edition of which will be held in the Twin Cities on August 3,5, 2012, with Guests of Honor TANANARIVE DUE and STEVEN BARNES.

Journal of the Day: The Journal Of Unlikely Entomology

If you stop by The Journal Of Unlikely Entomology you'll find a quirky e-zine centered on "the world of things that creep and crawl and explores the limits of what it means to be human," edited by Bernie Mojzes and A.C. Wise.

 Formally, they're searching for:

"Beautifully-written fiction, characters that grab us by the throats and refuse to let go until their stories have been told, worlds that draw us in and demand to be explored…and bugs. Genre isn’t particularly important to us—speculative, mainstream, slipstream, and the unclassifiable tales in between—we’ll read anything; all we ask is that something pertaining to bugs is integral or significant in your story. The bug element can be literal or metaphorical, hallucinatory or behavioral or metaphysical, or any combination thereof. Note, our definition of bugs is flexible and includes, but is not limited to: Insects, arachnids, scorpions, lobsters, BEMs of pulp science fiction fame, centipedes, trilobites and were-ladybugs—basically pretty much anything with bug-like qualities: multiple legs, stingers, feelers, or an exo-skeleton. Not quite sure what we’re talking about? Think of The Metamorphosis, Ender’s Game, Angels and Insects, Naked Lunch, A Recipe for Bees, District 9, and Eight Legged Freaks. Basically, think bugs, and let your imagination run wild. There are no barriers as to levels of profanity, gore, or sexuality allowed, but be sure to use them well if you do use them."

Alas, they would be doing this just as I'm hitting a writer's block regarding unusual stories about bugs, but it is just the sort of thing I would encourage people to send work to.

You would think, given all of the unusual things I've written about over the years I'd have a significant number of pieces on bugs besides my poem "Maggots," which many of you may recall appeared in my collection, On The Other Side Of The Eye. It was inspired in part by Yusef Komunyakaa's poem "Ode to the Maggot." I suppose I do also have the poem 'Today's Special at the Shuang Cheng,' which appeared in BARROW and the Mid-American Poetry Review. But I should probably write more about bugs. 

I've got entries on the Laotian Rock Rat, the dreaded Popobawa, and the Mongolian Death Worm, but those hardly count:

We even have a rare baby picture of future rock and roller Yu Zhenhuan, but no bugs.

As a quick side-note, I found myself in a conversation with A.C. Wise about whether one had 'arrived' on Twitter when one was plagued by pornbots. I personally think the results of the google image search are far more amusing, given what strange things can become associated with you. Tweet led to tweet and the next thing I know, the question of the Lizard People came up. As opposed to the horror of a Newt-Romney '12 ticket.

There are moments lately where I suspect had I known they were an option, I would have voted for them too. Hindsight getting me.

Anyway, among the things I discovered while searching for a good image of the lizard people was the fact that Minnesota is home to Rogue Taxidermy, whose artists go far beyond jackalopes. Among the ones I found particularly interesting was the work of Takeshi Yamada, whose work is consistently jaw-dropping, to say the least:

However, for my colleagues at the Horror Writer Association, it's definitely worth a look for some interesting inspiration. 

So, as a nod to A.C. Wise, I'm going to go with one of my favorite pictures of the evolved dinosaur / dinosauroid /  lizard people who never were, from a theoretical sculpture by Dale Russell and Ron Seguin made in 1982. It was on display at the Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, Canada, and may yet be:

Who wouldn't vote for this guy?

In the meantime, be sure to submit your bug-related stories to The Journal Of Unlikely Entomology! And say hi to A.C. and Bernie for me. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Year of the Dragon and Mr. Lao

So, to celebrate the Year of the Dragon this year, here's a tip of the hat to the character of Mr. Lao, who appears in the now-defunct Marvel series, Agents of Atlas or, later, Atlas. He served as an adviser to the organization, and many others, naturally all the way back to the days of Genghis Khan. Don't they all? Still, it's worth checking out the collected editions if you can find them. A big thanks to Comics Alliance who recently blogged about him in their round-up of great dragons in the comics.

Haiku Movie Review: Underworld 4

Kate looking timeless.
Reminds me to read White Wolf,
Vampire: Masquerade.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The work of poets

In light of this month's literary festival at Mumbai, here's an interesting note from Salman Rushdie, although I tend to think of him more as a prose writer: "A poet's work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep."

Poets and autobiography

"A poet's autobiography is his poetry. Anything else is just a footnote."-Yevgeny Yevtushenko.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Lao Steampunk: "I'm on a bateau"...

While doing research for an alternate history story set in Lan Xang, an interesting set of notes up regarding the possibilities of submarine technology such as the Nautilus of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.

Depending on how one wants to set up the development of technology in an alternate Southeast Asia, one can choose approaches that are wholly independent of Europe, limited interaction, or fully-engaged.

As we've mentioned before, the Dutch first reached Vientiane and the kingdom of Lan Xang in 1641.

What is interesting for this discussion is that in 1620, the first "practical" submarine was developed by a Dutch doctor named Cornelius Van Drebbel, who'd been living in England.

Van Drebbel's concept was a 12-man rowboat encased in greased leather, powered by rowers who pulled on oars that protruded through flexible leather seals connected to the hull. Van Drebbel's submarine crew was able to remain submerged for several hours at a time thanks to the use of snorkel air tubes that remained above the surface with floats. it was only capable of maneuvering approximately 12 to 15 feet below the river. King James I himself was said to have ridden in one. In history, this was repeatedly demonstrated with two other larger boats but considered of no interest to the British Navy. But it was a proven technology.

Van Drebbel was a inventor, physicist, and mechanician from Alkmaar, Holland who reputed to be a sorcerer because of the unusual inventions he developed over his lifetime. Besides the first navigable submarine, he has been credited with the development of a scarlet dye and a thermostat for a self regulating oven. Since the Dutch arrive in Lan Xang in 1641, it is not impossible that notes and details regarding Van Drebbel's concept could have been discussed between members of the king's court and the members of the expedition.

