Friday, November 30, 2012

Haiku Movie Review: Life of Pi

DID feel stuck on boat.
Fell asleep trying to watch.
 I hear live beasts call.

DEMONSTRA Deluxe Edition Funded!

A big thanks to everyone for your support! You're blowing us away with all of the positive comments and help to spread the word!

 In less than 24 hours we reached our first goal of $500. Vongduane Manivong can now complete 4 of the images for DEMONSTRA. These are the Kinnaly, Vanon, Nyakinee, and Nakanya.

As we overfund, we can add additional rewards to the different reward levels. If we reach $1,000 in funding, we can add the Gop Nyai - the giant frog who eats the moon. At $1,200, we can add Vongduane's take on the Nak, and everyone's postcards get upgraded in size to 8.5" x 5.47".

 Please continue to help us spread the word! :)

Our kickstarter to include Lao American art in my new book of poetry is located at

Lao American Blog: House on the Mekong

One of the Lao American blogs to check out is "House on the Mekong" over at, where you can find recipes for Lao dishes as well as stories inspired by the author's family experiences. She would also definitely love your feedback and requests. Please encourage her to keep blogging and helping to build an audience for Lao American arts, cuisine and culture.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Demonstra: Deluxe Edition Kickstarter

On November 29th, at 2:22 p.m. we launched our kickstarter to commission Vongduane Manivong to illustrate several of the classic but rarely seen Lao creatures of myth and legend for DEMONSTRA. This funding drive will end on January 1st.

We hope to raise at least $500.

With your support, acclaimed Lao American artist Vongduane Manivong will provide several interior illustrations to help introduce Lao art, culture and imagination to our readers. 

 If we can get this project overfunded, we'd be able to commission more than just four pieces for this book, and can offer more exclusive and upgraded extras to everyone who orders in advance.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

New Layer of Hell / Nalok discovered.

I have determined that HP printers come from a special pit of hell known as the Printerno. FYI: In Lao Nalok, this would most likely be the Hell of Crappy Ink Cartridges and Untimely Paper Jams.


Deadlines, deadlines.

Looking for a new literary journal to subscribe to

So, a certain well-known literary magazine wants me to renew subscription. I like to support literary journals, but after 10 years of giving them a chance, it's clear Lao American voices will never get greenlit by this one. Obviously the answer is "No." But any journals you would recommend?

Anak Sastra Call for Submissions

Anak Sastra seeks short stories (fiction or creative nonfiction) for its 10th issue due out in January 2013. Contributors and/or story themes should have some connection to Southeast Asia. For more information, please visit:

Monday, November 26, 2012

Journal of Southeast Asian Education and Advancement last call for creative works for 2012 The Journal of Southeast Asian Education and Advancement is taking both non-fiction and creative, literary writing. It is a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal addressing research interests surrounding the education and community development of Southeast Asian Americans. We're accepting the last poems, essays and short stories for the year. Please get them in soon.

Reminder: Eye to the Telescope Submissions due Dec. 1

I'll be guest-editing Eye to the Telescope's January issue, looking for Asian American speculative poems (touching on science fiction, fantasy, horror, mythology, etc.) If you can help me spread the word, I'd appreciate it!

 Eye to the Telescope, a magazine of speculative poetry, is seeking poems drawn from fantasy, science fiction, mythology, and slipstream. Contributors or poem elements should have some connection to Asian America for the January 2013 Issue’s theme on Asian American Speculative Poetry.

 Eye to the Telescope is particularly interested in multicultural, multilingual work that brings forward emerging voices, especially from perspectives often underrepresented in existing literature. Work that considers race, gender, sexuality, identity and/or disability issues is welcome. There are no style limitations although shorter works preferred. Submissions should be previously unpublished. Send work to by Dec. 1, 2012 for consideration.


Rocket and Lightship

Adam Kirsch in the essay Rocket and Lightship at the Poetry Foundation threw down a pretty volatile gauntlet:

 "Literature claims to be a record of human existence through time; it is the only way we have to understand what people used to be like. But this is a basic mistake, if not a fraud, since in fact it only reflects the experience of writers—and writers are innately unrepresentative, precisely because they see life through and for writing. Literature tells us nothing really about what most people’s lives are like or have ever been like. If it has a memorial purpose, it is more like that of an altar at which priests continue to light a fire, generation after generation, even though it gives no heat and very little light."

I do rather like the quote he begins with from G.M. Hopkins: "Nor rescue, only rocket and lightship, shone." This was a line from Hopkins' 1875 long poem  “The Wreck of the Deutschland” interestingly composed to "the happy memory of five Franciscan Nuns, exiles by the Falk Laws, drowned between midnight and morning of Dec. 7th, 1875."

And then it meanders like hell. (Both the poem and Kirsch' essay.)

