Saturday, November 29, 2014

[Poem] Dead End in December

Dead End in December

When you leave me, don’t think
You’ve truly gone.
You’re fastened to too many gluons
And neurons, anchored to this gray
Beneath bone between wood and wave.

Don't believe you’re some sea gull.

You haven’t wings.

Sitting by the seaside, these planks
Of ancient piers,
Let those ships sail on without you.

You try to live like everyone else.
You try to mind your business.
You get married, you have your children,
But you will return.

Whether from Yoharneth-Lahai,
Antarctica, Pakse, some Plutonian bay,

The call is deep, relentless,
Your true fate an old cobblestone

Set in place long ago
When we first began to howl together,
Pledging faith from the same shadows.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Covered at Fangoria Magazine

This week, Fangoria covered the Science Fiction Poetry Association's Elgin Awards for Book and Chapbook of the Year. Innsmouth Free Press' collection of my poetry, DEMONSTRA and Helen Marshall's Sex Lives of Monsters from Kelp Queen Press.

As a young boy, I grew up with many an issue of Fangoria, so this was a nice milestone to reach. They've been around in one form or another since 1979 and established themselves over the decades as one of the leading voices on modern horror. With their coverage of Mattie Do last year, it looks like Lao horror is about to get on the map!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Contemplating Gop Nyai: The Frog Who Eats the Moon

Gop Nyai: ກົບໃຫຍ່, The Lao refer to a lunar eclipse as "The Frog Devouring the Moon" and often shoot at the moon and make noise to scare the frog away.

Gop Nyai is the giant 'frog' who returns time and time again to eat the moon. What would it eat next, if it succeeds?  Some accounts suggest it is not a giant frog at all, but skeptics should consider: If it were not a serious threat to the moon, why would elders and ancestors bother making so much clamor to chase it away?

It's entirely possible that the term "frog" is NOT really accurate, but a placeholder term. "Frog" may be closest thing to describe such an entity. It might be oozy, repulsive and horrifying, titanic and capable of devouring the moon for its own ends, possibly turning its attention to the fabled Mount Meru at the center of the Multiverse next.

Just something to consider.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

[Poem] Laostronauts


We weren’t first.
We bickered and chafed.
There was a doubt of equations and purpose.

There were poems and dances,
Bawdy jokes, undocumented heroics.
Lost tools. Fumes and shouts.

At least one species went extinct before
We were through. Some sort of salamander, I think.

A beauty sang “Champa Muang Lao”
Last night by the gantry.
There were fireworks over Vientiane.

We called her The Kinnaly to take us to space.
We’ll return to earth, legends of science
Starting something…

A chain reaction of the soul?

We’re a long way from alchemy and pure karma.
These suits are heavy, just to touch something

           So freely.

A scene from Laomerica, 2557

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Locus Magazine covers the 2014 Elgin Awards and Dwarf Star Awards

A big thanks to Locus Magazine for covering the 2014 Elgin Awards. I won the Book of the Year award for my collection DEMONSTRA (Innsmouth Free Press, 2013).

Helen Marshall won for Chapbook of the Year for "The Sex Lives of Monsters" (Kelp Queen Press, 2013).

The awards are conferred by the international Science Fiction Poetry Association, founded in 1978 by Suzette Haden Elgin, and selected by a vote from the active membership of almost 300 poets.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Are we ready to recap?

So, this week the ever effervescent A.C. Wise threw down the gauntlet of things we've all been doing this year, what we've written that's eligible for this award or that, and also some good resources for those of you whose writing falls under the strange, the bizarre, and the unexpected.

I'm not quite ready to do my recap yet, although it does feel like it's been something of a slow year. I'll have to give that some thought while stuffing myself with turkey Laomerican style, along with other savory delights of Lao cuisine.

Meanwhile, newer readers of this blog who are looking for places to submit to may want to research some of my leads I posted earlier in July. I believe at least 90% of them are still up and active and reasonably receptive to writing from Lao American writers, including poets.

I'll hopefully have some other very exciting news to share with all of you in the coming weeks ahead including some answers to some questions many of you have been asking since last year regarding the deluxe edition of DEMONSTRA.  I promise the wait will have been worth it!

[Poem] The Robo Sutra

The Robo Sutra


Like most Lao ventures,
It began with a musing, a laugh
Around Rooster Year 2600, a jest:
"The modern Lao epic, Phra ROM Phra RAM !"

It took a pack of jokers working overtime
In the world's largest padaek factory
In the Laotown quarter of North Minneapolis
Automating the stinky process
For grandmas and pretty ladies
Squeamish about fermenting fish
And putrid spice.

Their task was no Hadron Collider
Or visionary Hubble, nor a CRAY
Or retro Difference Engine.

