Monday, March 31, 2014

Lao American Writers Society asks: Are you bringing Lao writers to your campus in 2014-2015?

The Lao American Writers Society is beginning outreach to see if different college campuses and institutions would be interested in having Lao American writers or artists speak to students during the 2014-2015 academic year. From their current notice:
"The 2014-2015 year is a significant one for the Lao community in the United States because it marks 60 years since the recognition of Lao independence by the United Nations and 40 years since the end of the Lao civil war and the start of the Lao diaspora. 2015 is also 20 years since the founding of the SatJaDham Lao Literary Project. 
Less than 40 books about the Lao American experience have been written by the Lao in their own words. Laos is a nation the size of Great Britain, or in the US, it's comparable to Utah, or just a little larger than Minnesota. Today, there are more Lao living outside of Laos than inside it, with expatriate communities scattered across Asia, Europe, and the Americas. 
Over 400,000 Laotians are resettled in the US. 
There's still a long way to go for the Lao: 9 out of 10 have not successfully graduated from college, and many continue to live below the federal poverty line. But for those Lao who are engaged in the arts, there is often a strong connection to lifelong success. The timely introduction of Lao American writers to these students may play a key role in Lao American cultural development over the next 20 years if history is any indication. 
Several of our award-winning writers are available to speak with different classrooms in almost every region. They can work to provide a sense of how the Lao American community came to form in the US and where the arts have played a vital role in our reconstruction. 
The writers are available individually or as a group, and they'd be delighted to work with college institutions to meet their budget and specific needs."  

Saturday, March 29, 2014

A note from the Dhammapada

"Make an island of yourself, quickly strive and wise become.
Freed from stain and passionless, you’ll not return, take flesh, decay."

-Dhammapada, verse 238

[Poem] Discussing Principles of Art with Laotians at Cha

As a nice way to close the month, my poem, "Discussing Principles of Art with Laotians" is now up at the Hong Kong-based literary journal Cha this week.

There's a lot of content in this issue including poems by Reid Mitchell, B.B.P. Hosmillo, Renée M. Schell, Edward Ragg, Mingjuan Tan, Reihana Robinson, Amy Uyematsu, Deborah Guzzi, Jenna Le, Ranu Uniyal, Suzanne Hermanoczki, and Eileen Chong.

There are many great pieces but in particular, I'll point out Schell's "Ghost Husband," Chong's "Cleansing Ritual," Uyematsu's "The Emptying Room," and "After the Fall" by Robinson as pieces my regular readers may find of special interest.

"Texting Nostalgic for Kathmandu" by Jyoti Omi Chowdhury is a photographic essay I particularly found haunting and evocative.

I'm also giving a big congratulations to Cha, which is celebrating their 6th year with this issue. I remember when I was first had a chance to submit a poem to them, "Zelkova Tree." That poem is still one of my favorite pieces. I applaud their enduring commitment to literature and fine art and wish them many more years of success in the future.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Profiled at the Poetry Foundation

Photo by Boon Vong

As a nice milestone today, I just became the very first Lao American poet to be featured on the Poetry Foundation website. It has been a long journey. One might argue well over 40 years of Lao in America. But the journey has let us learn many things, meet many people. As I noted elsewhere, I may not always be able to talk you about everyday life. But we can almost always talk of the world and art, and that is a grand point to meet.

Another point of interest connected to this: In Chicago, is the Poetry Foundation is exhibiting the handwritten versions of the poems from the Poetry Parnassus of the 2012 Olympics. There, you can see my handmade version of my poem "On A Stairway in Luang Prabang" that was part of the Olympics.

I hope my fellow Lao Americans see this not just as a personal victory, but a community victory, and that we recognize the value of our words and the things we can change from sharing our voices. That comes with responsibilities, but also infinite potential worth fighting for.

I have also now been included on their list of Asian American poets the Poetry Foundation presented earlier this month. In another post, I mentioned a number of Lao American poets who could also be included as significant and emerging voices in Lao American and world arts and letters. No one list will be completely comprehensive or complete, but it's impractical not to make an effort to start somewhere.

I have seen critiques that Asian American poetry can not be distilled into a list or manageable categories,  but I far more fear an environment where we do not make an effort to recognize individual and distinctive voices in our community.