Historically, submarine designs will become very interesting, such as American David Bushnell's 1776 design for the Turtle submarine, which was propelled underwater by hand:

Also of interest was the technology behind Robert Fulton's Nautilus, which had both a hand-crank and a sail  for his submersible vessel in 1801 before he turned his attention to the steamboat. His nautilus could remain underwater for up to 5 hours. Fulton had designed the Nautilus for the French against the British Navy, and Napoleon had shown some interest in the matter.

Although the French ultimately turned him down, it was a workable design and it is possible in an alternate history timeline that had the French accepted the design and continued improvements, by the peak period for many steampunk stories, the British navy of the 1800s would be in a naval arms race to counter Fulton's devices.

For those of us addressing a Southeast Asian steampunk setting, this is a very key point where Franco-American technology could plausibly have reached the region. A big question would be, is the Vietnamese emperor Minh Mang's steamboat fleet in action, as well? Or perhaps another power's.

Bear in mind that it would be a significant challenge to make a working steam-powered submarine, given that you're talking about a fire-driven technology on boats made largely of wood and other combustible substances. If a nation has good access and skill at harnessing electricity, the use of a storage battery and electric motors would avoid the problems of carbon monoxide poisoning of the crews that internal combustion engines powered by fossil fuels could cause, among other hazards.

But the long and the short of it is, there are several interesting points in history where Southeast Asia could have had access to, and begun working with concepts of submersible boats and begun developing navies that incorporated them into their strategies. Admittedly, for Lan Xang, as a largely land-locked nation, there are some questions about how enthusiastically people would try to develop it.

It's uncertain who else would have found a use for them, except for perhaps explorers who wanted to peek beneath the rivers and lakes, despite fears of traditional creatures such as the nak and phi. Perhaps smugglers, but there seems little use for the devices among merchants and fishers? Or, like several technologies, would it reach the region and be regarded as merely a novelty?

But what other issues should be taken into account with submarine technology in Southeast Asia?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Lao Steampunk: Steaming up historical Southeast Asians

One of the big responsibilities a writer of steampunk set in Southeast Asia, whether in Lan Xang or elsewehere, is to find a way to make interesting presentations on alternate possibilities of figures who are historically significant to us, but not necessarily widely known or documented by the other major powers of the time.

A significant quandary is that unfortunately the vast majority of history regarding particular figures veers towards hagiography and deification of royal figures and their supporters. This runs counter to many of the counter-culture aesthetics of steampunk. From a more practical standpoint as a writer, this can also lead to considerable controversy, even potential accusations of lese-majesty unless one writes such figures as mary sue/marty stu paragons. And what would the point of that, if one is merely interested in reinforcing the existing narrative of those who have historically been in power?

There is a certain irony in being unable to attribute deeply imaginative qualities, interactions and conversations to those whose biographies already have some significant liberties taken with them.

Conversely, I can also see how many of us might have a reluctance to take on such figures because so much of their biographies have been significantly distorted, or 'enhanced' sometimes to meet the literary and socio-political needs of colonial powers. One might also object to taking on such figures whose stories are told in ways to justify the perpetuation or eradication of different power structures in the region. One nation's heroes are another's insubordinate rebels, another's visionaries are foreign puppets. Freedom fighters might be seen as mercenaries, bandits or merely nuisances.

Bearing all of that in mind, we still need to try and start somewhere, just so we know what our options might be. So who are some of the significant figures in Southeast Asia that might be interesting to address within steampunk and other alternate history literature?

Phra Bat Somdet Phra Poramenthramaha Mongkut Phra Chom Klao Chao Yu Hua also known as Rama IV or King Mongkut: Thailand A fairly obvious choice for the era. I wouldn't focus a steampunk story based on Anna Leonowens historically very limited interaction with him. Because of the way he embraced new ideas, even from the West, Rama IV is regarded as "The Father of Science and Technology" by many Thai today. That all but asks for a deeper examination of how he might have approached retro-futuristic technologies and culture.

I would also take note of his brother, Prince Isaret. The astrologers at the time indicated that Prince Isaret was also capable of being a good monarch. Historically, Rama IV had his brother crowned as King Pinklao, a second king who was known for his command of foreign languages and diplomatic relations. In this, there is certainly interesting wiggle room to explore 'behind-the-scenes' socio-political negotiations.

Chao Anou or Prince Anouvong: Laos. For stories set in the 1800s, Lao would most likely want to address the figure of Chao Anou, and what might have happened if things had gone differently at the beginning of the century. Historically, Chao Anou made a number of military errors and miscalculations that led to the end of Lan Xang and the sacking of Vientiane, among other unfortunate issues. Chao Anou came into conflict with Lady Mo, also known as Thao Suranari and General Sing Singhaseni. There aren't many records of Chao Anou's subordinates during this time.

Chaleunsilp Phia Sing: Laos. Born in the old royal capital of Luang Prabang, around 1898, he was the royal chef and master of ceremonies to the kings of Laos at the Royal Palace in Luang Prabang. From what we know of him, he was also a Lao renaissance man, being a physician, architect, choreographer, sculptor, painter and poet. He served as a mentor to the Laotian princes of the early 20th century, and accompanied them when they studied at the University of Hanoi in the 1920s. He literally wrote the book on Lao cooking. While we don't have many notes on what he was like otherwise, and he was born a little later than works well for most steampunk stories, he provides a good model for what someone serving the Lao royal courts could have been like who weren't royalty themselves.

Pa Chay Vue: Hmong. He was prominent from 1918 to 1921, a little later than most steampunk historical figures. Pa Chay Vue is chiefly noted for leading a Hmong revolt against the French. He is potentially a VERY interesting figure to examine in an alternate history story. A charismatic orphan who began in the Vietnamese province of Lao Cai, over the years significant number of legends that have emerged regarding him, many elevating him to a messianic figure, although French colonial forces largely regarded him and those who followed him as lunatics.