I suppose I'm not surprised that Kirsch doesn't draw on writers from a wide range of world traditions. Primarily European and European American writers are cited as he makes his case. And perhaps that was going to be beyond the scope of an essay for the Poetry Foundation. Most of the questions he raises address poetry and literature the way European and American cultures grapple with it. Which isn't a deal-breaker, but I take that into account when reading the parts of it I find readable.

Kirsch asks us to consider that Ezra Pound is wrong. Kirsch notes "Pound’s goal was to “write nothing that we might not say actually in life.” But this is backwards, for nothing memorable is ever said, it is always written; only sometimes it is not written down, but written in the mind so quickly that it can be produced as speech. In speech, the mind is on the moment, the subject, the interlocutor; in writing, the mind is on these and also always on the self, and the appearance the self and its language are making."

There are some fun notions to consider. "Art begins to look like a method of whistling past the graveyard," Kirsch notes, pondering at length on the writer's struggle for posterity, to find a reason to write, given the likely fate of those writings. The sole surviving works of the Roman poet Catullus were found stopping a medieval wine barrel, for example.

Kirsch concludes with "authentic speech and writing are always productive of more speech and writing—indeed, that is the point of discourse, not to describe reality but to avoid silence.

As a Lao American poet, I find this the sort of essay that makes it difficult for me to draw others into the joys and merits of literature. The gulf between experiences and perspective on the world is really difficult to surmount. There are some nuggets of Kirsch well worth considering, that touch on universal questions, but I'm left instead returning back to the sentiments I mentioned in my old poem "Japonisme, Laoisme": "Just write, son." And we'll let history figure the rest out.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Danh Vo: Winner of the Guggenheim’s Hugo Boss Prize

Vietnamese Berliner Danh Vo is assembling a piece-by-piece, full-scale replica of the Statue of Liberty, in the same copper as the original. Vo was just announced as the winner of the Guggenheim’s Hugo Boss Prize, and will receive $100,000. 

(Photo by Nils Klinger, courtesy Galerie Chantal Crousel)

I'm just starting to become familiar with Danh Vo's work, but an immediate response is how different the interpretation of this must be to the respective communities. To whom does it become transgressive and challenging. Is it an homage without any sense of irony? Do we interpret it merely as an interesting technical exercise, or do we take the artist's heritage into account, and the full history of the Statue of Liberty? 

I can see this as a statue that is an artistic statement that changes at different points in time. What does it mean for so much of it to be unassembled throughout much of the life of the creator? For those who are living the experience as expat refugees, especially those who aren't living in the United States, but were still displaced by the American War/Vietnam War, does it take on a different significance? What does it signal to those who were born and live in Vietnam?

What would it mean if it was fully assembled in Germany, once the center of the Cold War? What would it mean if it was fully assembled in Vietnam, considering that the original was designed  by a French sculptor?

Were it to be assembled in the United States, does it serve as a potent reminder of the most prominent symbol of liberty abroad, or would we see it merely a a novelty like the replica in Las Vegas? Would it throw down the gauntlet to other refugee and immigrant communities in the future, those poor, those tired, those huddled masses, that you really can't be a part of American liberty until you try to build it yourself?

What if it is never assembled at all?  A lifetime as essentially, Liberty Disassembled. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Hugo Munsterberg on photopoetics

“The photopoet must turn to life itself and must remodel life in the artistic forms which are characteristic of his particular art,” film theorist Hugo Münsterberg.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Lao Blog Highlight: The Frog & The Moon

One of the recent blogs that began in March this year is Kelly Phonsinan's The Frog & The Moon: "Musings from a culturally confused Mom, Montessori Teacher, Art Activist and Nature Lover - Happily living in Lao PDR." The blog takes its name from the classic Lao legend for a lunar eclipse.

Be sure to check it out!

(painting by Kristina Lim)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

[Poem] Gop Nyai

“Gop kin deaune” or
“The frog is eating the moon”
According to ancient Lao tradition.

Beyond our borders, it’s just a predictable eclipse.
Carl Sagan would hate our demon-haunted world.

Sagan has no use for the Lao Sung shaman near Phonsavan
Who panics when signs suggest Gop Nyai’s return
Because certain stars are right and dreams are strange.

If our legends are true,
Somewhere, between Champassak and Luang Prabang
Hidden deep in a primordial cavern near the Mekong

He slumbers,
An ancient entity ever dreaming hungrily,
An anuran astrovore, devouring stars and celestial bodies.
Perhaps he thinks to gain precious immortality.
To free himself from bonds of earth and mere reality.

Each time might be the last time, if not for humanity
Doing everything to dissuade fearsome frog ambition.

Towering above our lush jungles and hard mountains,
He’s selfish with his lunar appetites, an inconsiderate titan.
His true spawn are terrible to behold, hungry for man
In indifferent corners best left unknown.

He’s cowardly, despite his size, but over centuries
Not a single solution has put a final end to him.

So, men, women and children keep watching the skies,
Laughing nervously, trying not to take anything for granted.
Living loud and proud, to protect the cosmos, just in case.