For over six centuries, Lao culture has enjoyed a profound journey of over 160 ethnicities within our borders. Plurality and diversity and an amicable approach to life have been great hallmarks of our culture. The Lao have almost always held deep contempt for monolithic voices and uniformity. This has its disadvantages at times, but for every generation, learning to navigate that has been a journey that strengthens us rather than diminishing us. I would deeply hate to see that change.

Within the US, I particularly believe we are obliged to create and express ourselves to the limits of our imagination.

Five years ago, when I became the first Lao American to hold a fellowship in literature from the NEA, I wrote "I recognize those who gave so much around the world to bring us to this point. Some names we know, so many we do not. I thank those voices, those souls, and add my own to our collective story of freedom and dreamers. And to those who come upon these words of mine: Write. Create. Add your voice to this magnificent tale."

Those words still hold true.

Thank you all for your wonderful support over the years, and I hope we see this moment not as an end but another step in a journey that began long before us, one that will continue long after us.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

East West Players’ 48th Anniversary Visionary Awards Dinner & Silent Auction on April 28th

East West Players (EWP), the nation’s premier Asian American theatre, celebrates the achievements of individuals who have raised the visibility of the Asian Pacific American (APA) community through their craft at the 48th Anniversary Visionary Awards Dinner & Silent Auction. The fundraising event will take place on Monday April 28, 2014 at the Universal Hilton. Proceeds from the gala will benefit East West Players’ educational and artistic programs.

The 2014 Honorees are:

Paul Kikuchi (Made In America Award) is a Japanese American playwright/screenwriter. His first play, Ixnay received its world premiere in East West Players’ 2008-2009 season. In 2011, East West Player presented the world premiere of Paul’s third play Wrinkles. The following year, his fourth play Slice was presented by Metamorphosis Theatre Company at the Fremont Center Theatre in South Pasadena. His other play is The Long Arm of Stanly Matsui. As a screenwriter, two of his screenplays, Blindsided and Turnaround have been optioned.

Reggie Lee (Visionary Award) stars as ‘Sgt. Wu’ on NBC’s hit sci-fi police drama Grimm currently in its third season. Prior to Grimm, he was best known for his role as Secret Service Agent ‘Bill Kim’ on the popular FOX show Prison Break. Since having starred as Lance Nguyen in Universal’s high-octane blockbuster The Fast and the Furious in 2001, Lee has had memorable roles in films from Pirates of the Caribbean to Tropic Thunder, and more recently, in Safe and The Dark Knight Rises. Stage credits include Broadway and National Touring Companies of Miss Saigon and Carousel. He continues to be active with East West Players.

Peter Lenkov and Ken Solarz (Visionary Award) are the Executive Producers of TV show Hawaii 5-0 airing on CBS and is seen in over 200 countries.

Peter Lenkov has been a writing producer of movies and television shows for nearly 20 years. Prior to Hawaii 5-0, Lenkov served as executive producer on CSI:NY for which he won a Media Access Award. Lenkov’s additional television credits include 24, for which he earned an Emmy nomination for Best TV Series, The District and La Femme Nikita. He also co-produced the miniseries XIII based on the popular graphic novel and video game of the same name and created Metajets and Kung Fu Dino Posse, two new animated TV shows. On the big screen, writing and producing credits include Demolition Man, starring Sylvester Stallone and Sandra Bullock, Son in Law and Jury Duty. In July 2013, Universal released R.I.P.D., starring Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, and Kevin Bacon. The film was based on the comic book written by Lenkov for Dark Horse Publishing. Lenkov’s second comic series Fort: Prophet of the Unexplained was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award in 2002.

Ken Solarz began his professional writing career as a journalist for both print and television. He covered organized crime, politics and produced documentaries while working for ABC, PBS and CNN. Ken came to Hollywood in 1986 to write for Michael Mann’s Crime Story and Miami Vice. Ken has also had four movies produced, including City of Industry. He has written and produced thirteen other television series including the Untouchables, Profiler, and CSI:NY.