Trung Sisters: Vietnam. Although they are figures from the first century (at least up until 43 AD), an interesting alternate history might examine what different directions their legacy might have taken, or what might have happened if they had emerged later in Vietnamese history. That's of course a lot to try and take into consideration. But these two sisters led the first resistance against occupying Chinese following nearly 250 years of domination. As some historians note, between the legend of the Trung sisters and Trieu Thi Trinh, there's evidence that Vietnamese society was very matriarchal and open to women leaders.

Emperor Tự Đức: Vietnam  is more contemporaneous to the other figures I've listed here than the Trung sisters. He had to deal with a near-constant spate of internal rebellions which had become routine for the Nguyễn Dynasty. Throughout this era there were hundreds of small rebellions and uprisings against them.

Ultimately fearing a loss of power and potential death at the hands of rebels,  Tự Đức opted to sign away the southern Vietnam to be a French colony and accepted the status of a French protectorate. This was an enormously unpopular decision, and encouraged people such as Trương Định to denounce the emperor, refusing to recognize the treaty. Smallpox had left Tự Đức impotent , and despite his large harem, he left no heir when he died in 1883. According to legend he cursed the French with his dying breath. As I mentioned earlier at the beginning of our steampunk inquiries, had Emperor Minh Mạng succeeded in developing and implementing steamboat technology, Tự Đức might have had a very intriguing and impressive navy to work with which would have changed many aspects of the geopolitical landscape.

King Norodom: Cambodia. Regarded by many as the first modern Khmer king, he was credited with saving Cambodia from disappearing altogether, making a decision to have Cambodia become a French protectorate rather than be swallowed up by Vietnamese and Siamese interests of the time. While we might today wonder at the wisdom of the decision, it was a calculated risk to preserve his people's culture. His brother, Prince Si Votha, engaged in open rebellion against the French colonials in Cambodia. Historically, people note this wasn't because of desire for independence from the French but out of jealousy regarding his brother's coronation. Prince Si Votha rebellion wasn't regarded as the act an independence fight but more of a nuisance and an aspiring usurper of the Cambodian throne.

In 1906, a number of Cambodian court dancers of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia inspired the famous French sculptor Rodin so much that he followed the company from Paris to Marseilles in 1906 to sketch them and produced over 150 of his most famous illustrations from their visit as part of King Sisowath's entourage. It's an interesting story with many possibilities to an alternate historian.

Alternate historians working in Southeast Asia will find it significantly challenging but rewarding to recover the names and accounts of figures within the Khmu, Mien, Tai Dam, Lahu, Akha, and other cultures who have primarily oral traditions for preserving their history. This is especially in light of recent discussions over Zomia, which seems well-suited for examination in an alternate history story, especially steampunk.

But who are some of the Southeast Asian historical figures you think might be interesting to examine through an alternate history lens?

2012 Call for submissions: Journal of Southeast Asian American Education and Advancement

It's the start of a new year, and we had a great 2011 at the Journal of Southeast Asian American Education and Advancement. In addition to 19 academic articles and reviews, we had a record number of submissions in our creative works section from established and emerging Southeast Asian American writers. In 2011, we featured:

* Selected Poems of Andre Yang
* You Bring Out the Laos in the House by Catzie Vilayphonh
* Selected Poems of Toon Souksada Phapphayboun
* The p0wer of numbers of Sumeia Williams
* Selected Poems of Samy Elisabeth Yang
* When the Mountain Spirit Spoke by Anchalee P Roberts
* Hmong Daughter; Womyn by Linda Hawj

JSAAEA is an official publication of The National Association for the Education and Advancement of Cambodian, Laotian, and Vietnamese Americans (NAFEA), with support from the Department of Bicultural-Bilingual studies and the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

In 2012, we'd like to continue adding more creative voices to the journal. If you or someone you know has work that you'd like to contribute, send them to me at thaoworra@gmail.com or you can go to the website at  http://jsaaea.coehd.utsa.edu/index.php/JSAAEA/about/submissions#onlineSubmissions

New York Asian American International Film Festival call for entries

The Asian American International Film Festival has announced its recent call for entries for 2012! If you've got something that fits, send it in!

Founded in 1978, the Asian American International Film Festival (AAIFF) celebrates its 35th anniversary in 2012. The AAIFF is organized by Asian CineVision (ACV), a non-profit media arts organization dedicated to promoting and preserving Asian and Asian American media expressions by:
• Helping to develop and support both emerging and experienced Asian American film and video makers and other media artists working in a range of genres and styles; and
• Helping to ensure that the full spectrum of Asian and Asian American media works reach diverse audiences in Asian American communities and beyond.

The Asian American International Film Festival (AAIFF) is proudly known as "The First Home to Asian American Cinema." It's the first and longest-running festival dedicated to screening works by media artists of Asian descent from any nationality and about the Asian community. The Festival takes place in New York City, the second-largest Asian American market in the U.S.

Festival highlights include the Emerging Director in Narrative Feature and Documentary Feature competitions; Excellence in Short Filmmaking competition; Q&A sessions with filmmakers; networking events and receptions. The AAIFF draws audiences from all five boroughs of New York City and the tri-state area (NY, NJ, CT)

The Festival serves as a kick-off for a year of programs, in which selected filmmakers have the option of participating. Online distribution platform in collaboration with DramaFever.Com. The National Festival Tour enables participating filmmakers to reach broader audiences around North America through a rental service for cultural and educational institutions. In 2007, the Tour made its international debut screening at universities in Hong Kong and Macau. Hundreds of thousands of viewers and readers follow the festival in local, national and international media coverage.

30th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival coming!



When: March 8-18, 2012

Where: San Francisco, Berkeley, and San Jose, CA

The SFIAAFF, presented by the Center for Asian American Media, is the nation's largest showcase for new Asian American and Asian films, annually presenting over 100 works in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Festival's 30th anniversary program celebrates the past, present, and future - not only honoring pioneers in Asian and Asian American media-making, but also new directions in digital and interactive media, sound and youth culture, and gaming.