Monday, November 19, 2012

[Neologism] Sociopatsy

Because no one else has begun the discussion on it in earnest anywhere on the web, I hereby coin the term: Sociopatsy. The jerk who takes the fall for some other sociopath's misanthropy.

[Poem] Kwam Yan: A Dharma Discourse

Ajahn Anan always wants to frame
Five famed precepts of Buddhism
In a way tomorrow’s Lao parents
Will appreciate and happily pass on
Without any more snoring
During our daily meditation.

He experiments on occasion in Cali:

The first precept in Pali is the lengthy
Pānātipātā veramanī sikkhāpadam samādiyāmi.
"Don’t take life." So, most monsters
Would not make good monks.
Especially a menace who kills gleefully,
Offering no justification for their bad manners.
The thin road to nibbana is not observed easily
With a bloody hand, an obscene heart of malice.

Adinnādānā veramanī sikkhāpadam samādiyāmi.
Even in the aftermath of an apocalypse,
Such as nations falling into the sea,
Or a blight of rampaging zombies,
Looting stains one’s karma permanently.
It's worse when one's a thief with no emergency.
"What goes around comes around,
Even if it seems like the world’s end."

For precept number three:
Kāmesumicchācāra veramanī sikkhāpadam samādiyāmi.
If one is being chased by malevolent jungle predators
Or lounging leisurely among many lovely alien beauties,
Knowing not to engage in improper promiscuity
Is a mark of wisdom and aids survivability.
"This should be clear as a crystal lake."

Musāvādā veramanī sikkhāpadam samādiyāmi
"Do not lie. Treasure honesty."
In our world of shapeshifters,
The desperate, despicable despots,
And a thousand sneaky phi,
Trust can be hard to gain easily.
In the old days, if you found yourself on the run,
Being known for your kindness and good word
Got you farther than just a sharp sword or a gun.

Observing precept number five can keep you alive.
Surāmerayamajjapamādatthānā veramanī
sikkhāpadam samādiyāmi is admittedly
A long way to say “avoid drunkenness or highs.”

Getting red-faced or stoned invites reckless drama,
Increasing your odds of discovering various ways to die,
Or breaking other vows you once intended sincerely.
Often quite embarrassingly.

"Don't meet your fate clumsily tripping," he advised.
Incidentally, he discouraged drinking old snake venom,
Rancid bull bits, bear bile or tiger pee. 

"Fear should not be what brings you
To a righteous path," Ajahn insists.
There are profound reasons the rules exist.

“Don’t make this sound like a fortune cookie,”
He pleads. “If people pay attention properly,
You’ll only hear this in one last life.”

He excused himself in time
For the next prayers for an impermanent world.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Luang Prabang Film Festival Kickstarter

The Luang Prabang Film Festival has launched a last-minute kickstarter to raise $10K with 13 days left to go. If you can pitch in, please consider it! I know they'd appreciate it.

You Will Not Go To Space Today

Well, there are no Lao entries here yet, so there's still hope for the Lao Space Program. But in the meantime, the promising tumblr "You Will Not Go To Space Today."

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Lao Cooking: Smoky Ghost Ketchup

The following recipe should make a smoky ghost ketchup good with fries, burgers, sloppy joes, meatloaf, and other dishes. You should probably warn people if you are adding this to the table.

2 cups mesquite chips
1 head garlic
5 plum tomatoes, seeded and halved
2 Fantome du Laos tomatoes, seeded
1 small yellow onion, peeled into rings
2 small shallots, peeled and halved
1 ghost pepper, seeded and cut in half
Vegetable cooking spray
2 (8-ounce) cans no-salt tomato sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper


 Soak mesquite chips in water at least 30 minutes; drain.

Peel outer skins from garlic; cut off and discard top third of garlic head. Place garlic, tomato halves (cut side down), and onion, shallots, and ghost pepper into a grill basket.

 Pile charcoal on each side of grill, leaving the center empty, with a drip pan between coals. Ignite fire; let burn 10 to 15 minutes. Place half of mesquite chips onto hot coals.

Coat the grill rack with cooking spray, and place over coals. Place the grill basket on rack over the drip pan; cover and cook 30 minutes.

Turn vegetables, and add your remaining mesquite chips to the hot coals. Cover and cook for 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender and lightly browned. Remove the vegetables from grill. Squeeze out pulp from garlic. Put garlic pulp, vegetables, tomato sauce, and remaining ingredients into a food processer and puree until its smooth.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Design Notes for "The Dream Highway of Ms. Mannivongsa"

Still a work in progress, the following are some of the thoughts informing the different sections of "The Dream Highway of Ms. Mannivongsa" which will be appearing in my new book DEMONSTRA, in April 2013.

You will see many of these principles at work in my forthcoming poem "Stainless Steel Nak" coming out in Lontar next year.

A few of my students and other writers may find this helpful to see what's going on here, under the hood. And hopefully readers will find encouragement to explore the world of poetry with your own techniques. 