Maurissa Tancharoen (Visionary Award) is currently co-creator and executive producer on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for ABC television. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she grew up singing and dancing, and toured the country as a member of a Motown pop group. At Occidental College, she became heavily involved in the theater and wrote several award-winning plays. She started her screenwriting career as a staff writer on the FOX series Oliver Beene before moving on to write an action-comedy for Revolution Studios. She also created and executive produced the MTV series Dance Life with her brother, director Kevin Tancharoen (Mortal Kombat Legacy, Fame). With her husband, Jed Whedon, and his brothers, she co-wrote and appeared in the Emmy Award winning musical Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. She then went on to write and produce for television shows such as Dollhouse, Drop Dead Diva, and Spartacus.

Current major sponsors of the gala include: PLATINUM CIRCLE – Edison International, NBC Universal, Mattel, The Walt Disney Company, CBS; GOLD CIRCLE – The Thomas R. Bancroft Family, Wells Fargo; SILVER CIRCLE – Sony Pictures Entertainment; BRONZE CIRCLE – Lynn & Brian Arthurs, Tim Dang & Darrel Cummings, I.W. Group, Inc., Rod Nakamoto, Lynn Waggoner, Reggie Lee, Sanrio, HBO, Union Bank, Mnet America; VIP Reception Sponsor is Comcast.

Award-winning composer Nathan Wang (Beijing Olympics/Shaolin Monks, Steven Spielberg’s Oscar Award-winning film The Last Days) will serve as the evening’s Musical Director.

East West Players’ 48th Anniversary Visionary Awards Dinner and Silent Auction will be held on Monday, April 28, 2014 at the Hilton Universal City, 555 Universal Hollywood Drive, Universal City, CA 91608. The no-host reception and silent auction will start at 6pm. The dinner and awards program will start at 7pm. Tickets are $175 – $1,750. Full table sponsorship packages are also available. For more information on East West Players’ 48th Anniversary Visionary Awards Dinner and Silent Auction, please visit contact East West Players at (213) 625-7000 or

Sunday, March 23, 2014

GHOSTS, Revisted

Lao American artist Sayon Syprasoueth and Michael ED Detto's exhibition "GHOSTS, Revisited" is coming to the Goethe Intitut from 4/1-15 (two weeks )in Los Angeles.

In their artists statement, they noted "Cultural memory is collective memory, and the artist plays a part in it. Today’s notions of history and memory may be flawed and disputed, but they are especially problematic for the individual that has experienced tragedy. The notion of “victims’ silence” following tragic events has often been the subject of discussion, and is frequently linked to suffering. Should victims decide to speak about their experiences, they are likely to relive past suffering, often making it unbearable."

They added: "German writer W. G. Sebald, whose books became landmark works in the realm of esthetics and its link to memory, served as an inspiration for the exhibition entitled “Ghosts.”

The exhibition includes works by Aragna Ker, Denise A. Scott., Ken Gonzales-Day, Prumsodun Ok and Michael Detto.  The exhibition focuses on the topic of memory as a central theme in exploring the roles of artists as storytellers, researchers, and/or social advocates.

As part of the exhibition, Several artists were invited to present and talk their work in Santa Monica last winter. At the Goethe-Institut, “Ghosts Revisited” offers the chance to “revisit” these works with a lecture by curator Michael EB Detto on his project “Sebald and the Image of Destruction,” as well as the opportunity to discuss the works with the artists themselves.

The Goethe Intituit is located at 5750 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 100 Los Angeles, CA 90036, USA

"Revival of a Lao Musical Treasure: Sian One Sone Kong Ban Hao"

I received an interesting letter from Henry Holmes regarding his reprinting of a classic of Lao literature, the Lao Song Book, “Siang One Sone Khong Ban Hao” (The Harmonious Sounds of Our Villages), first published in 1965. I haven't obtained a copy yet, but the proposal sounds interesting.

Here's a picture of the original book, a copy of the original sells for over $75 on the rare occasions you can find one. According to descriptions, the original was a large (9 X 12.25 in.), 75 page paperback contains a mixture of romantic and patriotic songs, interspersed with black and white photos of Laos, its king, its soldiers and people. The text is in Lao, French and English. In French, the title was Melodies de nos villages, Recueil de chansons Lao.

He wrote:

"Not long ago, I got a very pleasant email from an old friend who had (like me) served as a teacher in Laos back in the late 1960s and early ‘70s. She was enquiring about a 60-year-old collection of traditional Lao songs, but didn’t know what had happened to this book. 