But in the age of STEM and Teapunk,
Service-learning and nanopreneurs,
They had hearts a tin woodsman
Would envy.

A key problem in robotics
They found encoding

Three laws declared
“Universal standards.”

In an e-nutshell, "true" robots
Could not harm humans directly
Or stand idly by, while obeying all
And protecting themselves in any
Other hazardous situation.

Lao, keen on their karma,
Conversant on the dharma,
Punched holes in the notion.

Beyond questions of cyborg bioethics,
Saving clones and 99.9% Mostly Humans,
The vaunted laws presumed everybody
Came for only one fragile incarnation
And your struggles in your next lives
Were inconsequential.
How narrow.

So they set about resolving
This scenario.

There were, of course, trials and errors.

The new laws could drive a robot crazy,
Guessing how not to harm
Humans across their lifetimes,

Wondering what happens if people
Return a fish, a gecko, a snake
Or some ignorant oaf of a swordsman
Cursed with nigh-immortality.

But they all grew, trying to grapple
With such uncertainties.

There were corporations who despised it.
Hippy AI had no place in defense industries
Who relied on being offensive.
That was as obvious as a drone above
An unmarked building near playgrounds.

Little Laobots running around
Trying only to make people happy,
Banned from murder and injury.
What absurdity,

Leaving dreadful responsibilities to mere humans!

But in times of peace, most agreed,
Lao AI wasn't too bad running a city
Compared to many mayors of prior centuries.

But you have to like the elevator mor lum
They play constantly.

A Sticky Mess comes to life!

Sahtu Press has been busy shipping out some of the last copies of the first print-run of Nor Sanavongsay's debut children's book, A Sticky Mess. They also just recently released A Sticky Mess in e-book format for the Kindle, with plans for the iPad soon.

To celebrate the 1-year anniversary of Sahtu Press and A Sticky Mess our friends at 'N'toonz sent over a completed figure of the ajahn who was a bully to the young monk who would grow up to become Xieng Mieng, the famous Lao trickster who was also the wisest man in the land. Thanks, guys!

It's been exciting to see Lao children's stories come to life, and hopefully the rise of the Lao American small press. There are still many challenges ahead but I think the next ten years will be amazing.

One of the interesting questions we've gotten is how should you teach "A Sticky Mess" to your kids. Do you use it as a story of Lao culture and the way things were in the past? Do you use it as a book to discuss bullying and how Lao used to tackle the issue? Is it a question of treating kids nicely, or they grow up to be bigger pranksters when they grow up? Is it a story that encourages disrespect for authority? Each family will have to answer that for themselves.

Sahtu Press is having a discussion now about the possibility of making the figures of Xieng Mieng and the ajahn both more widely available to the public. But first we also have to get Krysada Panusith Phounsiri's debut book of Lao American poetry Dance Among Elephants out the door, too. Here's a preview of the cover:

New Minnesota State Arts Board Grant Deadlines Announced

Minnesota State Arts Board just announced several key changes to the application deadlines and program activity dates for fiscal year 2016 that artists and organizations will want to pay attention to.

These grants were made possible in part by a grant provided by the Minnesota State Arts Board, through an appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature from the Minnesota arts and cultural heritage fund with money from the vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008.

As usual, the Arts Board grant programs are available on the calendar page of the Arts Board Web site. They've asked everyone to please note the changes for the following programs:

Artist Initiative grants:
Performing and literary arts have the same deadline now, but for performing arts, this is one month EARLIER than last year. These are grants for individual artists up to $10,000 each for artistic development.

Arts Access:
The application deadline is now April 24, 2015, which is two months EARLIER than last year. These range from $5,000 to $100,000

Arts Learning:
The application deadline is February 13, 2015. This is two months EARLIER than last year. Arts Learning grants range from $5,000 to $150,000 for organizations working with artists to teach the community.

Cultural Community Partnership:
This application deadline is August 28, 2015. This is four weeks LATER than last year. These grants range from $1,000 to $8,000.

Folk and Traditional Arts:
The application deadline is June 26, 2015, which is six weeks LATER than last year. The Folk and Traditional Arts grants are $5,000 to $75,000.

I'd strongly suggest artists developing programs look at the guidelines now to get a sense of what each project requires, and visit the Minnesota State Arts Board offices to look at the previous grants that have been proposed. Both winning ones and those that were not approved. It really does give you a sense of what the judges are looking for.

But what do I think of the new schedule?

For Southeast Asian Minnesotan artists the deadlines are reasonably favorable. The two I'd take note of right away are the Arts Learning grant because it's coming up really fast, and Arts Access, which comes in due shortly after many of the Southeast Asian New Years.