So, keep your New Year's resolution - get out into the community and learn more about the richness and diversity of Asian and Asian American experiences (Wait, that wasn't on your list? Well, it should be!).

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Recent notable calls for submissions

Some of the interesting calls for submissions at the moment. A little something for everyone, but several of their deadlines are coming up soon:

Humorous Tech Support Stories Sometimes, tech support requires more patience than what’s in the job description. For an anthology of humorous tech support stories, the editors seek quality non-fiction accounts of bizarre requests, inane questions, and pitiful pleas for help untangling technology. Entries should be between 500 and 1500 words. The anthology will be published in e-book format, and authors may appear anonymously if so desired. Preference will be given to stories involving face-to-face tech support rather than support given over the phone. To submit a story for consideration, email your entry as a MS Word, RTF, or Open Office document to usererror(at)nicomachus.net Replace (at) with @ in sending e-mail. Please include your name and contact information (phone number and preferred email address) as well as a brief description of your job responsibilities (e.g. network administration for a large health insurance provider; end-user support for a major research university) in the body of the email. Submission deadline January 31, 2012.

Ghost Town is the literary magazine of the MFA program at Cal State University San Bernardino. They’re looking for fearless and inventive fiction, poetry, and narrative nonfiction. They’re also interested in translations, letters, cryptic found writings, illustrations, and other oddments. They publish annually in the spring. Reading period is from September 1 to February 1. Submit online at: ghosttown.submishmash.com. Website: http://ghosttownlitmag.wordpress.com

LQQK MAGAZINE is a new science fiction magazine currently looking for new writers. We are interested in stories that speculate about the future of contemporary phenomena like social networking, mobile devices, filesharing, hacking, and online lifestyles. We are also interested in far-out, surrealist, or anarchic stories in general, with or without lulz. Full submission guidelines can be found at: www.lqqkzine.com/subm.html

CREATIVE NONFICTION is seeking essays by and about nurses for a new collection, Becoming a Nurse: Real Stories of Nurses, Their Lives and Their Patients. We are looking for writers who can write dramatically and vividly about this profession for a collection of essays, which will be published by Creative Nonfiction. Essays can be from 2,500-5,000 words but should be written in a narrative form, with scenes, description, vivid characters and a distinctive voice. Submissions must be postmarked by January 31, 2012. More information at: http://www.creativenonfiction.org/thejournal/submittocnf.htm#nurse

PALABRA invites Chicano & Latino writers to submit fresh, engaged work that stretches the boundaries of conventional literary form, content, and context. Small honorarium. Submission period: September 1 to April 30. Guidelines at: www.palabralitmag.com.

PMS poemmemoirstory seeks submissions during our new reading period: January 1–March 31. While PMS is a journal of exclusively women’s writing, the subject field is wide open. For guidelines, see: http://pms-journal.org/submission-guidelines.

SUBMITTED: WOMEN FINDING AND LEAVING EXTREME RELIGION is an anthology to be published by Seal Press in Spring, 2013. The anthology will chronicle the lives of women from a variety of restrictive religious backgrounds who chose a religious path only to eventually reject it or alter it in whole or in part. We are seeking contributions from women of all faiths, as well as all ages and backgrounds. The book explores, through story, the questions of how and why women choose to get involved in rigid religion, what keeps them invested, and then how and why they leave (and what they miss---or don't---once they're gone). Themes might include food, modesty, religious meetings, holidays, work, children, clothing, secrets, converting others, prayer, or marriage/sex. For more information and to submit your work go to www.submittedanthology.com

TAWDRY BAWDRY is accepting submissions of erotic poems and stories, sexy flash fiction, erotic imagery, personal experiences of 500 words or less, and essays on all aspects of sexuality. As usual, our tastes run toward the unexpected. Send us poems and stories that wouldn't fly elsewhere because there is just a little too much honesty in them (and we don't mean the kind of honesty that would get you arrested in real life). Take the time to read what we've published in the past to get a sense of what it is we are looking for: www.tawdrybawdry.com

January news from the Loft

Some recent news from The Loft Literary Center:

The mission of the Loft is to foster a writing community, the artistic development of individual writers, and an audience for literature.

11 Online Classes Start February 6
Online classes are flexible enough to fit even the busiest of schedules. Classes that start Feb 6 include sci-fi/fantasy, poetry, fiction, memoir, food writing, and many others.

Winter classes start next week (starting January 23). There is still time to sign up for some great classes, including those taught by Kate St. Vincent Vogl, Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew, Jude Nutter, and David Schwartz.

Manuscript Reviewer: The Loft is excited to add Ben Barnhardt as an online manuscript reviewer and editor. Ben has worked as an editor at Milkweed Editions on a wide variety of books including adult, young adult, and middle-grade fiction.

If you missed the controversy around New York Times writer Garth Risk Hallberg's "Why Write Novels at All", there is a recap on the Writers' Block.

Mentor Series: John Hildebrand
Friday, February 3, 7 p.m. at the Loft at Open Book.
The Loft Mentor Series continues with nonfiction mentor John Hildebrand (author of three books including Reading the River: A Voyage Down the Yukon) and participants Lynne Maker Kuechle and Ann McKinley. A reception follows.

Playwright Class
The Playwrights' Center is offering an "Introduction to Playwrighting" taugh by Joe Waechter. The class starts March 14.

The Loft Literary Center is located at 1011 Washington Avenue S. in Minneapolis, MN 55401, but the online classes can be taken from anywhere in the country and are a great value.

Incorporated in 1975 in a space above a Minneapolis bookstore, The Loft Literary Center has grown to become the nation’s largest and most comprehensive literary center. It is located in the award-winning Open Book literary arts building in Minneapolis, Minnesota, at the heart of one of the most literate and book-friendly regions in the country.