I was fortunate to be one of the people who started the project, as a young teaching volunteer, back in 1962, in the ancient royal capital of Luang Prabang. It was conceived by a Catholic priest, some Lao schoolteachers, and myself, burgeoning into an international team of Lao and foreign music-lovers. We set out to identify and preserve the favorite songs of Laos, most of which were already more than 50 years old. Many were nearly forgotten. Our work caught the attention of Prime Minister Prince Souvanna Phouma and his wife, who were great enthusiasts for Lao music; he eventually wrote, by hand, his personal introduction to the book which was printed in early 1965. 

Siang One Sone Khong Ban Hao (The Harmonious Sounds of Our Villages) is an unusual piece of work. For the first time you can see the musical notes laid out on a “western” chart; the Lao words are there, as well as phonetics so that non-Lao could actually sing the 41 songs! There are summaries in both French and English. On many pages, there are stunning photos of Lao life, the countryside, and the people in those days. And as a final stroke, the whole book was printed entirely by hand. 

At the time of the project, it was described in the Asia Magazine in 1963. And in 1965, the Harvard Alumni Magazine featured the story, which provides an informal history of the project. This article is included with each copy of the book. I believe you will find the Lao Song Book to be a kind of treasure to touch the hearts of Lao people and their friends everywhere. 

 The original book was quite large, almost coffee-table size. We found that by reducing it to 9 x 6 inches, loose-leaf style, it would be far less expensive, yet still elegant and easy to read. 


 Kindly send a cheque for $29 per copy (covering fine printing and mailing) to me; I will mail your order out within less than 10 days. Those of you living outside the United States: Please let me know of your interest; I will figure the overseas postage and let you know the total cost.

Henry Holmes
370 North Civic Drive, Apt. 406
Walnut Creek, CA 94596
May I wish you some nostalgic and happy musical memories!

I'll try to see if I can get a copy soon to show you what the new release of it looks like.

Friday, March 21, 2014

"We are victims of fat tigers and foreign policy": Poetry in the Southeast Asia Globe

I was profiled this week at Southeast Asia Globe in the article “We are victims of fat tigers and foreign policy,” which was "the sixth part of a Southeast Asia Globe series that shines a light on the region’s finest poetry." A big thanks to Nathan A. Thompson for covering my work and that of Soul Choj Vang. 

Soul is a Hmong poet whose work I deeply admire and respect next to that of Burlee Vang, Pacyinz Lyfoung and Andre Yang, who each bring their own distinctive touches to Hmong arts and letters. You can find both Soul's work and my poem "The Last War Poem" in the 2002 book Bamboo Among the Oaks from the Minnesota Historical Society Press.

As we approach the 40th year of the Lao Diaspora next year, revisiting these pieces seems particularly timely.

Also, the great art for this series was done by Portland artist Natalie Phillips. You can check out more of her work at:

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A New Future for Poetry in Post-Censorship Burma

Poetry Foundation has a great article by Harriet Staff on "A New Future for Poetry in Post-Censorship Burma" taking particular note of James Bynre's piece for The Dissident. Byrne noted "I came to realise that the poets were essentially working undercover. They were survivors (those that had survived) and the poetry was extraordinarily rich in imagery, playfulness and dense in metaphor."

This was an environment where for the better part of the 20th and 21st century words became liabilities. We find out in the article that words like "red," "sunset," even "mother" became forbidden. A book that will be of extreme interest to those of us working on similar issues is Bones Will Crow: 15 Contemporary Burmese Poets, which is the first anthology of Burmese poetry to be printed in Europe and the Americas.

As I begin to transition into doing my work with Sahtu Press, I'm particularly struck by Byrne's remarks: "If you probe deeper and talk to many of the writers inside the country suspicion of the government and Western cultural organisations remains. In fact, several poets in Mandalay boycotted the Irrawaddy Festival this year because of apparent shoddy treatment by the (mostly British) organisers. Last year during the festival I became aware that many key Burmese writers were disappointed by their low-level of involvement in the festival. Clearly there is a need for the Burmese to decide how best to celebrate their own literature. This could take the form of an independently-run festival organised by the Burmese themselves."

It suggests to me that my work on the National Lao American Writers Summit is and remains an important effort. We'll find out later this week if we have been greenlit to convene the next National Lao American Writers Summit for August, or if it must wait until 2015, five years later.