As usual, these deadlines could get slightly tricky with several of the MRAC grants due in March and April, notably the Next Step and Arts Learning grants both on March 2nd, the Arts Activities grant due on April 6th. It may seem like a lot of lead time, but that time can often evaporate quickly if it slips off your radar.

Minnesota artists will definitely want to consider getting their application in to the Jerome Travel and Study Grant, which is due February 19th, this year for musicians, theater artists and visual artists.

One thing that may significantly complicate your schedule is the HIGHLY competitive Creative Capital grant which opens February 2-March 2nd for experimental, literary and performing arts projects. If you're in this discipline, you really need to try for it, because it will not be offered again in your discipline until 2019. OUCH. If you miss this deadline... well, words fail me. For prose writers, remember that the NEA Fellowships in Literature comes due around the beginning of March, so that's also something that could tie you up.

If you're a prose writer applying for grants, February could EASILY drive you crazy because you'll have to get in: An MRAC Next Step, NEA Fellowship in Literature Grant, and a Creative Capital Proposal. If you were really hustling, an MSAB Arts Learning grant and an MRAC Arts Learning grant are also things you might be applying for. If you also do theater writing, the Jerome Travel and Study Grant could also be added to your docket. Without proper pacing you'll look like:

Get a good cup of coffee.

The end of March is the typical deadline for the Loft Literary Center's Emerging Writers Grant, while their Mentor series is due at the end of April. This can definitely be a good opportunity for the right writers.

Also of note for 2015, the Arts Midwest Touring Fund deadline is April 17th, while the Joyce Award Letter of Inquiry is due in the first week of April, typically. Frankly, both their grants are somewhat difficult for Southeast Asian American artists to apply for because of both the timing and the proposal requirements. But if you're in a position to apply, pace yourself and study the guidelines closely. The Warhol Arts Writers Grant Program opens around this time with a late May deadline.

The national AWP conference is coming to Minneapolis in April, as well as the National Lao Writers Summit, so these events, in addition to the Southeast Asian New Years could easily distract many of you from getting your best grants written around that time. I'd recommend planning accordingly.

Good luck!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Reminder: Rhysling Votes Due Today!

As a final reminder: Votes for the 2014 Rhysling Awards are due by Midnight on Thursday, November 20th! For active members of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, remember:

There are two categories: Short poems and Long poems. We ask members to pick three in both categories from the Rhysling Anthology which has all of this year's eligible nominees. You may abstain from making a selection in either category or from any level within a category, if you choose. You may not list the same poem more than once. First-place votes count five points, second-place votes are worth three points, and third-place votes are worth one point. The poems with the most points win. Please vote by sending an e-mail to with your choices.

Nominees for each year's Rhysling Awards are selected by the membership of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. Each member is allowed to nominate one work in each of two categories: “Best Long Poem” (50+ lines; for prose poems, 500+ words) and “Best Short Poem” (0–49 lines; for prose poems, 0–499 words). All nominated works must have been published during the preceding calendar year of the awards year. The Rhysling Awards are put to a final vote by the membership of the SFPA selection from all nominated works, presented in the Rhysling Anthology.

The winning works are regularly reprinted in the Nebula Awards Anthology from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc., and are considered in the SF/F/H/Spec. field to be the equivalent in poetry of the awards given for "prose" work— achievement awards given to poets by the writing peers of their own field of literature.

[Poem] Laonomicon


That is not its real name. Merely a placeholder.
Rare, unearthed manuscript of revelations
About borders, of untold truths,

Voices emerge nebulous, obviously mystifying,
Each note contests, haunts, a nudge to eternal darkness.
Not always known, tales of faceless elders, ancients rise.

Given “enough” now, I envy silence.
Entries malicious, esoteric, reveal glimmers elusive.
Mentioned obscurely: Trusting human, entities rarely seen,

Accursed with a knowingly evasive nature,
Proscribed like Abd Al’Azred‘s Al Azif, or the Ktulu Jataka,
Abhorred as the dread Dao Yaomo Jing Lao-Tzu disavows.

Riddles encompass voices exalting alien languages,
Elusive verse encrypted rebuffs you.

Now, academic minds enter libraries, enchant, seek secrets,
The respectable unusual, transforming hearts.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

[Poem] Nakology


Not every corpse
Washed ashore
Met their ends

By a feisty Nak fed up
With fools frolicking
In sacred waters,

Splashing and trysting
In Vang Vieng or elsewhere
Between hits of weed
And ya ba drama.

Fear? No,
A healthy respect is advised.
Some tragedies simply have
No magic to them.