 The Loft Literary Center is a nonprofit arts organization offering services for readers and writers at every level. From novels to children’s literature, from playwriting to poetry, from spoken word to memoir, there’s something for everyone at the Loft. Programs include readings by acclaimed local and national authors, classes, weekend genre conferences, competitions and grants, open groups, writers’ studios, and much more.

The list of acclaimed authors who have appeared at the Loft over the years reads like a Who’s Who of American letters. The Loft is a unique community of people engaged in the reading and writing life.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Quetzalcoatl and the Nak

One of the interesting legends to examine cross-culturally is the Mexican deity Quetzalcoatl, who is depicted at times as a plumed serpent and other times as a human being. Quetzalcoatl was considered the god of the wind, wisdom and life.

In contrast, the mythical nak of the Lao are often connected to bodies of water, such as the rivers, lakes, and oceans, and they were symbolic of fertility, wisdom and immortality. The nak are capable of also appearing as human beings.

From a speculative literature point of view, it might be interesting to consider the possibilities were the two to ever meet, especially given both cultures' later engagement with colonial powers. But would they find other interesting points of commonality or conflict worth exploring?

Stories of a plumed serpent named Kukulcan emerged around 500 BC to AD 900, and around the end of the 12th century, the king of the Toltecs, Topiltzin conferred upon himself the title of Quetzalcoatl. At some point, the Aztecs incorporated legends of the feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl into their pantheon.

According to one legend, after a series of conflicts and  the treachery of his nemesis Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl was said to have left the Americas on a raft of entwined serpents, sailing to the east, although the Aztecs predicted one day he would return.

In Lao art, the nak appear on the balustrades of temple causeways and platforms, personifying the rainbow, bridging the earthly and celestial worlds. Increasingly, a number of free-standing nak are appearing at Lao cultural centers such as the wat Lao, many in more dynamic positions than have been previously presented in the past.

Lao Steampunk: A French 'train' in Laos

Until recently, Laos hasn't had anything close to a rail system. Over at Retire-Asia.Com, they do have a very small picture of a relic that shows an exception:

A little digging around and you find that this was used on a 7km track to connect a number of small islands during the French colonial era in southern Laos near the Cambodian border.

The system was constructed around 1893. It was developed to resolve a challenge of  crossing the Khone mountain range separating the Lower from the Middle Mekong during the G. Simon Mission. Mekong Express has a few notes on it, and a picture of the tracks in use:


The result was a 160-meter long bridge and the laying of a 7-kilometer long railway track; This improved transportation between the Cambodia and Laos. Unfortunately it is difficult to find additional details online about the G. Simon mission of the late 1890s.

If you have additional information on this train system, it would be interesting to hear about it. In the meantime, for those of us examining alternate histories, we could consider what might have happened if the decision was made to expand the track system and encourage travel to other parts of southern Laos and the region.  What if it eventually had been possible to connect to the Khmer rail system, for example? And what would life be like for people who lived near the tracks?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Laos News of the Week

Some fun stories from Laos this week:

From the Omaha World Herald: If you get a chance to stop by the Common Grounds Cafe in Laos, you can meet a chef from Nebraska, and they make the only English muffins in the country in Vientiane Laos. They also have Mexican food. They're open Monday through Saturday from 7 AM to 5 PM on Rue Chao Anou. info.commongrounds@gmail.com

Laos is apparently stepping up its game in producing counterfeit high-tech knock-offs, the Nextweb editor Jon Russell discovered as he found an iPad 5 4G, iPhone clamshell and other Apple rip-offs for sale in Laos. I'm sure the folks in Cuppertino just love that.

Amy Senser 'will be cleared' her attorney insists as she entered her plea in court and faces a new charge over her fatal hit-and-run of Anousone Phanthavong last year.

A memorandum of understanding was signed recently by the Viet Nam Records Book Centre (Vietkings) and the Laos State Publishing and Book Distribution House to establish Lao's Records Book Centre (Laokings). Laokings, based in Vientiane, will find and recognise national records in different fields including culture, science, society and economy.

Free Malaysia Today has an article on the ongoing challenge of fighting bear farms in Southeast Asia, especially Laos.

Benno Tuchschmid, a Swiss intern at the Vientiane Times, recently wrote about his sense of the Lao Alps, and travel in Xieng Khouang. It seems every season, someone discovers the beauty of the region anew.

The Jakarta Post reports another giant catfish has been caught in Laos, but it won't be long before they're completely extinct.

Dawn Starin wrote an article for the Epoch Post about a unique library that offers young Laotians the chance to read, learn, and grow.

The Business Times reports that Laos has raised the maximum foreign investors can own of a company in Laos. Effective January 16th, foreign investors can own up to 20% of a company now. Because increased foreign ownership always benefits a company and its host country, you know.

Major, a dog specialized in finding UXO died after a distinguished career of over 15 years.
When his handler was reassigned to Laos, "Major joined many other retired westerners where he met a young “local girl” and settled down to start a family. His greatest love was always water, despite its short supply in Somaliland. But in Laos, he enjoyed cooling off during long swims in the Mekong River with his oldest son and companion, Obelix."

According the Malaysian news agency Bernama, a Japanese-made UXO clearance vehicle worth 8 billion kip has arrived in Vientiane to begin service to assist UXO clearance in Xieng Khouang, thanks to the Japan Mine Action Service. A Komatsu demining machine, these vehicles have also seen service in Cambodia.

What are some news items from Laos that have caught your attention recently?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Evaluating Non-profits and Lao American community development

Early in 2011, Public/Private Ventures released a report that called for a more nuanced approach to evaluating the effectiveness of nonprofit initiatives. They urged funders and stakeholders to reject rigid models based on a narrow determination of success or failure.

There are interesting conclusions of the report Lao American non-profit organizations could benefit from. A legitimate question is, do our organizations have the ability to advocate effectively with funders to design evaluation models that align with these recommendations?