It is my hope that Burmese, particularly Karen in Minnesota are able to build the critical mass they need, too, to rebuild their literary traditions. This will be one of the pressing questions of the Minnesota Legacy funds- if they will be willing to aid the newest Minnesotans, however brief their time among us has been.

I empathize deeply with their situation, and there are many other Lao who can appreciate this journey very concretely. Time will tell if we can rise up to the occasion or if we will all become cultures whom history rolls over, another story between the cracks filled with "what might have beens."

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Poem From A Secret War, 2557

I’m telling you
This poem is science fiction
To keep you safe.

Not a word of trouble
About the “could have been”
Questions that get you killed.

But for a brief moment, we are
Imagining together. Reading.
What have I written?
We switch places like magic.

I become you.
You become me, briefly, returned
By the time it takes to finish.

Lips secretly moving
After work,before bed.

Or perhaps it’s a weekend.
Our states are questionable.

Encounters are funny.
Today, they are not lethal.

Honestly, I imagine you found me
Strictly by chance, more than choice.

In my tongue, you detect no rhyme.
In your tongue, this poem is not a crime.

I buried this poem on a page
Among words you seem destined to read
All of the way to the end.

I will mention great old ones and stars
No one objects to,
Except ghosts. Phi.

You will dismiss this,
And I will regret

This discussion, this fantasy,
This vague recollection of conflict
Can give you

No heroes

Except those you make
For yourself.

The Canon of Cthulhu

I recently discovered I have my own official reference code, WT10, when people are citing my short story, "What Hides, What Returns," in the Cthulhu Mythos in Wikipedia. Yes, that and a cup of coffee get you a cup of coffee, but it's nice to know my work -is- seriously considered part of the mythos.

I hope it won't be too long before the contributions to the Mythos found in DEMONSTRA get cataloged. There I introduced the Laotian Great Old Ones like Gop Nyai, the Frog Who Devours Moons, and Nyar Thep, an avatar of Nyarlathotep. Other elements include the text of the Ktulu Jataka, and the Tao Yaomo Ching, and Phra Bok, who brings doom to New Sarnath. But we'll see where it all goes. In the meantime, I'm happy enough people felt the work in "What Hides, What returns," merited a reference code throughout Wikipedia. WT10 it is!

Op-ed at the Twin Cities Daily Planet: Creating Councils That Matter

My op-ed, "Creating Councils That Matter" is up at the Twin Cities Daily Planet this week, examining the journey and need for more resources for Minnesota institutions such as the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans.

The report from the Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor called for either the elimination or strengthening of the councils, but as they were presently operating, they were too isolated and had too many other barriers in place reducing their effectiveness.

Winchester House opened to overnight guests

Years ago, one of my first visits with my mother after 30 years was to the haunted Winchester House in California. As the legend goes, the heiress to the Winchester fortune felt cursed by the spirits of those who'd been killed by Winchester rifles and moved to San Jose, California where she used what was left of her fortune to build guest rooms for all of the ghosts. Construction never ceased, going on 24 hours a day until the day she died. No one really knows if the ghosts were appeased or what happened to her after she passed on to the other side.

I'm not sure mom ever quite understood the story behind the house, or why we were there. But in any case, it's now been opened up for overnight guests and serving booze on the premises. It won't be like a hotel, but guests can make arrangements to get the full "Winchester House" experience. Hmm. Time to see when I've got a free date on the calendar. It would certainly make for an interesting writer's retreat.

Dinosaurs and Dreams: Savannakhet and Cabazon

Savannakhet, Laos is home to one of the "biggest" dinosaur museums in Laos. Or at least Savannakhet. Everything's relative in this instance.

Having grown up with a great love of dinosaurs myself, I empathize with the owner and his passion. It's up there with the joy of Don Quixote and Emperor Norton, in my book, and in the years ahead, I hope to help him out a little bit more.

In the meantime, I thought it would be important to visit one of the biggest dinosaur museums of Cabazon, California to see how they do it. Granted, the museum is presently overrun with creationist materials, but it still raises a quirky enough bar that maybe our Lao colleagues will get inspired to make Savannakhet a major dinosaur attraction of Southeast Asia one day.