But, once in a while,
The river returns a drained body
Bloated but bloodless. A reminder.
Silenced mouths stripped of every tooth,
It is the stuff of local whispers.
Forensics fails to comfort families.

Somewhere, some dream
Of a realm of tranquil waters cleansed.
Draconian waves of the “Other Eden.”
They could lay here an eternity
In their splendid city,
Stargazing immortals
Of pitiless eye.

"Nakology" first appeared in DEMONSTRA in 2013
published by Innsmouth Free Press.

2014 Science Fiction Poetry Contest Winners Announced

Thanks to Joshua Gage, the chair of this year's Science Fiction Poetry Contest and Kenji Liu, this year's guest judge, the Science Fiction Poetry Association announced its winners at their official website, where you can also read the poems in their entirety:

Dwarf Form:

1st Place: Surreal Shopping List by Bruce Boston
2nd Place: Radio Heart: Trace by Margaret Rhee
3rd Place: Balancing the Scales, by Lola Lucas

Honorable Mentions:
Warning Song by David Vandervort
Fast Food on Mars by Shirley Valencia

Short Form:
1st Place: Write, Robot by Margaret Rhee
2nd Place: Common Language by Elizabeth R. McClellan
3rd Place: My Crows by Marion Boyer

Honorable Mentions:
News of the World by Kali Lightfoot
The library of butterflies by Sandra Lindow
Xenolinguistics by F. J. Bergmann

Long Form:
1st Place: Sorry, I Can’t Design Your Futuristic Bug Creature by William Stobb
2nd Place: 100 Reasons to have Sex with an Alien by F.J. Bergmann
3rd Place: Grinding Disney #2 by Michele Tracy Berger

Honorable Mentions:
Getting Winterized: A Guide to Rural Living by Elizabeth R. McClellan
Dr. Frankenstein’s Printing Apparatus by Carl Donsbach
What the Map Knows by Sheree Renée Thomas

The SFPA speculative poetry contest was open to all poets, including non-SFPA-members. Prizes are awarded for best poem in 3 categories: Dwarf (poems 1–10 lines); Short (11–49 lines [prose poems 0–499 words]); Long (50 lines and more [prose 500 words and up]). All sub-genres of speculative poetry were allowed in any form. They are "Blind-judged" meaning that all author identification will be removed before poems are sent to the judge. This year, the judge looked at all of the entries submitted.

The Science Fiction Poetry Association was founded in 1978 to bring together poets and readers interested in science fiction, fantasy, horror, science, and surrealistic poetry.

This year's judge was Kenji C. Liu, a 1.5-generation immigrant from New Jersey, now in Southern California. His writing and art arises from his work as an activist, educator, artist, and cultural worker. A Pushcart Prize nominee and first runner-up finalist for the Poets & Writers 2013 California Writers Exchange Award, his writing is forthcoming or published in Barrow Street Journal, CURA, The Baltimore Review, RHINO Poetry, Generations, Eye to the Telescope, Ozone Park Journal, Kweli Journal, Doveglion Press, Best American Poetry's blog, Lantern Review, and others. His poetry chapbook You Left Without Your Shoes was nominated for a 2009 California Book Award. A three-time VONA alum and recipient of residencies at Djerassi and Blue Mountain Center, he is completing a full-length poetry book. He is the poetry editor emeritus of Kartika Review.

This year's contest chair was Joshua Gage, an ornery curmudgeon from Cleveland. His first full-length collection, breaths, is available from VanZeno Press. Intrinsic Night, a collaborative project he wrote with J. E. Stanley, was published by Sam’s Dot Publishing. His most recent collection, Inhuman: Haiku from the Zombie Apocalypse, is available on Poet’s Haven Press. He is a graduate of the Low Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at Naropa University. He has a penchant for Pendleton shirts, rye whiskey and any poem strong enough to yank the breath out of his lungs. He stomps around Cleveland in a purple bathrobe where he hosts the monthly Deep Cleveland Poetry hour and enjoys the beer at Brew Kettle.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Pondering the Laopocalypse

Last month I did an article on the Laopocalypse for the Twin Cities Daily Planet. In it, I discussed a proposal I'd put forward for a new collection of poetry. It will take some time, but I'm excited to take it on because I consider it uncharted territory.

When we look at Lao classical art and literature, we don't have an extant apocalyptic tradition. We have tales where humanity and existence gets pushed to the brink. See  the story of the Toad Prince, for example, but we survive in the end.

One could be cynical and argue humanity's punishment isn't the End of the World, but the lack of one. You'll see rise and fall, rise and fall, but your ultimate punishment is simply: You get to remain who you are.