Fluid Laoglish 
I consider my audience a global one. I write primarily in what I consider "Fluid Laoglish." Amazingly, in some places, people freak out if a poem incorporates even a word of Laoglish. But that's where poets come in, to set the balance right.

What the use of "Fluid Laoglish" means is that in a poem, the romanization of a Lao word may change to fit the visual need of the poem in order to execute a polylingual word play. A good poem to me works well being heard or being seen. This isn't absolute, but it's a good benchmark to begin with.

A case in point regarding fluid Laoglish can be seen when making reference to the old kingdom of Lan Xang vs. Lane Xang. While it is more common to see it written as Lan Xang, in a passage where we're also writing about roads, "Lane" is the spelling I might choose.

Other words might include the Lao word for spirits: Phi, Pi, Pee, etc. which can have a different meaning in other languages.

I'm aware the more common term for Nak is Naga, but I'd encourage more Lao writers to use the Lao spelling and bring it into common parlance. And definitely don't call it a dragon. There was a time no one knew what a vampire was, or a werewolf, a zombie, or a mummy. Will Nak ever become the preferred term in the world? Who knows. But just as Aloha or Hola has joined the world as one of many ways one can greet another human, we shouldn't shy away from our own way of saying things.

It will probably be a while before Arnold Schwarzenegger says"Sabaidee, Baby," the way he says "Hasta La Vista," but if you don't offer it as an option, people don't get a chance to try for themselves.

I use italics for book/work titles, whether English or non-English. For example: Gone with the Wind or The Ramayana or Turandot.

 I don't use italics for words that are perceived as "The Other," because what's a foreign, alien word anymore? Taco, sushi, ninja, rendezvous, caucus, karaoke, avatar? If you don't italicize these, then you don't italicize Lao words except for emphasis.

Rhyme is subordinate to image and idea I appreciate my international audience, and especially the work of my translators. And anyone who's worked in a multilingual setting can tell you that it's very difficult to translate poets whose work is heavily dependent on rhyme to achieve its aesthetic.

 What rhymes in Lao loses a lot if you try to reproduce that rhyme in English, or Spanish, or German, or French or Korean. I'd rather have a strong image, a strong concept in a poem that can be translated in many different ways without some poor soul stressed that the spirit has been captured, but not the form.

However, that doesn't mean that I eschew rhyme, and in a poem like "The Dream Highway of Ms. Mannivongsa" I employ what has been jokingly referred to as TRAmbiguous rhyme, after my experience as transcultural adoptee and the ambiguities that come with such a life.

This means when the reader comes across an uncertain set of words, they can look at a nearby line to guess what the word rhymes with. But a TRAmbiguous rhyme also includes another line that allows for a nice rhyme the other way.

As an immediate example in this latest poem:
"She remembered Los Alamos just fine, but not the Axolotl poem by Arthur Sze
Or why “Traduttore, traditore” is an accepted way to betray, among the literary.
The local fungi taste funny, but why, she cannot precisely say."  

Does Arthur Sze rhyme with "literary" or "say"? Certainly for some there's a definitive answer, but for others who've never met him, it could go either way. And it won't hurt the flow. Of course, there's some linguistic purist who will probably hate this, but they can go write their own poem, then.

Allusion and Wordplay
In "The Dream Highway of Ms. Mannivongsa" you might not catch all of the allusions and references in the poem until a highly annotated version comes out. Much like George Lucas threw you "In Media Res" or "in the middle of the action," so, too, I think readers can have a fun, rollicking time filling in the blanks or googling up a term on their own time to see what they get.

You might not recognize space coyote, or H.P. Lovecraft's moonbeasts, or the appearance of certain popular vampires of the last thirty years, but as a poet, I hope to have provided just enough of a 'toolkit' that you can get what it probably is.

For example:
"There is no Wat Lao to get married in by Ajahn Elvis."  

Here, I hope you can figure out that a Wat Lao is like the Chapel of Love, a synagogue, a church, or what have you. In another line of the poem, you don't have to know how to make really dirty tom mak hung, but just trust that it's Ms.Mannivongsa's father's favorite dish.

Will you get something extra out of knowing the lyrics of "O Fortuna" or the plot of Turandot? Yes, but it's not strictly necessary to appreciate the whole of the story. When we make a reference to the creepy little girl courier on the beach in California named "Psycho Pom" in Ms. Mannivongsa's dream, you can know that a psychopomp is a mythological guide who takes you through the underworld, but you can live just fine knowing that Pom is sometimes a Lao girl's name.

 I hope you enjoyed this quick peek at the design for "The Dream Highway of Ms. Mannivongsa." This post is where I'll field any other questions you might have on the process.

Haiku Movie Review: Vamps

A biting humor.
Will they find their best victims
Before sunrise comes?

Cooking: Lao American Spirit Salsa

Named because it incorporates both the ghost pepper and the Fantome du Laos tomatoes, which are said to glow on the vine at night when spirits are present.

