In the twenty-first century poetry interfaces with animal-machine. The “human” is not a given concept, but rather is one that is made in an ongoing technological and anthropological process. They hope to publish an anthology of poetry that participates in technological, biological, representational, sexual, political and theoretical post-humanisms. They’re looking for poetry that engages with or is written by animals, beasts, monsters, creatures, aliens, cyborgs, etc. How do bodies that are misunderstood, misfitting, ugly, failures, etc., challenge western, enlightenment figurations of the “self” and “human”? What are the poetics of rhetorical bodies that exceed definition?
Any contemporary work in English (domestic or translated) that addresses the post-human is welcome.
Please send up to 20 pages of poetry, in standard format (*.doc, *.docx, *.rtf, *.pdf). Previously published work is welcome; please include acknowledgements (if any) and a brief bio with your submission.
One of the interesting projects due at the end of July is submitting to Brian M. Sammon and Glynn Owen Barrass' Steampunk Cthulhu anthology for Chaosium. "The age of steam meets the age of Cthulhu, in a past where technology unbound warps Victorian Britain and the world at large into a dark Steampunk reality." is the overall aim.
So, I find myself preparing an all new short-story, wondering how to pull it off. As much as I'd love to try it, I don't think I can do a Steampunk Cthulhu speculative poem justice at the moment. I should say, though, more than a few tongue-in-cheek titles have come to mind, such as the "Cogs of Cthulhu,""Anna and the King in Yellow," "The Steam Over Innsmouth," and "The Contraption Out of Space." It would be particularly apt to do a steampunk take on "The Fungi From Yuggoth" given that it was a long speculative poem from Lovecraft. Perhaps "The Last Brain to Yuggoth"? Nah.
On a more serious note, however, these are some of the questions I find myself considering as we prepare such a story.
How do you successfully reconcile two seemingly contradictory genres. It's not the subjects. As we've seen with anything from Hong On the Range to Firefly, you can make space westerns work, for example. But to me the greater challenge is resolving the underpinning philosophies.
In Steampunk alternate history, most of the protagonists are outsiders who are alienated from the mainstream society. This is compatible with a Lovecraftian story. However, we find ourselves faced with a genre that typically positions the retro-future as a space where individual pluck, technology and science can overcome any obstacle to save the day. It's often optimistic noir with more than a tinge of romanticism and nostalgia for a by-gone era that never was.
Lovecraftian stories on the other hand, are compatible with Steampunk settings for the brooding, noir atmosphere of decadence and decay. But they also operate within a cosmos where there are things humanity was not meant to know, cannot know, without descending into cosmic insanity. Science, reason, human efforts are feeble and meaningless in the face of all of this.
While both genres are capable of dealing with shades of grey, a Lovecraftian protagonist at best can hope to forget what they have encountered, or at least is going to be squished quickly by the end of the terror. So, what do we do with Steampunk protagonists operating under Lovecraftian conditions?
Of course, to create a good story that is appropriate to the theme I feel you have to navigate a fine line to avoid the criticisms of both genres. For Steampunk, the possibility of Empire-fetish, for Lovecraftian stories, the possibility of exoticizing and demonizing the Other, given his historic fear of foreigners and just about everything else under the sun. Steamcraft at its worst could be filled with many pro-Colonial stories of putting down subhuman, degenerate savage races. And that should raise eyebrows.
Since my hope is to turn in a Steampunk Cthulhu short story set in Laos, which once lived under French colonial rule during this era, there are therefore particular issues I consider such as the necessity to tell a story in which falang appear at all, or have to be acknowledged. With the 160 different ethnic communities that lived in Laos at the time, it's possible and perhaps preferable to create a lost tribe to serve as antagonists rather than use an existing one.
For this story, I'd also rather keep away from noble-fetish, romanticizing the role of elites of the society. In traditional Southeast Asian literature, there's often a tendency to ignore the story of 'commoners' and everyday people in the narratives. It's almost always centered on the princes and princesses. Which to me goes against the 'punk' aspect of steampunk. Their protagonists often work best when they're NOT the ones supposed to be in power.