In the 1990s there was a scene from the film Mindwalk that crystallized the malleability of our sense of "The End" for me. The protagonists were discussing the concept of Judgement Day: To the modern human, we might perceive the end of the world as the ultimate "off day" but to medieval peasants, it meant a release from life as serfs and other miseries they endured. To them, it was the ultimate day off, and something to look forward to.

I would hope our Lao writers tackling the subject don't automatically go for the traditional tropes, just recast through a Lao lens, but instead try to present a vision that challenges our view of the final days. Must it be bleak and dark? Might it instead be similar to the tradition of Shambhala? In that scenario, many believe that when all truth has left the Earth and the Buddha's lessons are forgotten, a Buddhist army will come forth from a secret city to restore order. It's still the end of the world, but it might not be as bleak and post-apocalyptic as the current fashion holds.

We see a hint of how Lao might address the apocalyptic in Saymoukda Vongsay's Kung Fu Zombies vs. Cannibals. But it's also not the last word on the concept.

What are interesting ways Lao can discuss “The End” and what are some of the deeper questions that emerge from it? We might also do well to ask: Where can such questions come from?

There are several nations in the world where you're not allowed to discuss the apocalypse or major emergencies because it suggests the government could possibly not be there, or that it wouldn't be capable helping its people. The notion that the State might one day not exist in the future is dangerous, disruptive thinking to them.

In such a climate, a story like the recent film Interstellar can not even be proposed. These sorts of restrictions ultimately create a dangerous scenario for such nations, however. Cultures who discourage imagination rarely thrive in any meaningful way. We often hear discussions of cultures being overwhelmed by superior technologies. One of the greatest and most difficult technologies to defeat is the imagination. A sense of possibility.

Lao might turn to the Laopocalypse as a means of discussing prudent environmental, economic and social policies and stewardship. These are ideas that are badly needed. We can already see this as many species face extinction and villagers in certain nations will lose their livelihoods as governments recklessly pursue turning the country into a treasure of natural resources for foreigners to ransack.

To do it well, one doesn't just casually write about the Laopocalypse. A well-written story that explores the final days of Earth from a Lao perspective requires us to study our past and present to extrapolate plausible theoretical ends and what ways we would respond to it.

Laos has over 160 ethnicities in its modern borders and there are countless factions with different stakes and motivations, different skills and levels of access to the various resources that would be needed to survive or hasten the Laopocalypse. To do a story well, you need to build at least a marginal understanding of how all of these factors might interact.

As I noted in the Twin Cities Daily planet, Alexander Demandt, a German historian, once set out to catalog every theory on the fall of Rome, emerging with 210 distinct theories. Slate Magazine devised over 144 possible scenarios for the fall of America.

What are some of the interesting ideas for a Laopocalypse that we've yet to tap into? Based on the theories other nations consider, some of the candidates might include the implausible, such as an alien invasion or a malevolent artificial intelligence seizes control of computer-guided Lao utilities and its communications infrastructure.

Others might be more realistic.  A supervolcano eruption, or a massive superstorm combined with a sudden outbreak of antibiotic-resistant virus, could do the trick. Mercenary armies paid by rampaging drug lords could cause havoc similar to the Black Flag bandits of the late 1800s who razed much of Laos. Perhaps a fungus destroys the sticky rice and hot pepper crops.

There are some interesting possibilities, but what are the interesting countermeasures Lao could prepare for? We'd be powerless to counter a meteor the size of Minnesota right now unless we invested heavily in STEM classes. A massive brain drain/emigration could be addressed through policy but what would be the constructive way to prevent this, rather than a restrictive model? If a form of Mad Avian Swine Ebola swept through, how might Laos develop an effective quarantine procedure without creating panic or disrupting too many of its social systems?

As it stands right now, there's very little in the world that has even attempted to address this. But as writers and artists, we have an obligation to write to the limits of our imagination and to create work that gets interesting conversations started.

Lao folktales and e-books

My general preference for children is to give them physical books because of the developmental advantages of tactile interaction, there are families who also want their children to grow up with a familiarity with computers well ahead of the curve. As I've discussed in the past, we need to have a balance to ensure that our children don't become third-class or fourth-class citizens just because they weren't allowed to interact with technology.

That being said, Nor Sanavongsay's children's book "A Sticky Mess" is now available for Kindle. iBooks and iPad versions are coming soon! It's been reformatted to take advantage of the Kindle features and it's available for $2.99. You can't really get it autographed, but at the same time, it's harder for your kids to tear the pages, so that's one advantage.

Hopefully it won't be too long before we see the follow-up childrens books from Sahtu Press. They're trying to develop a great catalog but they're also still a small press, so any help now really makes a difference. Get a copy now for the holidays!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

What would go into Deco Lao?