2 mangos, peeled and chopped
2 small peaches, halved and diced into 1/2-inches
2 Fantome du Laos tomatoes, chopped
2 Beefmaster tomatoes, chopped
1/4 to 1/2 Ghost Pepper (Naga Bhut Jolokia) thinly diced.
1 white onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
1 cup fresh pineapple, diced
1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon fish sauce or salt
2 tablespoons white sugar, or to taste
3/4 cup coconut water

Place the mango, peach, tomatoes, ghost peppers, onion, red pepper, yellow pepper, pineapple, and cilantro in a mixing bowl. Stir in the garlic, lime juice, fish sauce or salt, sugar, and coconut water. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving. And watch out for ghosts, obviously.

Interviewed by Rebecca Brown

I was recently interviewed by Rebecca L. Brown, who is a British genre writer based in Cardiff, South Wales. There, she dwells with a most peculiar menagerie that includes her partner. She also has a background in archaeology and a terrible sense of direction. That being said, I had a lot of fun being interviewed for her ongoing Somebody Else's Writing series. Thanks, Rebecca, and I'm looking forward to seeing your next books!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Laomerican cooking: BeerLao Ghost Cheese Soup!

Just in time for Thanksgiving, we're kicking up the traditional Beercheese soup Lao style. Give it a try if you dare. Not for the lactose intolerant, obviously. And it will live up to the mantra 'goes in hot, comes out hot' but go figure.

  • 1 (12-ounce) BeerLao of choice 
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 chopped medium sized yellow onion
  • At least 1/2 cup chopped carrot
  • At least 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 7 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, shredded (Aged 8 to 10 years+  is awesome)
  • 7 ounces processed Swiss cheese, shredded
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/2 teaspon dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 to 1 whole Ghost pepper
  • Sriracha to taste
  • Optional: 1 pound smoked sausage (recommended: spicy Lao sausage, or smoked bratwurst if your local Lao sausage distributors stink. (Not naming names...)

  • Directions
  • In a large saucepan over medium heat, stir together carrots, onion, celery, and garlic. Stir in ghost pepper, salt, and pepper. Pour in chicken broth and beer; simmer until vegetables are tender, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat.
  • Meanwhile, heat butter in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Stir in flour with a wire whisk; cook, stirring until the flour is light brown, about 3 or 4 minutes. Gradually stir in milk, whisking to prevent scorching, until thickened. Remove from heat, and gradually stir in cheese. Keep warm.
  • Stir beer mixture into cheese mixture. Stir in Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and dry mustard. Adjust for sriracha sauce to taste. Bring to a simmer, and cook 10 minutes. Serve topped with popcorn or croutons / toasted baguette with garlic butter.
  • Saturday, November 10, 2012

    Laos Free: Almost complete

    A few months back, Cory Sheldon did a kickstarter for an animated project called Laos Free. It would be an animated film addressing the UXO issues in Laos since the end of the US bombing campaign during the 1960s and 70s. He recently finished it, except for a few minor tweaks. Having seen a preview of it, I can say that it's touching and well-done.

    In his project description, he mentioned that he "wanted to show life in Laos, as it is today and how it was during the bombing. I felt that animation was perhaps the only way to really do this. There is very little photographic or film documentation of the situation from the perspective on the ground, so the only accounts I have access to come from the illustrations or survivor testimony."

    I think what he accomplished will move many hearts, and hopefully provide people with a great way to begin meaningful conversations about what we can do to create a peaceful legacy in the aftermath of the war. Keep an eye out for it.

    Friday, November 09, 2012

    Thursday, November 08, 2012

    Arn Chorn-Pond and "Never Fall Down,"

    The story of a Cambodian author adoptee from the Killing Fields era was featured in the Boston Globe this week. He witnessed the murders as a youth, was resettled in the US, and as an adult, returned to live in Cambodia in a home where he mentors 8 homeless children and overseas reach out music programs in remote areas.

    Call for Submissions: Eye to the Telescope

    I'll be guest-editing Eye to the Telescope's January issue, looking for Asian American speculative poems (touching on science fiction, fantasy, horror, mythology, etc.) If you can help me spread the word, I'd appreciate it!

    Eye to the Telescope, a magazine of speculative poetry, is seeking poems drawn from fantasy, science fiction, mythology, and slipstream. Contributors or poem elements should have some connection to Asian America for the January 2013 Issue’s theme on Asian American Speculative Poetry.

    Eye to the Telescope is particularly interested in multicultural, multilingual work that brings forward emerging voices, especially from perspectives often underrepresented in existing literature. Work that considers race, gender, sexuality, identity and/or disability issues is welcome. There are no style limitations although shorter works preferred. Submissions should be previously unpublished. Send work to by Dec. 1, 2012 for consideration.

    Tuesday, November 06, 2012

    Discussing 1984 in Hemet, November 10th

    As a reminder, the Doing Literature book discussion group’s 11th season continues at the Hemet Public Library. This month will feature a discussion of George Orwell’s dystopian classic “1984” on November 10th at 10:00AM. Remember: It was intended as a warning, not an instruction manual.