And of course, as I try to incorporate authentic or historically plausible elements into this work, I hope not to have the problem I had with 'The Journal Who Shall Not Be Named' that apparently had no problem dealing with shoggoths and deep ones, but suggested no one was going to buy into a race called the Hmong, among other issues.
But overall, I've found the process to be invigorating and enervating. With a limit of 8,000 words, it seems there's surprisingly little space for world development. I would say the breakdown thus far looks like: 25% world building and setting, 25% characters, 25% plot action, 25% technology and horror. But we'll see what comes out in the final equation.
How would you approach the Steampunk Cthulhu concept?
Edouard Dupas has completed the translation of my classic poem, the Ghost Nang Nak into French over at his website as Fantôme de Nang Nak, an homage to the classic Southeast Asian ghost story based on my last trip there in 2003. He had to work with some very difficult wordplay in this piece, but I think he did well with it. Here is the original version in English.
The Ghost Nang Nak
Hates the draft.
Isn’t very good on issues
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.
I really wanted to bring a focus to the work that Southeast Asian American writers are doing. From the Hmong to the Vietnamese and Lao, there's some new myths, new experiences and perspectives being brought forward. I think they're worth keeping an eye on.
But we also took a look at several books that might not normally be considered speculative poetry such as Barbara Jane Reyes' Diwata or Lee Ann Roripaugh's Year of the Snake. But I hope readers will engage with the subject and weigh for themselves what they expect of speculative poetry and how diverse voices are broadening and strengthening the forms.
We've spoken in the past about the importance of decolonizing time. Not everyone keeps track of time in the same way. It's a little difficult to get a full sense of how Lao observed time in the old days, but here's some initial research that may prove helpful.
It's largely adapted from the Martin Stuart Fox chronology of Lao history, and assuming the standard Asian zodiac. For those of you writing historic Lao fiction and other stories, this may be helpful to get your chronological bearings. The first year listed is the Lao year, the second year is the European/American calendar year.
1896: Foundation of Lan Xang by Fa Ngum. 1353, Year of the Snake.
2022: Vietnamese invade Lan Xang. 1479, Year of the Pig.
2091: Xetthathirat briefly unifies kingdom of Lan Xang and Lan Na. 1548, Year of the Monkey.
2103: Capital moved to Viang Chan from Luang Prabang. 1560, Year of the Monkey.
2106 to 2118: Burmese invasions of Lan Xang. 1563-75, Year of the Ox to Year of the Pig.
2181 to 2238: Reign of Surinyavongsa. 1638-95, Year of the Tiger to Year of the Pig.
2184 to 2185: First Europeans reach Viang Chan. 1641-42, Year of the Snake to Year of the Horse.
2250, 2256: Lan Xang splits into 3 kingdoms. 1707 and 1713, Year of the Pig, Year of the Snake.
2322: All 3 kingdoms become tributaries to Siam. 1779, Year of the Pig.
2369 to 2371: Chao Anouvong’s war of independence.1826-1828, Year of the Dog to Year of the Rat.
2363 to 2383: Earliest Hmong migrations into Laos. 1820-40, Year of the Nak to Year of the Rat.
2404: French explorer Henri Mouhot arrives in Luang Prabang. 1861, Year of the Rooster.
2410: French Mekong Expedition maps rivers through Lao territories. 1867, Year of the Rabbit.
2430: Auguste Pavie, first French vice-consul arrives in Luang Prabang. 1887, Year of the Pig.
2436: French seize Lao territories east of Mekong, ceded by Siam.1893, Year of the Snake.
2442: Administrative reorganization of Laos under Resident Superieur 1899, Year of the Pig.
2444 to 2450: ‘Holy Man Revolt’ in Southern Laos. 1901-07, Year of Ox to Year of the Goat.
2450: Franco-Siamese Treaty establishes modern Lao borders. 1907. Year of the Goat.