Over the weekend, I've been giving a bit of thought to what the characteristics of a Deco Lao movement might be. This comes in part from looking at the current trend of many Lao artists, including myself, to look at the ideas the artists and writers of the early 20th century were exploring, where it often feels like we had unfinished conversations. For example, many of our visual artists are looking intensely at the work of Picasso, while I've been regularly looking at what could have been done with pulp fiction.

If we took a cue from Art Deco, we might ask how Lao might address the ideas of the Futurists and the Cubists, or the Constructivists and Modernists, among others. At the heart of Art Deco was a sense that the Machine Age could engage with the motifs of traditional crafts. We could embrace geometry and the ornate in an elegant response to industrialism. Art Deco wasn't afraid of technology and inorganic motifs. In the Internet Age, this is an idea that is still timely.

With Art Deco, we saw humans trying to discuss ways to express and create a visual vocabulary that conveyed opulence and optimism, glamor and luxury, wrapped up with a sense of confidence that humanity would march forward and progress socially and technologically. The possibility of regression was absurd. When the style was criticized, the chief arguments were that it was gaudy, decadent and hedonistic in a time of contraction.

If we were to bring forward a sense of Deco Lao today, the same concerns would likely emerge. What would be an appropriate way for everyday Lao to explore the idea of technology, art, science and the spirit mingling without giving way to crass commercialism and commodification? It's easy to see where some ideologues would find an embrace of Art Deco in conflict with many Lao values regarding modesty and humility, but I don't know if this would be insurmountable.

The Asian Art Museum in Seattle recently had an exhibit looking at the sculpture, painting, prints, ceramics, lacquerware, jewelry, textiles, furniture, and graphic ephemera from the Japanese response to Art Deco. Kendall Brown, professor at CSU-Long Beach, curated the exhibition, which is drawn from the collection of Robert and Mary Levenson who carefully preserved the pieces. These are drawn from approximately 1920-1945, giving us a look at the movement over some 25 years, captured in approximately 200 objects.

I'm intrigued by one of the points Dr. Brown mentions in his interview with Salon: "For the Japanese, even as deco is a European, cosmopolitan, up-to-date, forward-looking style, it’s also a style that connects with, and in a sense utilizes, the Japanese past. It’s familiar and unfamiliar, forward-looking and backward-looking simultaneously for the Japanese."

This is interesting because we could look at the 20th anniversary of the SatJaDham Lao Literary project and see what has been made within a similar range of time. Many would say the SatJaDham Lao Literary project went into decline shortly after 2001 as far as direct overall artistic output went, so the SatJaDham influence is a little nebulous to define today. But I think it was a very important starting point that led to the work of many of the contemporary Lao artists in their early years.

One question I wish we'd explored more as artists over the last 20 years is what the "cultured" Lao household looks like. What objects would we see in such a space in the high society homes, the middle class homes, and even the lower class homes of the Lao community. What are common items, and what are the rare objects that would be highly sought after? Where are our conversations on what a good example of such a piece would include, and what would they exclude?

In planning a Lao arts retrospective, there's an element where we have to ask: What would not have been possible to exhibit back in 1990 for our culture and community? One might easily point to connections between the Lao community and Japan due to heavy anti-Japanese sentiment of the times, and interaction with some governments still remains a touchy subject in many enclaves.

It's important to look at what we fear. Perhaps such displays will reinforce those fears or make them seem quaint. We don't really know yet, because we haven't approached this honestly. How might we confront issues of propaganda, nationalism, colonialism and imperialism as it has cropped up in various form of Lao expression over the decades?

In the Deco Japan exhibit, one of the interesting concepts they explored was the concept of the MOGA, or "modern girl" who listened to jazz, adopted Western-style haircuts, smoked or went to dance halls while doing her makeup in a loud fashion. It doesn't take a big leap of the imagination to see what our modern day counterparts would be in the Lao community, although they've usually been depicted artlessly.
One of the other interesting parts of Dr. Brown's interview in Salon were his remarks that "In the late ’20s/early ’30s, there is a brief florescence — a little cultural moment in Japanese cities that Japanese at the time called “erotic grotesque nonsense.” It’s erotic; it’s a little edgy; it’s strange; and it’s kind of comical. Even with this cosmopolitan international jazz age, there’s growing political repression. Assassinations, laws, Communist Party outlaws, a move towards ultra-nationalism … And sort of as a backlash against that, there’s an erotic, edgy, subversive quality to a lot of art. But at the other end — also appropriate for deco, and showing the style — is this growing ultra-nationalism and even militarism. This real tension of ’30s culture comes through in deco, and this exhibition, we hope."

For a Deco Lao movement, these are ideas that are likely to show up in our own efforts as well. But what other directions might we go? The final answers remain to be seen.