The 12-page report, Priorities for a New Decade: Making (More) Social Programs Work (Better) recommends fully engaging nonprofit practitioners as partners in the evaluation efforts. Public/Private Ventures advocates approaches that reflect a deep understanding of local circumstances and constraints. The report offers guidelines for evaluation and scaling that support program quality and performance.

In many cities where there are still functioning non-profits addressing Lao American needs, we see the non-profits are serving as subordinates, implementing contracts and sub-contracts, rather than being brought to the table as partners and allies. We rarely see effective partnerships with a shared vision for constructive, holistic community development. We can often spot conflicts between transparency and transformation, and challenges of developing genuine intercultural sensitivity and cross-cultural exchange.

The Public/Private Ventures report comes about because of a belief that the current methods to evaluate the effectiveness of non-profit programs often fail to provide enough information on how to improve the performance of a program or how to scale-up an effective program.

Several projects we've seen within the Lao American community across the country could definitely have benefited from these recommendations. It might have led to better results and even widespread adoption of the successful elements of their efforts. But as it is, it's hard to point to many examples from 2010-2011 where we see other communities moving to adopt similar initiatives in their states and cities effectively.

Among recommendations the Public/Private Ventures report suggested: the establishment of clearer guidelines on how evaluation can meet the particular needs and contexts of different kinds of programs. It was important to forge closer working partnerships among program practitioners, researchers, and funders; There is a need to involve practitioners in the design of evaluation and data collections systems; We also need to emphasize collaboration among practitioners, evaluators, and funders to develop program assessment models and evaluate organizational capacity; and significantly, we need to push funders to make a greater effort to translate specific evaluation findings into practical lessons.

But what are some ways you think we need to consider to improve our evaluation and implementation process?

Dinosaurs of Laos

To date, the most extensive collection of dinosaurs native to Laos are found near Savannakhet, which is of course, home to the famous Dinosaur Museum, which opened in 2000, the Year of the Dragon.

As it is now 2012, or the return of the Year of the Dragon, I think it would be wonderful to see more donations and support given to them this year. But more on that later in the year.

Hopefully, we'll see more scholarship done in the years ahead, but in the meantime we know there are at least 4 main types of dinosaurs you'll find in Laos: Sauropods, Theropods, including relatives of Tyrannosaurus Rex, Iguanodons, and Psittacosaurus.

Hopefully this knowledge will come in handy later on down the line.

You can visit the Savannakhet Dinosaur Museum at Thanon Khanthaburi, Ban Sayaphoum, Muang Khanthaburi, Khoueng, Savannakhet, Laos.

Lao Buddha of the Day: 18th Century

This example of a Lao Buddha features lacquer work still in good condition from the 1700s, which would place it during the three kingdoms period of Laos/Lan Xang. 

There isn't a significant amount of information available about this particular example or its current whereabouts, but as you can see, it continues the Lao traditional techniques, featuring a distinctive face with a noteworthy smile one rarely finds in other Buddhas from other traditions.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Three Lao proverbs regarding trees

When you have money, you can speak; When you have wood, you can build your home.

You get nothing watering a stump.

You can bend a young twig, but it is hard to bend an old tree.

You may also want to check out Danny Khotsombath's recent post on Lao proverbs at Little Laos On the Prairie. But what are some of your favorites?

Urban-Development Legends and the arts

Mario Polese recently took on Urban-Development Legends in The City Journal. Polese is a professor at the Centre Urbanisation Culture Société at Montreal’s Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique.

At the heart of his argument is the idea that cities should avoid academic fads and quick fix solutions to bring about a resurgence in a city. For Polese, the answer lies in creating good policies that are supported by good governance, although he admits this, too, isn't a particular guarantee.

There are any number of cities I would look at in the world where they struggle with such questions. Polese noted a study by the Boston Fed, whose conclusions amounted to the importance of :"strong public and private leadership, collaboration among various constituencies, innovation, and long-term commitment."

From an artist's perspective, a big question Polese raises is:

"Economic-development experts also have turned their attention of late to so-called soft factors: quality of life, the arts, creativity. The reason is the rise of the service-based knowledge economy, which has made human capital, not physical capital, the most precious commodity. Smokestack-chasing is passé; “factory” has almost become a dirty word. Chasing people (that is, certain types of people) is now the name of the game. Before, investments in strategic industries supposedly generated employment, which then attracted people. Now, it’s the other way around. Attract the right people—the young, educated, and talented, the drivers of today’s knowledge economy—and jobs will follow."

Reasonably, Polese challenges this notion.  It comes down to a question of does a vibrant arts scene bring prosperity or is it a reflection?

The state of Minnesota among others have done a lot to examine the benefits an investment in the arts has on the community, and the kind of economic activity it generates and attracts. We see a lot of hopes being placed on the creative class, but in doing so, we need to remember that artists and other culture workers need to have the resources to be able to take risks. Without that capacity for risk resilience, we handicap their efforts to help bring transformation to their cities.

As we look at the ideas behind the Creative Cities Network that UNESCO proposes, or other initiatives that seek to create a flourishing, expressive urban center, do we need to do more to make a positive case to justify the investment in these efforts?

I'm inclined to believe positive outcomes almost invariably emerge from making outlets for creative expression and community gathering and exchange available. To create spaces that move beyond the merely commercial and back towards the civic. Those experiences that remind us why we want to be part of a particular society in a particular place, the opportunities within those spaces rather than a sense of confinement.

But what do you see as key intersections between urban development and the arts?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Building thriving arts communities?

New York-based public-arts org Creative Time was at one point tasked to evaluate the state of the arts in Dallas -- "to identify strengths and potential areas for growth." Their findings were released as an 11-page report.

Their recommendations were interesting, but already people are finding among the most applicable items for discussion not just in Dallas but other cities are their sense of 13 key factors for an art community to thrive.

Looking them over, I think they are worth consideration not just for cities, but cultures.

