Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Some thoughts on Lao American Poetry

A poetry manuscript should have a clear urgency without compromising our capacity for surprise. To me, a poetry manuscript isn't last word on a topic, even from you. Doubt is healthy. A good one leaves you with questions and wanting more.

Some poems you write like popcorn, others, you sculpt to slip past bone and hook into a soul.

Lao American poetry isn't CONSTANT subversion, but I'd hate to see you get out of practice. If, as a poet, you're using your work to create petty, bourgeois safety for yourself, and no one else, you need to check your priorities. Among a post-colonial poet's concerns must be how do we create a capacity for artistic risk if one must live among former occupiers. Lao American poets need to consider this and always be sure to keep their sense of privilege in check.

Poetry is an introspective form, but if you're sharing it, you should explore your paths to inclusion. Good poems don't have to exclude your community. Don' t treat them like idiots, don't dumb it down for them. Don't make it over their heads simply as an exercise in ego. It's one thing to be a challenging read, but one must still ultimately be readable.

We must beware using the idea of 'book' or 'performance' to create validations that reinforce disparity i.e. "No book=Not Artist" because that's disempowering and violates our mandate to create art forms that we can all latch into as a community. But if you HAVE to make a book, I don't see it should be same effect you get reading any other book of poems. Always shake it up.

A book of poetry is monopolized by Euromerican ideas of it by most publishers. There's a horrific sameness and monotony to the presentation of so many books of poetry these days. But that's not the same route post-colonials NEED to take.

For Lao American poets, who's to say we can't include maps and charts and diagrams? Art, and so on? A book only of words is certainly possible, but it should be our choice, not because we think: Oh, that's how French and Germans and English people do it. We must explore what it is to create a book that is of value to our people, but not so valued people stick it away rather than engage with it.

One concern I often have brought forward to me is the idea that remembering the journey of your elders and ancestors is important. I concur, but it is not the same as doing what they did. I hope other poets recognize this in also not a permit to throwing the old ways under the bus. It is a call to evaluate our old ways to see if they're timeless or if there is room for flexible interpretation.

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