2451 to 2453: Leu insurrection in Northern Laos. 1908-10, Year of the Monkey to Year of the Dog.
2457 to 2459. Leu revolt in Luang Namtha and Ho Tai revolt in northeast. 1914-16, Year of the Tiger to Year of the Nak.
2462 to 2465: Hmong insurrection in Northern Laos. 1919-22, Year of the Goat to Year of the Dog.
2466: First session of Indigenous Consultative Assembly. 1923, Year of the Pig.
2484: Franco-Thai war leads to Loss of Lao territories on the West Bank of Mekong. 1941, Year of the Snake.
2488: Lao independence declared. 1945, Year of the Rooster.
2493: US recognizes Laos as an independent state. 1950, Year of the Tiger.
2507 to 2516. Secret bombings of Laos. 1964 to 1973, Year of the Nak to Year of the Ox
2518: End of the War for Laos. 1975, Year of the Rabbit.
I could tell you stories, brief,
Short as the time it takes a raindrop to reach the earth and oceans.
In this life, I won‟t be able to say
Everything that could be said, should be said
About the jars near Xieng Khouang, the bombs of old
With their dreams of flame and scars.
There are eternal pairs of birds, friends of our fathers,
Great beauties of flesh and stone, voices longing
Among the sharing, the generous, the witnesses who remain.
A whole cosmos awaits.
In this life, I won‟t be able to say
Everything that could be said, should be said
But I‟ll say as much as I can.
If you won‟t spare twelve words for your family,
Your people, not even enough to compete with a soup can label,
How can you expect strangers to tell your children
Of your yesterdays and all our future tomorrows?
I will tell you stories, brief,
Short as the time it takes the sun to set one last time on a nation,
Hoping, always hoping, I will hear a story from you, too.
A big thanks to all of my friends and readers who've been helping me to spread the word. They have copies of my book BARROW for sale at Cameron Books, but I'll sign anything you bring in. I look forward to seeing you all!
Cameron Books is located at 2920 E. Florida Avenue.
The Journal of Southeast Asian American Education and Advancement has announced the first submissions of 2012 that have been accepted. Contributors include:
Joy Panigabutra-Roberts, Sery Bounphasaysonh, Tom Tung Nguyen,
Jim Vongsouvanh, Pacyinz Lyfoung, Krysada Phounsiri, and Danny Khotsombath, who have each sent in some very interesting poems I think you'll all enjoy. We are still accepting entries and submissions, but please get them in as soon as possible! Thanks!
Will I ever see poppies
In their natural habitat?
How red they appear in
All of these pictures beside
Mountain women with their
Dour and thin
Up to their waists in grass.
Leftover bombs loiter
At their cautious feet
Who have no time for
Strangers pleading with
Them to say cheese
Gone with a flash of light
Before the harvest is done
My poem "The Deep Ones" first appeared in Illumen and On The Other Side Of The Eye in 2007. It was included in the anthology Future Lovecraft from Innsmouth Press in 2011 and is now being reprinted in the Prime Books edition later this year, which is being distributed as a mass market paperback. The Prime Books version of the cover is shown above. Keep an eye out for it!
These should be compatible with most e-readers including Kindles, Nooks, and other devices. But if you need a different version, let me know. If you enjoy these books, please pass them on to others who might enjoy it, too. Additional e-books are forthcoming this year. Thank you for all of your support!
Previous poets I've interviewed include Kathryn Kysar, Kris Bigalk, John Rezmerski, and Sharon Chmielarz. Ezra Pound once remarked "poetry is news that stays news." During this series, I wanted to see what happens when Minnesota poets are interviewed as poet to poet, through the forms we work in the most.
Five interviews in to the series, my reflection on this approach is that it's given me a lot to think about as I look at each of their styles. Some are playful, others opt for long forms, and then there are some poets I've been interviewing whose methods don't mesh as well as one might have anticipated for the technique.
Starting in May, I'm going to try increasing the number of poets interviewed to at least twice a month for a while, to test this out further. A big thanks to everyone for your support!