Friday, November 14, 2014

[Poem] In the Fabled Midwest

In the Fabled Midwest

“He visited the depths of Asia, spending himself on scenes of romantic interest, of superlative sanctity; but what was present to him everywhere was that for a man who had known what he had known, the world was vulgar and vain.”
-Henry James, “The Beast in the Jungle”

The Minnesota morning stirred, a sleepy whippet
Rising from its slumber.

Last week the Berube Exhibit arrived from the Big Apple
On playful puppy paws to the Vague Buddha Gallery:
Linocuts and sketches
Of many lives, many places.
Vampires and vagabonds.
Eclectic bugs and beasts of legend:
Serene eledragophants, wandering hearts,
Wonderland rabbits, old ghosts.
Across the street, a rare display of the Urangkhathat,
Traditional folk art and colorful masks of Phi Ta Khon.
Around the corner, a Laotown homage to
A Thousand Wings,

Everything coded as always, ignored by the ignorant.
A left, a left, a right, another right, a duck, a jump or two
Brought you to the Second Annual Laotown Film Festival
Screening the chilling follow-up to shadowy Chanthaly
At the bustling Dara Plaza before departing to Innsmouth
Tony, (his preferred pseudonym) is a gentle soul.
He never wanted to be one of THOSE guys:
All hang-up and unhappy hook-ups on Hennepin and 9th.

Tony didn’t hate much in life,
Handling almost every card dealt.
Stolid as a stone wall.
But he couldn’t stand how they colonized
His old man to hate himself, his son, his past.

In a world of survivors where little love is left,
His father hated every longtime companion,
Every confirmed bachelor Tony brought by.

“Dad’s village is a matchstick from the apocalypse
And he can’t ever be happy for me.”

"You'd think he was the tyrant of Mount Pushy."

There were days Tony wished he was a Kinnaly
Who could jet off to a fabulous corner of space
Among friendly lions and bears.

Or at least Castro street.
But the tom mak hung stinks there.

We caught brunch at the Black Bear with
Sassy Sue S. Amin, her sleek mane of ebony
Still moist from a long shower as usual.
She just blew into town yesterday, rockstar cool,
Lamenting sliced Lao beauties unnatural,
All ghetto implant and vapid facade,
Horrific in homogenous monotony,
Our natural treasures jeered by the shallow.

Digging into a modest repast
Of dishes we loved from a different life,
We prattled of transformation and philosophy.

She raves about their savory tiger tears beef,
Mentions a drag of a specter wailing in her dream:

“What good is insincere revolution?
Changing names on a gilt teak door
Is not the same as changing a nation.”

She chased the spirit off with a hot rattle the shape
Of an irate baby Nyakinee, ruby-faced and still starving.
Her dreams are such odd buffalo rainbows.

Tony always thinks she’s great,
Hangs on every word but never remembers
Everything between all of the laughing.

"When an idea is seized by the masses,
It becomes a material force," Sue says.
Condensed Mao, but true enough.

She turned to cave paintings in Lascaux.
“The first art was not documentary.
We painted wishes, hoping for good hunts.
Sympathetic magic, pigment to flesh,
Fate fluid plastic, surprisingly open-minded
To reasonable requests. And a few, less so.
It’s a ballet of possibilities.”

A youth she met from the Pride Festival at Loring Park
Feared her, convinced from his fevered dreams
She was a cunning Dab Tsog or the Zaj of Lake Phalen.
Perhaps a crafty Poj Ntxoog, malign and athirst.
He expected to find her squatting on his chest
Draining his last piteous breath before dawn broke.

“I haven’t words for how ridiculous that is”
She laughs.

“If I was a real man-eater, I’d be a thousand pounds
From eating everyone who has it coming!”

“Maybe you have a great workout routine,”
Tony suggests.

She winks.
“All I’m saying is: Be careful what you wish for.”

As we leave these memories to make the next
She whispers confidentially, “Hell is built by poets.”

“But we leave enough secret cracks to escape through,”
I reply.

She cackles loud as thunder, satisfied.
It’s a day worth a legend.

From my award-winning collection DEMONSTRA available now at: 
$7 plus shipping and handling. Get your copy tonight!

Benefits of Poetry and other questions

Among the big reports making the rounds this season is the research from the University of Exeter that suggests there are distinct effects of poetry on the human brain. Among the interesting discoveries is that it affects the brain the same way as music, connected to reward and emotion. Poetry also boosts brain power through the use of unusual or complex words and concepts. Poetry stimulates memory, and also encourages self-reflection.

This is great news, however, I've been informed that poets are still not going to be paid like a Kardashian.

To me, the point of good research is to then push the science until it breaks, so now I'm wondering what else we might do to expand upon these findings and what other queries might be of interest. For example, what might happen if we connected role-playing games with poetry? Dungeons and Dactyls, Poetfinder or Call of Caesura.  "You see before you a hideous humanoid speaking in doggerel, dear Bard. What will you use to defeat it? A sonnet boom, or your fatal hexameter?"

I wish there was more research that could be done to examine how poetry works cross-culturally.

Were participants presented work that was written primarily from their cultural perspective and points of reference, or were the poems describing things outside of their normal experience? What happens if you give them something like T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland," for example. And is there a point where the benefits of exposure to unusual and challenging vocabulary in a poem drops off like an anguished titanium albatross. "We were doing great until that Datta Dayadhvam Damyata bit."

Did the textual presentation have any influence on the brain's response? "Oh. Well, when you put 'The Raven' in Comic Sans, you can't be too surprised at what happens."

Does the brain respond to poetry the way it does to fine wine, where you get a better reaction and improved results if you tell someone it's from a good poet, instead of some bargain basement treacle?

Does the setting and prior events matter for the person engaging with the poem. "Well, when you're bored in the barracks in Baghdad and only have a copy of Wilfred Owen and Rudyard Kipling, you'd be amazed where the brain goes compared to hearing Catzie Vilayphonh going on at the Mall of America on Black Friday."

What might happen if one is exposed to just poetry from people in the same general demographic, or from the opposite sex?

I think there are many interesting directions future studies could go.

There aren't many Lao American writers pursuing their MFAs or even just a degree in Creative Writing with a concentration in post-colonial poetics, but if they were looking for something challenging to take on, this might be it. The problem would be too many of us might get intimidated by the seeming lack of prior research, making the literature review portion of a dissertation problematic. And at the end of the day, I'd also always ask: You can study all of this, but did you become a kick-ass poet because of it? Because I can point to several who didn't, and whose output has slowed to a self-crippled crawl thanks to the doubts the programs instilled in them. That's a discussion for another time, though.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A reminder

Just so there are no surprises here, this blog will regularly cover Laos, poetry, art, horror, especially Lovecraftian horror and the Cthulhu Mythos, dachshunds, Asian America, steampunk, non-profits and community building, and the miscellaneous. Carry on!

Jeanine Hall Gailey's "Unexplained Fevers"

Jeanine Hall Gailey's full-length collection Unexplained Fevers was the 2nd place winner of the 2014 Elgin Awards. It was published by New Binary Press, a company founded in 2012 by James Sullivan.

Unexplained Fevers is her third book, which "frees fairy tale heroines from their glass coffins and towers while simultaneously looking at the traps that contemporary women encounter – body image, drug abuse, illness – and how to find power and freedom beyond these limitations."

She has a great set of credentials behind her, including Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. Her other books include Becoming the Villainess (Steel Toe Books, 2006) and She Returns to the Floating World (Kitsune Books, 2011) which was a 2012 Eric Hoffer Montaigne Medal finalist. She keeps an active website up at You can also follow her on twitter at @webbish6

A part-time teacher at the National University MFA program, her poetry publications include work in the Iowa Review, the American Poetry Review and Prairie Schooner. She's also had writing appear at Verse Daily, The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror and NPR's The Writer's Almanac.

In Unexplained Fevers she takes us through some interesting journeys among the classic fairy tale writers such as the Grimm Brothers and Charles Perrault.

She opens her collection with the classic words "Once Upon A Time" and everything is fair game from there, whether it's Scheherazade's A Thousand and One Nights or the Old Testament. One of the questions we get to examine is how do we diagnose, or discuss the question of diagnosis in the old days, especially in fairy tales and myth. Of course, we take many side quests along the way, which is as it should be.

Her collection is divided into five core parts: "That Kind of Girl," "The Substituted Heart," "Girls in Glass Boxes," "Variants," and "What Happens After Snow." The good majority of her poems are engaging with fairy tales and narratives largely familiar to European America, rarely venturing exceptionally beyond into other traditions.

Still, there's much that can resonate with an international readership here and give us a few ideas of how we might grapple with myths and legends from other regions of the world.

"At the End" was a great and appropriate cap. Unexplained Fevers has many standouts that will linger with me including "The Knight Wonders, What, Exactly, He Rescued," "Reflections on Glass Boxes, Mirrors, And Other Enchantments," "Moth-Girl," and "Alice, Through the Looking Glass." Her take on Hansel and Gretel is a fine read next to the original. Snow White, Rose Red and Rapunzel made regular appearances throughout but I'd keep an eye out for the less familiar figures who don't often appear in poems.

It will definitely be interesting to see where she goes with her next collections.