They "believe there are certain key elements that are necessary for any art community to thrive." Paraphrasing them in no particular order:

1. A sustainable artist community and opportunities for live/ work space

2. Cultural institutions with international reach, innovative programs, and historically relevant collections

3. Great patrons who support the creation, presentation, and acquisition of art

4. Mid-sized and small art spaces that support the creation of new and experimental work by local and international artists

5. Skilled and visionary arts leaders in institutions big and small

6. Excellent contemporary art galleries with international reach

7. Residency programs for national and international artists to create in their city

8. Master of Fine Arts programs to train and attract artists

9. Arts education in public schools

10. Public art to engage broad audiences and activate public spaces

11. Engaged audiences

12. Experienced art writers featured daily in primary news media

13. Civic championing of the arts through policies and urban planning

For Lao American arts and the current state of things, many of these recommendations would be of significant benefit. Which ones do we need to prioritize, and what do we need to add to this list? Given our interest in the aims of the UNESCO creative cities network, what kind of social infrastructure do we need to build to make this happen in the US and in Lao expatriate communities abroad?

Antique Burmese Naga / Nak

This is a rare example from Burma of a naga, or what Lao would consider a nak, in a part-human form.

He's fashioned from terra-cotta. Some distinctive features include the trident and the overall pose. The arm bands, bracelets, and the tie of the belt are also significant in identifying the region he's from. He was sold by an antique dealer to a private collector for an unknown sum and his location is currently unknown. He was 17 1/2 inches high. Given the amount of detail, and the rarity of such images, I think he's rather amazing and sure to inspire a great many stories.

We would consider the position unusual because it's very casual, yet serious. One might typically expect it standing in a sentinel pose or a fierce state of readiness. It would have been very interesting to have known who sculpted him and who purchased him over the years and where he was displayed.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Lao Steampunk: Tattoo research

Over at Vanishing Tattoo, Lars Krutak has a well-researched article on traditional tattoos and customs of Southeast Asia, including Laos, with a number of illustrations and photos of tattoo examples from the early 20th century.

As Krutak points out, tattoos in Southeast Asia were not sought for strictly aesthetic reasons but for spiritual protection. He writes: "Largely administered by holy monks, sagacious tribal elders, and layman tattooists, the esoteric art was not only believed to provide its wearers with indelible protection from a variety of misfortunes, but also the mystical power to influence other peoples’ behavior, carry the deceased safely into the afterlife, or simply increase a person’s “luck.”

There's a lot that can be said about the power of ink and the written word and art and its connection to the supernatural, but for the time being, I'll let Krutak's article speak for itself. It's excellent as inspiration for writers seeking to understand the many different customs and beliefs one might encounter in Laos and Southeast Asia. 

Hemet Public Library: The Aeneid

On Saturday, January 14th, I'll be conducting a discussion of the classic, The Aeneid starting at 10 AM at the Hemet Public Library. This is the classical story of Aeneas, who, over 10,000 lines of poetry wanders from Troy to what will one day become Italy and becomes the ancestor of the Romans.

Written by Virgil, Aeneas was a character from The Iliad. This work manages to connect Roman roots to legendary Troy.  The Julio-Claudian dynasty were able to claim legitimacy as descendants of the founders of Rome connected to Troy thanks to the Aeneid. It's a work that amplified many Romans understanding of their national virtues and values. But why might it resonate with us today? We'll consider it more at the discussion on Saturday!

The discussion is free and open to the public at 300 E. Latham Avenue, in Hemet, California.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Rexroth on the Odyssey

Kenneth Rexroth in Classics Revisited makes an apt note of the contrast between The Ililad and The Odyssey:

"The Iliad says: "This is life. It is tragic, and if it has meaning, that meaning is an incommunicable mystery; it can be presented, but never explained." The Odyssey says: "This is life. It is comic and it is full of meanings. These meanings are all the multiform techniques for living; they can be learned by work, intelligence, and a canny conscience."

Rexroth asserts that "Tragedy is a posture; comedy is an activity. If one reads enough comedies, they might change one's life fundamentally. " Rexroth addressed the Mahabharata, which I'll examine later, but I wonder how he would have considered the Ramayana or the Lao variation Phra Lak Phra Lam or other examples of Ramakien.

But ultimately, I find myself intrigued by the choices of tragedy or comedy that Rexroth believes these two Greek classics present to us. Somehow, there are moments where I feel much of our modern literature is stuck, and we can attain neither well in our latest works. This doesn't mean we shouldn't still aspire to such, but I would be hard pressed to hold many contemporary works alongside the world classics at the moment. I would certainly be fascinated how Rexroth would read Harry Potter or Cujo.

Naturally, I find myself lamenting this even as a certain college whose football team is the Titans has opted to eviscerate its humanities department without an inkling of the irony.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Lao Steampunk Sundays: Found objects.

Found in the basement of a dealer trafficking in unusual objets d'art, I'm sure there's a fascinating story of how this was obtained originally, and what it really does...

It does lead to mind the dharmacakra, which typically has the following meanings attributed to it depending on the number of spokes in the wheel:

8 spokes representing the Noble Eightfold Path.

12 spokes representing the Twelve Laws of Dependent Origination.

24 spokes representing the Twelve Laws of Dependent Origination and the Twelve Laws of Dependent Termination.

31 spokes representing 31 realms of existence (11 realms of desire, 16 realms of form and 4 realms of formlessness).

In Buddhism, parts of the Dharmacakra also representative of the following concepts:
Its overall shape is that of a circle, representing the perfection of the dharma teaching.
The hub stands for discipline, which is the essential core of meditation practice.
The rim, which holds the spokes, refers to mindfulness which holds everything together.

So, given the role and relationships of cogs, gears and wheels within steampunk literature, I wonder how it might change the ideas and perceptions of different concepts within buddhism, if it all. But that's a point of consideration for another time...

Friday, January 06, 2012

Lao Poetics: Form vs. Ideas?

Carol J. Compton's Lao Poetics: Internal Rhyme in the Text of a Lam Sithandon Performance is  a short but interesting document for Lao American poets to consider.