Here are a few of the shots from the journey:

Dinny the Dinosaur was most recently made famous in the computer game Fallout: New Vegas. A few artistic liberties were taken with the level design, but in case you're curious, you COULD do much of what they suggested in that game in a far-flung, post-apocalyptic future.

The dinosaur park has been featured in at least two films, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and The Wizard. The stop has fallen on hard times since, with most of the restaurants nearby having gone out of business.

Still, the city of Cabazon is your go to place if you're looking for Robot Dinosaur Exhibits. They've found several animatronic dinosaurs in great condition, as well as a variety of others of varying degree of authenticity.

At  a certain point, it becomes clear much of the museum is run for entertainment purposes to widen the imagination and your sense of the possible and occasionally, the absurd.

It also occasionally feels like a space where you're uncertain who'll meet next, such as, say, Rex, or a relative of Rex from Pixar's Toy Story series. It's entirely possible the resemblance is completely coincidental.

For $7.95 to see the whole thing, it's an interesting stop. The whole exhibit was clearly designed as a labor of love and some wily collecting. Hopefully, one day the residents of Cabezon will recognize it for the cultural treasure it is and work to ensure that it's preserved.

As for the dinosaur museum in Savannakhet, I ponder now what would really make the most sense for the community and how we might tie its success to the greater success of Savannakhet and Laos as a whole. There are many opportunities to consider. What if Savannakhet took its cue from the city of Nantes, in France, for example, with its giant marionettes?

Lecturing on Chickering's 7 vectors: March 18th

Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?
Paul Gauguin, 1897

I'll be lecturing on Chickering's 7 vectors and community college student leadership on Tuesday, March 18th at Mt. San Jacinto College from 12:30-1:30pm. Bring your questions and ideas and I look forward to discussing it with you!

Chickering's Theory of Identity Development explains the process of identity development. The theory was created specifically to examine the identity development process of students in higher education. Other organizations and institutions have found it has practical applications for them as well.

 The core concerns are how does a student developing competence, manage their emotions, become autonomous and then interdependent, how do they develop mature interpersonal relationships and an identity, a purpose, and integrity.

For the point of this lecture we want to ask where do student organizations fit in with that both for the leaders and the participants and how might we make better programs that help everyone at different points in their development.

This session is free to students and their families at Mt. San Jacinto College.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

She Walks In Shadows fully funded!

Coming out of Innsmouth Free Press, it's an all-woman anthology of stores reframing many of the classic women and entities from the Cthulhu Mythos. Officially funded, they're now in stretch goal mode. Their hope is to raise an additional $1,000 to cover interior art for the various stories being presented for this collection.

Among the writers I'll be particularly watching out for in this collection are: Carrie Cuinn, who will be writing Anna Tilton from “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” and Benjanun Sriduangkaew who is writing Pth'thya-l'yi. Ann. K Schwader is contributing poetry using Ammutseba, an original Mythos entity she contributed to the canon years ago.

I'm also keeping an eye out for Molly Tanzer, who is writing a story with Asenath Waite from "The Thing on the Doorstep" and Cynthia Ward, who is writing Mother Hydra, an entity appearing in many classic stories including "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," and "Dagon." There are several others also committed to the project well worth checking out.

Every little bit helps, but don't let that stop you from chipping in big bits, too. Or Great Old Bits, as the case may be here.

Friday, March 07, 2014

[Poem] What the Guide Said

“Because I don’t really
Want you looking for it,
I’m going to call it
Phou Phi Jai Dam.
It’s not poetry, but
You can tell your readers
‘Peak of the Black-Hearted Ghosts.’

“It’s up to you to decide
If I’m whispering of Bokeo hill spirits
Or Phonsavan poltergeists bumping at night.
Maybe it’s near the Demon Straits or Phou Pha Thi,
But for you safety, I recommend you leave it be.”

“Maybe you can give it a dull name like K2
As Americans are so wont to do.
That mountain will still be here
Long after you’re gone.
Call it what you will.”

“There you might find nubile Nyakinee
Dancing the true Fon Nyak to an indecent tune,
Plucking horrible fruit forbidden for humans,
Adorned in putrid garlands of despair and folly,
Wearing a hungry sinh fashioned from
A vain humans’ hair and skin.”