     On December 8th, the group will discuss French writer Marguerrite Duras’ “The Lover”. What do these books have in common, why do they endure and how do they connect to the lives of Hemet residents today?

    Bring your thoughts and ideas every second Saturday at the Hemet Public Library at 300 East Latham Avenue. For more information e-mail or twitter @hemetliterature

    [Poem] Khao Jai

    In the spirit of Election Day:

    Khao Jai

    Enter the heart and you understand.
    To be jai yen, my heart cool, without worries,
    I smile like a nak, a rainbow bridge, a June rain,
    Trying to find a middle path I‟m happy with:

    I've seen how much difference one person can make.
    I don‟t want anyone to fall behind in our beautiful city.

    As a writer, I never want a title, a grade or a sheet of paper
    To hold a soul back from
    All of the good they can do in the world.

    A head of knowledge is worth more than a tray full of gold and jewels.
    But every head is unique and capable of generosity.

    Some will learn everything they need in life from a book,
    But others will find a page inadequate even in the schools of Sihome.

    Some discover galaxies in the motion of a single human body.
    Others can gaze at the finest dancers of Vientiane and remain unchanged.

    There are those whose greatest teachers are a touch.
    Some can be blind and with a single piano, move nations.

    Some must discover on their own, free of desks and distraction.

    We fail the world, ourselves, if we don‟t seek the best for one another,
    If we're unkind to someone whose only crime is they aren't like us,
    Or they make their way through the world by a different road than ours.

    But I‟m just a nuckawii.

    There are people in the world who trained a lifetime
    To change things so much better than I, the silapin or a laughing nak dontii.
    And any day now, they'll do their job properly.

    Will Lao Minnesotans vote No-No?

    Reprinting my op-ed that appeared in the Twin Cities Daily Planet: "Will Lao Minnesotans vote No-No?"  Little Laos on the Prairie also recently published an opinion: "Why Little Laos is Voting ‘No’ this ‘No’vember" and the Lao Assistance Center's open letter to the community from executive director Sunny Chanthanouvong. Be sure to check those out. Hopefully other Lao Americans have been chiming in across the rest of the country on issues that matter to them, too.

    Here's my take.

    Will Lao Minnesotans Vote No-No?

    Election day is around the corner, but where are Lao Minnesotan voices?

    I was naturalized on Flag Day in 1976, the American Bicentennial. Since then, I've always taken my citizenship seriously. My family has always reminded me that many men and women fought and died to preserve our democratic freedoms in America, and to assist others who are trying to live free of fear and tyranny abroad.

    For Lao Americans who came to the US as refugees, our heritage obliges us to remember and vindicate those sacrifices through good citizenship. And part of good citizenship is participating, not just once a year voting, but regularly communicating with your representatives, and taking a stand on what matters to you.

    I think it's well known: I don't speak for all Lao Americans. But I am a Lao American voice.

    And I have been hoping, through this forum and others, that we would see a growth in Lao Americans taking a public stand and demonstrate courage to express their convictions. Because that's what makes a democracy function, and a nation great.

    I'm surprised how quiet Lao Minnesotans have been in the media about both the Marriage Amendment and the Voter ID laws.

    Especially since some of the strongest Lao American GLBT writers and editors in the country live in Minnesota. And Minnesota is home to many nationally-recognized artists, educators and community builders. These are former refugee families who, more than most, should be making it clear that laws that restrict diversity, that make it harder to participate in democracy have no place in Minnesota culture.

    I've been waiting to see our Lao Minnesotan civic leaders, our organizations, families and students go beyond the "get out and vote" efforts and to actually take positions that they would defend. To express ourselves, as is our right, without fear of intimidation or retaliation. We must speak, or we will be spoken for.

    Or worse, as is more likely the case, we will not even be considered at all, as we saw with the stunning exclusion of Lao Americans in the recent report from the National Asian American Survey entitled “Public Opinion Of a Growing Electorate: Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in 2012”.

    Although they're taking steps to correct it now, in that report, the researchers claim Lao American voices were wanted, but none of the professional survey companies could conduct the survey in Lao, even though 70% of Lao Americans speak English well. And how many years did it take for the Twin Cities World Refugee Day website to include a mention of the Lao, even though we've been here for over 30 years as your friends and neighbors?

    I don't think my heart was ever as broken as the day I took Lao Minnesotan youth to the State Capitol to visit their representatives a few years ago. Despite all of the encouragement, almost no one had the courage to talk, to even say hi, let alone ask a politician to support something as non-controversial as improving education in Minnesota's schools.

    Considering the latest Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans' report that Lao Minnesotan children have reading score of 56.9% and a math score of 39.7%, even for children born and raised here all of their lives, I think that would have been a pretty darn reasonable request.

    And deep down, I found myself hating, hating whatever it was that filled these young children with fear, that taught them to remain silent, to not 'rock the boat', to never speak their hearts. The late Sentaor Paul Wellstone famously said, "We all do better when we all do better." And that comes from expressing ourselves, even in public.