I would definitely say that the oral character of a poem is a strong consideration within my own work. She is intrigued at the possibility that Lao aesthetics may be similar to Thai aesthetics, where we are to be more interested in the 'manipulation of language within the constraints imposed by the various verse patterns," if Gedney is correct. Value would come from 'the form, as opposed to the semantic content' according to Gedney.

Burnshaw asserts that "The words are the poem. Ideas can often be carried across, but poems are not made of ideas...they are made of words...An English translation is always a different thing; it is always an English poem."

I find this a contentious line of thinking for us as Lao American poets because it creates a mindset that in its extreme means a poem can be any pile of random gibberish as long as it is constructed of word 'elements.' Coherence is not an issue so long as the form is followed?

Is the role of poetry to enforce and show rules of grammar? Argue not always, I would. To challenge, in fact, a valid core of poetry, rather, to raise words back up from the sludge of the quotidian.

Nationwide, I've seen Lao American poets are frequently taking on formal forms, but rarely stay with them for long, with the possible exception of the haiku.

Poetry has often been on the edge of chaos and the mysterious: What makes a word work, or not, a phrase, then a stanza, then an epic? Do we document the mundane of the great mysteries or the mysteries within the mundane? Or just crank out ephemeral hallmark cards about bugs and red roses?

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

[Poetry] Calls for Submissions

Here are some recent calls for submissions of note:

Crashtest, the new online literary magazine for high school writers, would like to hear from you! Crashtest publishes poetry, stories and creative non-fiction in the form of personal essays, imaginative investigation, experimental interviews, or whatever else you would like to call it from high school students between grades 9 to 12. They’re looking for writing that has both a perspective and a personality. They’re looking for authors who have something to say. Check them out at www.crashtestmag.com. Crashtest only accepts email submissions. Send submissions, .doc or .rtf attachment only, and any queries to editor@crashtestmag.com.

The Monarch Review is accepting submissions year-round via their Web site www.themonarchreview.org. They publish a variety of poetry, fiction, essays, music and visual art 3-5 times per week. They also release a print edition every six months they call Monarch. Submitting is free. The Monarch Review is a magazine created in the spirit of the Monarch Apartments: a Seattle home to generations of poets, writers, musicians, visual artists, pranksters, cranks and the curious. The publication aims to sustain the Monarch’s vibrant, vagabond culture by creating a forum for emerging and established artists and thinkers.

Rufous Salon is a literary salon/journal situated in Uppsala, Sweden. They welcome submissions on a rolling schedule and consider flash fiction and poetry. See www.rufoussalon.net/#!submissions for submission guidelines. L'art pour l'art! www.rufoussalon.net

Wordrunner eChapbooks. Online submission deadline: February 21, 2012 Wordrunner eChapbooks publishes four online collections annually of fiction, poetry or memoir, each featuring one author, and the occasional anthology. Submissions are open for the mid-March 2012 fiction e-chapbook (short stories or novel excerpt) from January 1 through February 21, 2012. At least 1/4 of the collection should be previously unpublished. No fee to submit. Payment: $65. Detailed guidelines are posted at www.echapbook.com/submissions.htm.

Passages North is looking for Hybrid Essays and Spoken-Word Poetry. In addition to standard (whatever that means) submissions in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, send them your hybrid essays—your orphans, your bastards, your bumpings, and your grindings, whether whimsical, grave, or neither. They're also looking for video and audio poems for our website that shock us, that grab us by our shirt collars, that take us on a ride and leave us somewhere we've never been before. They want that dirty secret, that gasp for air, that pulse of you that can't just be written down. Submit here: passagesnorth.submishmash.com/submit.

StepAway Magazine. Online submission deadline: March 14, 2012 StepAway Magazine is holding its 5th call for submissions. Their magazine is hungry for literature that evokes the sensory experience of walking in specific neighborhoods, districts or zones within a city. They accept poetry and prose under 1000 words. This is flânerie for the twenty-first century. Please submit your work and a press-ready biography to: submissions@stepawaymagazine.com

Buddhist Poetry Review. Online submission deadline: February 29, 2012 Buddhist Poetry Review is a quarterly online magazine dedicated to publishing fresh and insightful Buddhist poetry. BPR is accepting submissions for Issue Four through February 29th, 2012. Please visit their site for submission guidelines: www.buddhistpoetryreview.com/submit

The First Line. Postmark/Online deadline: February 1, 2012 Submissions for the Spring 2012 issue are due Feb 1. The first Line: “There are a few things you need to know before we start.” (quotes required) www.thefirstline.com/submission.htm

Gemini Magazine has no rules. Send your very best fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction or anything else you think might capture their interest. They read work year-round: www.gemini-magazine.com

Fried Chicken and Coffee is now considering and desperately needs: poems, non-fiction and fiction on topics related to Appalachian or rural concerns. They are also considering poetry chapbooks for 2012 (to be published in 2013).

Hippocampus Magazine. Online submission deadline: Ongoing. Looking for true stories: Hippocampus Magazine, an exclusively online publication dedicated to creative nonfiction is seeking essay and memoir excerpt submissions of up to 3,500 words. Submission guidelines available online at www.hippocampusmagazine.com.

Ashland Creek Press is currently accepting submissions of novels, memoirs, short story collections, and essay collections on the themes of travel, the environment, ecology, and wildlife — above all, we’re looking for exceptional, well-written, engaging stories. We are open to many genres (young adult, mystery, literary fiction) as long as the stories are relevant to the themes listed above. Please visit our website for complete guidelines: www.ashlandcreekpress.com.

Mandala Journal. Online submission deadline: February 15, 2012 Mandala Journal, an online student-run multicultural journal, announces the 2012 issue, Exodus. Words and works from emerging and established poets, writers, artists, and thinkers including Sonya Sanchez, Betye Saar, Kara Walker, LeAnne Howe, Lois Marie Harrod, and Charlayne Hunter-Gault. Please visit mandala.uga.edu for submission guidelines.