“If no one’s watching, you can pilfer rare variations
Of the midnight horror, oroxylum indicum,
To replace crimson Nak tongue beans you need for
A brew of immortality, memorable for its stench
Of obscene, prediluvian milk perversely infused
With scales of the drowned and beautiful eyes.”

“But be precise in your measures, or everything
Simply comes to suffering.
Again. “

"If they catch you, they'll press your skull
Easily as a cold olive for a pitiless vinaigrette.
Or flay you for a hellhorse saddle.”

He chuckles, old smoke made man,
“If you absolutely insist on seeking,
You might get your perilous bearings
Looking from the snaggle-toothed outskirts
Of Muang Phi Lao and her profane pillars
Of devoured yesterdays, wailing of severed roads.”

He peddles away with a cryptic wink,
Hair slick as a corpse ink shot
From the Never Seen Again Bar.

High above, a stray cosmic hound’s maw widens,
Foaming with nameless stars.

Refugee Nerdery at the Twin Cities Daily Planet

This weekend at the Twin Cities Daily Planet is my latest column on science fiction conventions, refugee resettlement, education and the arts: Refugee Nerdery. As we go into the beginning of convention season for this year, here's a big shoutout to all of my readers behind MarsCon, Diversicon, ConVergence, Arcana and the many others who've helped me create a space for Lao American art and artists in a time when no one else really sought us out. You've made a difference!

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

On The Other Side Of The Eye included at New Pages

"On The Other Side Of The Eye" was included as a writer's resource by New Pages this week. It's nice to be appreciated. It can be found among many other fine blogs by writers from around the world, offering various bits of advice and opportunities for emerging and established writers.

I consider them an essential resource at the moment, with one of the better up-to-date calls for submissions you're going to find anywhere online without going through someone like Duotrope. Be sure to regularly check their calls for submissions for great literary journals and projects to submit your work.  

I guess that means extra dachshund pictures need to go up here now.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Happy birthday, King Kong!

Today marks the 81st anniversary since the movie King Kong first appeared and changed horror cinema forever.

I found it interesting that there's so little material that takes up the challenge of King Kong vs. Cthulhu. Godzilla vs. Cthulhu certainly. But few people entertain the possibility of an encounter between the residents of Skull Island and the non-Euclidian island city of R'lyeh.

Would King Kong be outmatched against the Great Old One? Certainly. But so were the humans on the boat in Lovecraft's classic story, and many of them turned out... well, fine is a relative term, I suppose.

Some might expect my interest in King Kong also includes his disputed battle with the Japanese kaiju, Godzilla. For years the rumor was that in the Japanese version, Godzilla won, but in the American version, King Kong won, but the truth is that a careful watching shows it was fought to a standstill. This does come into play in the way I handle several of my poems from a Lao American perspective.

But another more significant literary influence for me was the way author Graham Greene used King Kong as a motif in his book The Captain and the Enemy. This novella was an unusual part of Green's output, but when you read through it, the closing lines of "What or who is King Kong?" is absolutely haunting.

King Kong makes a few appearances in my book DEMONSTRA, including a sequence in "The Dream Highway of Ms. Mannivongsa," where we ask if he might have been a contemporary of the monkey warrior general Hanuman during the battle against the Nyaks at Lanka during the epic of Phra Lak Phra Lam:


Rats live on no evil star:
Good luck in China, pests in New York,
Especially in the walls.

Last time in the city, some sleazy Hee-Haw reject
Was threatening to take his Texas time with her,
“Every way but wrong,” arrayed in tacky rhinestones. 

When she’s awake, magic doesn’t usually work right,
But sometimes, karma lends a hand or calls a cab

A poet friend, back from practicing
His mad science in Imperial City,
Had a day off and went to an aquarium,
Marveling at dolphins and Jiang Kui,
Wondering if we’re evolved remoras, secretly.

At night she never goes without her six-demon bag
She found for a steal in Little China, ten times more handy
Than crappy designer knockoffs her friends tote absurdly.

Doc Ratsabout asks in the shadow of Lady Liberty:
“Was King Kong secretly a Vanon veteran?
A sulking simian sword-saint
Who somehow survived
The savage siege of Lanka
With the honored hero Hanoumane,
Living out the last of his modest pension
Pent up on Skull Island?”

Yank someone from his home
Just for a sideshow, you can’t expect
Everything will be dandy.