    I'm not asking for us to all agree on all of the issues all of the time. Quite the contrary, I want plurality. I want to see opinions that challenge our assumptions, that give us a clear view of all our options, and where we might go with those ideas, great and small. But that doesn't work if we don't speak up. And sometimes, that means saying "No" to bad ideas. Or even "No and No."

    The author W. Somerset Maugham had it right when he pointed out "If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too."

    Monday, November 05, 2012

    Classic footage: British invasion of Laos

    Recently found some footage of the British invasion of Laos. No sound, but it is apparently from 1953. Mostly preparations and footage of airplanes, but it's still an interesting take we rarely see.You can find it at: Additional items related to Laos can be found at the site by going to:


    Saturday, November 03, 2012

    Pulp! Airship Combat Kickstarter

    One of the current kickstarters of the month is for the Pulp! Airship Combat game.

    Pitched as "A science fantasy airship combat game. A fully 3D single player campaign, customize your ship with everything from cannons to ray guns!" While we have seen several steampunk games do a drive on Kickstarter, I liked the low barrier to entry. A modest contribution gets you some pretty good perks, which will hopefully be expanded if they are successfully overfunded.

    But more than anything, I admit, I'm backing this one because of their values. They put it up front that this will be a game that's positive towards "Equal genders, colors, and LGBT friendly." That sells me right there. They also promise fun, accessible but deep gameplay will let players have fun within the game without micromanagement or a steep learning curve as we customize and balance our ships. Can they pull it off? I'm partial towards scrappy indie projects, so I'm willing to take chance and see. It'd be especially refreshing to play a single-player game that's developed well in a genre oversaturated with multiplayer games.

    The storyline will follow Riva; a "formerly disgraced Commander of Dawns navy for voicing public opposition to her Commander The last hope in the conflict she lost everything to avoid, Riva returns to the sky to set things right, and to save Dawn from the promised annihilation by the invading Duskan forces."

    I'm looking forward to seeing how this project gets fleshed out.

    Friday, November 02, 2012

    Lao Steampunk: Airship designs?

    I recently became a backer of the "Pulp" Strategic Airship Combat game set in a steampunk environment. We'll be following their heroine, Riva; a "formerly disgraced Commander of Dawns navy for voicing public opposition to her Commander The last hope in the conflict she lost everything to avoid, Riva returns to the sky to set things right, and to save Dawn from the promised annihilation by the invading Duskan forces."

    I'll be submitting in a flag design of the famed Lao Airship Corps, the Flying Naks, of course, but it also got me wondering what the ship designs would look like based on historical Lao boat designs. I know, it sounds strange talking about boats, considering that Laos is a landlocked nation.

    A great overview can be found at Boats and Rice. They point out: "For the most part, you can think of the variety of Laotian boats as simply different sizes of otherwise very similar boats: flat bottomed, with shovel ends, flaring sides, and quite long for their width. The smallest are about fifteen feet long usually, paddled with canoe paddles and have no motors. There is a large class of motor powered canoes ranging in size from about 18 feet long to upwards of 25 feet long."

    It's not inconceivable that they could be ideal frames for airships, but there would also have to be more to it than just strapping balloons onto them.

    With Lao terrain over 70% mountain and jungle, how would Lao society develop reliable landing strips and aerodromes? Would we see the major airbases still established in Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Pakse and Long Tieng? Would makeshift airfields such as the Lima landing strip models be used during the 20th century?

    There aren't many references I've found that the Lao built elaborate boats such as the Thai royal barge the Anantanagaraj with its seven-head naga, or the Anekajatbhujonga. As a side note, the crew complement for the Anantanagaraj crew typically consistsed of 54 oarsmen, 2 steersmen, 2 officers, 1 standard bearer, 1signalman, 1 chanter and 7 royal insignia bearers. It's an impressive sight.

    There are many questions we could ask about what role a parallel vessel would have in a Lao navy, let alone the Lao Air Corps.

    Perhaps, in the retro-future, given the Lao relationship to the Nak, would they take a different approach to building vessels. The Nak traditionally are very protective of bodies of water, so, a story conceivably might suggest Lao who ply the rivers would do their best to reduce disrupting and upsetting the Nak through loud motors or pollutants.

    The Nak have traditionally been in conflict with the Garuda, and I would see that still playing out in a world of airships. Lao might be more inclined to embrace the flying Vanon war monkeys or the Kinnaly in imagery on their air vessels in this alternate retro-future, as well as the classic Xang, although images of flying elephants brings to mind a certain Disney character.

    These are just a few of the things to consider as one addresses transit in an alternate retro-future.

    StoneThread Publishing Speculative Fiction Contest II

    For their contests, speculative fiction is defined as any story in any genre that responds to the question "What if?" in a way that depends on science or on any fantastic elements. The genres might include science fiction (hard or sociological), fantasy, magic realism, psychological horror or suspense (no slash and gash please), ghost stories, urban fantasy, paranormal romance (no erotica please), etc. They may be based in the past, present or future.

     Contest Rules
    There is no reading fee or entry fee for this contest.

     Entry deadline, 30 November 2012 (may be extended if we do not receive enough entries).

    Previously unpublished speculative fiction only please. 1,000 to 10,000 words.

    Email submission as a .doc, .docx, or .rtf attachment to contest @

    Enter as many stories as you like, one story per email. Name and email address must appear in upper left corner of the first page of the story. 

    Past tense is the natural voice of narrative; please, no present tense.

    They will announce the winners by email to all entrants approximately one month after the contest closes.

    Prizes All winning entries and all honorable mentions will be included in an anthology to be published as an ebook by StoneThread Publishing.

    They reserve the right to publish the anthology in paperback as well. First Place: $50 plus a copy of the anthology Second through Sixth: $20 plus a copy of the anthology Honorable Mentions: $5 plus a copy of the anthology

     To get on their mailing list for releases and other contests, please visit and sign up.

    Thursday, November 01, 2012

    SFPA Poetry Contest Winners Announced!

    The Science Fiction Poetry Association has announced its annual winners of the Science Fiction Poetry Contest. "Fielding over 400 entries from around the world, contest coordinator Diane Severson Mori sorted the entries into categories, removing identifying elements. Finalists were selected by preliminary readers Michael A. Burstein, Ann K. Schwader and Marcie Lynn Tentchoff, who each chose ten poems from each division to be sent on to the final judge." This year's final judge was speculative poet Andrew Joron. So, without further ado:

    This year's Long Form winner was a tie between Bryant O'Hara for "The Music Is Always On" and Jade Sylan's "Rocketman Pantoum."

    Bryant O'Hara is a speculative poet based in Georgia. A "Programmer, Poet, Science Fiction/Anime Geek - not necessarily in that order," he says "I think I know enough about music to be dangerous. I write poems and songs with science fictional elements. I write music with whatever software or code I can find or write myself. I use whatever musical genre works for the piece. I am always searching for the "sense of wonder" and am amazed at where I find it." You can find some additional examples of his work at

    Jade Sylvan is a writer and performance artist. She's the author of The Spark Singer and has had work published in PANK, The Sun, Bayou, Basalt, Word Riot, Decomp, and others. Read her work and about her various projects at She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

    The winner of the Long Form and Non-member winning poem was Darrell Lindsey for "The Fugitive."

    Darrell Lindsey is a freelance writer/ poet/songwriter from Nacogdoches, the oldest town in Texas. His haiku and tanka have won awards in the United States, Japan, Croatia, Bulgaria, Canada, and Romania. He is the author of Edge Of The Pond ( Popcorn Press, 2012), available on Amazon and from the publisher at

    The Short Form winner was Damien Cowger's "Cold." Cathy Bryant's "Calculated" was this year's Short Form Runner-Up.

    Damien Cowger is the Managing Editor of New Ohio Review and is also a writer of short fiction and poetry. His work has most recently appeared in Midwest Literary Magazine, Denver Syntax, and Pale House. He lives in Athens, Ohio with his wife and daughter.

    Cathy Bryant lives in Manchester, UK, and performs her poetry all over the country. Her short stories and poems have been published in every continent except Antarctica, and in 2012 she won the Swanezine Poetry Prize, the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Prize, the Sampad 'Inspired by Tagore' Prize and the Malahat Review Monostich Poetry Prize. Her collection Contains Strong Language and Scenes of a Sexual Nature was published recently. Her website is

    This year's Dwarf Form winner was "Lilith" by Steven Wittenberg Gordon. The Dwarf Form Runner-Up was "Dinosaur Heart" by Noel Sloboda.

    Steven Wittenberg Gordon received his BA from Amherst College and his MD from Albany Medical College. He credits his romantic Shakespearean sonnets and other love poems with his luck in wooing, winning, and keeping his wife—a lady otherwise clearly out of his league. In the past year, he has been experimenting with speculative poetry, mainly fantasy and horror. “Lilith” is his first work of short fiction to be published in a professional market. Doctor Gordon resides in Kansas with his wife, their two children, and a poorly trained Airedale terrier. He continues to practice medicine on a part-time basis. Visit him at

    Noel Sloboda is the author of the poetry collection Shell Games as well as several chapbooks. He has also published a book about Edith Wharton and Gertrude Stein. Sloboda teaches at Penn State York and serves as dramaturg for the Harrisburg Shakespeare Festival. His forthcoming poetry collection, Our Rarer Monsters, will feature original art by Marc Snyder. Catch a glimpse here:

    A big congratulations to all of the winners and a thanks to the judges. Going through 400 poems is not an easy task, but it has played a wonderful role in keeping speculative poetry vibrant and engaging. The Science Fiction Poetry Association was founded in 1978 to bring together poets and readers interested in science fiction poetry.