She debates which souvenirs to get her niece in Modesto.
The official Trippy Master Monchichi, or Hello, Piggy?
A rare copy of It Ain’t Truth If It Doesn’t Hurt, maybe?

Wayward Wah-Ming would know,
But she’s always busy in a library
Or off wandering a street of albino crocodiles.

That’s the persistent problem with this city:
Who ya gonna call?

Her cousin Noy is right: Some have an angel heart.
But those were usually in a jar on their desk, waiting
For the girl of
Their dreams.

How could she ever live here, when it was so hard
To find a decent bowl of kowpoon?

Japanese yokai: The Rokurokubi

Here we have Sawaki Suushi's 1737 image of a Rokurokubi, one of the classic spirits of Japan notable for their long necks in the most common version, although another has a head that can detach and fly around. Unlike the Phi Kasu, of Laos a Rokurokubi's viscera and entrails do not typically fly with her head. The ability of the Rokurokubi to elongate their necks brings to mind the imagery of the ghost Nang Nak when she elongated her arms to reach for through the floor of her home to retrieve a piece of lime she dropped while cooking. 

Some scholars feel the legend came to Japan from overseas during the Muromachi period (1300s-1500s) as a result of traders doing business in Southeast Asia and southern China, or around the height of Lan Xang. In China they were referred to as the Rakuto or Hitoban. The Rokurokubi whose necks elongate are a newer legend. But it would be interesting to see what would happen if these spirits came to visit Laos after so many centuries.

One era such exchanges might plausibly take place would be during World War 2, following the Japanese occupation of Laos in 1945.

There are Hmong anecdotes of watching Japanese units, informed of the surrender of Japan, committing suicide by placing grenades under their hats after pulling the pins. Most likely it would have been a Type 97 grenade, 九七式手榴弾 or Kyūnana-shiki Teryūdan, like this one:

Until recently, Japan was one of the largest contributors of foreign aid to Laos, and there any number of possibilities how a yokai from Japan might have traveled to Laos. The question is, how would they interact, if at all, with the local phi, and would it be different from their interactions with the Hmong dab, and other entities reputed to inhabit the highlands or who have yet to be discovered.

It's an interesting scenario for writers to consider.

Revisiting "African Sci-Fi ≠ Western Sci-Fi"

A great 2013 article on African science fiction "African Sci-Fi ≠ Western Sci-Fi" by Curt Hopkins examines some of the issues facing contemporary African science fiction today and what I think many of us would consider to be positive directions it's taking. It has many implications for Lao science fiction, fantasy and horror. I hope many of our emerging writers give it some strong and serious consideration.

Although written almost a year ago, its central premise remains relevant. Like many countries in Africa, Laos too was bombarded with ideas that mechanization was the same as civilization. 

Laos saw the lingering and corrosive specter of such ideas during the pushback in Luang Prabang, when locals wanted to use development funds from UNESCO's World Heritage Site designation to build skyscrapers of glass and concrete. They considered wood "the construction material of the poor," disregarding the fact that it was these classic wood structures and the idyllic ancient architecture that earned this designation in the first place.

The idea that Africans can connect machinery with a sense of extraction and exploitation resonates with me as I watch foreign mining, animal trafficking and deforestation taking place unhindered by any concerns for sustainability.

Toyin Agbetu's comment "African sci-fi literature often differs from Eurocentric visions of the future in that it often normalises spiritual beliefs alongside often contrary views on what is regarded as technological development,” also struck a chord with me that I think we may already be seeing in many of the works of Lao writers in diaspora.

How will that ultimately manifest itself? I am uncertain, but would approach the idea with great curiosity.

I look at the work of writers like Minister Faust, Saladin Ahmed, and Sofia Samatar and am quite encouraged by the ground we can break, but also remain acutely aware of the ground we must still cover.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

DEMONSTRA reviewed at Strange Horizons

Award- winning writer Sofia Samatar has a wonderful review of my new book DEMONSTRA from Innsmouth Free Press at Strange Horizons this week! Be sure to check it out! I really appreciate her taking the time out for a thorough and thoughtful analysis. She gets it, and understands where the book is breaking ground and where new readers can find some great points to enter.

As always you can get a copy of DEMONSTRA from Innsmouth Free Press at: