Wednesday, December 30, 2015

[Poem] "Narrative of the Naga's Heirs" appears in the next Uncanny Magazine

My poem, "Narrative of the Naga's Heirs" will appear in the new issue of Uncanny Magazine on January 5, which marks the exciting 8th issue of the magazine!

For those who are new to Uncanny Magazine all of the content will be available in the eBook version on the day of release. The free online content will be released in 2 stages- half on day of release and half on February 2, and my poem will be part of the release on February 2nd.

Readers who are interested in science fiction and fantasy from Uncanny Magazine can also get eBook subscriptions to Uncanny Magazine from Weightless Books, and you can support them on their Patreon. eBook subscriptions are also available through Amazon, so you can have the new issue of Uncanny Magazine sent directly to your Kindle device!

This issue's cover is by Priscilla H. Kim and is entitled "Round Three."

Kayla Whaley and Leslie J. Anderson also have new poems appearing in this issue: "tended, tangled, and veined," and "The Exquisite Banality of Space," respectively. Nghi Vo's "Lotus Face and the Fox" is one to look out for in the prose section, with a reading by Erika Ensign coming soon. Erika Engsign is also doing a reading of my poem, so I'm very excited to hear that, too.

The other fiction for this issue includes “The Virgin Played Bass” by Maria Dahvana Headley, “The Creeping Women” by Christopher Barzak, “The Sincerity Game” by Brit Mandelo and “The Desert Glassmaker and the Jeweler of Berevyar” by Rose Lemberg. All pieces worth taking a look at!

"The Narrative of the Naga's Heirs" blends a number of my poetic priorities this time around. A free verse piece,the most obvious reading will be one tied to the present Lao diaspora in the aftermath of the Southeast Asian wars of the 19th and 20th century, alluding to the legendary guardians of the Lao Theravada Buddhist temples, the Naga, who some sources consider serpent dieties or demigods before they took vows to protect the dharma and the Buddhist sangha.

To put together a poem like this is a challenge because I feel a complusion to hedge my bets a little. On the one hand, I'd certainly be happy if a thousand years from now, the Lao culture and society are still around, and this poem remains meaningful to them and speaks of our conflicted era in the 21st century. But I would hope it's not impossible for it be read if someone is non-Lao or if, later on down the road, our culture was taken off of the board. And in that reading, hopefully it might be of some deeper use or significance that inspires another generation.

In the US, it's very difficult for many of our culture makers to accept the idea that in some future Americans might not be a significant influence on global matters. When the US still possesses so many guns, atomic bombs, universities and law schools, how can it envision such a massive sea change?

But where all of this fits into my new poem will become apparent very soon.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Racial Justice Through the Lens of Mass Incarceration

"Racial Justice Through the Lens of Mass Incarceration" was part of a significant question posed to me recently in a number of circles. It's one where I find the idea interesting, and one where it feels like the Lao in diaspora could take it more fully into consideration. A review of our current state of affairs suggests Lao have more than a passing stake in the subject.

The Southeast Asian Resource Action Center in Washington D.C. recently issued a report "AAPIs Behind Bars:Exposing the School to Prison to Deportation Pipeline" that was developed with a consortium of agencies serving Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Among those involved were Asian Americans Advancing Justice – LA (AAJC), Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance / AFL-CIO (APALA), Asian Prisoner Support Committee (APSC), National Education Association (NEA).

While I wish there was more meat to the report, it suffices for opening larger conversations in the future. As many community activists and organizations have noted elsewhere, the lack of disaggregated data for many institutions makes it difficult to fully assess the issue.

Southeast Asian American communities were 3-4 times more likely to see members deported for old convictions than other communities, according to 2015 data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.  The report was concerned that Asian American youth have a very high arrest rates in many cities, such as Oakland, California. This should concern us.

The report's authors presented five principles guiding their work:
1) We seek mass labor and education, not mass incarceration. We must invest in solutions that promote restorative justice and healing rather than dehumanization.

2) National policy must be based on grassroots leadership and those who are directly impacted by mass incarceration and deportation. 
3) We must build coalitions with AAPI groups and other communities of color on local, national, and international levels. 
4) We seek transformative justice for all, and we oppose the “good prisoner versus bad prisoner” narrative. 
5) Our work is based on compassion and commitment to our communities.
For the most part, it is difficult to object to these ideas, but the question for the Lao in the US must be one of socio-political will. The AAPIs Behind Bars: Exposing the School to Prison to Deportation Pipeline convening apparently did not include any of the major Lao organizations, whether it is the Laotian American National Alliance, the Center for Lao Studies, the Lao Assistance Center, Lao Family Community, the Laotian American Community of Fresno, or any others, based on the organizations cited in the report. We might need to have a further conversation on this.

The AAPIs Behind Bars: Exposing the School to Prison to Deportation Pipeline report suggests we need to address this topic in five areas: Prevention, Sentencing, Incarceration, Deportation, and Re-Entry. Their recommendations are idealistic and make an effort to be humane and rational. The report presumes that key power structures involved in this reform effort can be shown incentives to change.

The Southeast Asian Freedom Network has been advocating that Laos and Cambodia adopt an agreement similar to the one in place with Vietnam stating that "persons who entered the United States before the date of post-conflict normalized relations, would not be returned to those nations." There is also call to repeal the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), which restricts due process and fairness for many immigrants and refugees with criminal convictions.

There is also an effort to "promote restorative justice and healing models," and the general recommendation is to implement a public health approach to mental health and drug abuse. There will be cases in the future where this is likely to not be applicable, but it is still seen as something to consider. For the Lao community, I think we need to have a conversation about our traditional ideas of justice and compassion, and how we deal with our criminals.

Many Lao families I've spoken with take a very no-nonsense approach to criminal justice, and don't necessarily have a complex understanding of current US penal philosophy. Many of their ideas of justice are also shaped by experiences with governments that were not liberal democracies.

To see culture shifts and meaningful contributions from the Lao community to address mass incarceration and racial justice, we need to start getting a baseline to understand where the Lao community could see principles of reform in alignment with their own values and community needs. That's going to require an investment in research and working with both traditional and non-traditional community resources to get the best results.

What are some other issues that you feel should concern us?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

New poem "The Pearl in the Shadows" to appear in Cthulhusattva

They folks at Martian Migraine Press recently closed submissions to their 2016 collection, Cthulhusattva: Lovecraftian Tales of the Black Gnosis I am delighted to report that my Lao Lovecraftian poem "The Pear In The Shadows" will be included in the collection.

I think people will be able to appreciate it from many angles, non-Euclidian and otherwise. There are a few nods to classic elements of the Cthulhu Mythos, and to Lao culture, but I think it will speak to the Weird and the deeper mysteries of art and the cosmos.

As always, we'll see if readers agree with me by the end. But keep an eye out for it, and I'll share more details about it all when it becomes available.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Science Fiction Poetry Association Memberships make great gifts

This is that time of year where I also mention that SFPA memberships make a great holiday gift.

At a minimum, members get to network with fellow poets, 4 great issues of Star*Line including new poems and reviews, the Rhysling Anthology of some of the best speculative poems of the previous year, the Dwarf Star Anthology, and many other privileges, including review copies of many of the candidates for the Elgin Award nominees for Book and Chapbook of the Year.

And renewing at this time of year makes it easy to remember the next year. A big thanks to everyone who's been getting theirs in already!

The Science Fiction Poetry Association was founded in 1978 to bring together poets and readers interested in science-fiction poetry. SFPA's founder, Suzette Haden Elgin, shared her thoughts on sf poetry in the aptly titled "About Science Fiction Poetry." It's worth a read.

Friday, December 11, 2015

New Poem, "This Island, New Laos" to appear in LONTAR in 2016

I'm happy to report that Lontar: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction has accepted my poem "This Island, New Laos" for their October, 2016 issue. A micro-epic poem involving the Lao of the far-flung future in the year 55,555 (Metal Tiger).

This particular poem will be very experimental in its form, but I'm excited for both the premise and the techniques involved with it. There are also plans to have an illustration by a Lao American artist to accompany it. I'll share more details with everyone as they emerge.

LONTAR is the world’s only biannual literary journal focusing on Southeast Asian speculative fiction. The journal was founded in 2012, in order to spread awareness of this literature to readers who might not normally be exposed to it, and to celebrate its existence and diversity within the region.

I was delighted to be one of the first poets featured in its premiere issue, and I'm also delighted to see that it has enjoyed support in the years since. In the meantime, be sure to check out their current issues, and keep imaginative!

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

NEA 2016 Fellowship in Poetry Guidelines Up

The National Endowment for the Arts has the 2016 Fellowship in Poetry Guidelines up. Your deadline is March 9, 2016. The fellowships are $25,000.

You are eligible to apply in Poetry if, between January 1, 2009, and March 9, 2016, you have had published:
  • A volume of 48 or more pages of poetry; or
  • Twenty or more different poems or pages of poetry in five or more literary journals, anthologies, or publications which regularly include poetry as a portion of their format. Up to 16 poems may be in a single volume of poetry of fewer than 48 pages. This volume, however, may count as only one of the required five places of publication. For online publications, a page of poetry is considered to be twenty lines or less.
To qualify, work must have been first published with an eligible publisher between these dates, not only reprinted or reissued in another format during this period.

You may use digital, audio, or online publications to establish eligibility, provided that such publications have competitive selection processes and stated editorial policies. If the online publication or website no longer exists, you must provide, upon request, sufficient evidence that your work once appeared online. If sufficient evidence cannot be provided, the online publication will not be eligible. You must meet the eligibility requirements by the deadline date. No exceptions will be made to the eligibility requirements.

As someone who's received an NEA Fellowship in Poetry in the past, let me reinforce the importance of paying attention to your work sample and the formatting. This is a key area where you could get tripped up. These guidelines include:

Your manuscript sample must be a minimum of 7 and a maximum of 10 typescript pages of poetry, with no more than one poem per page or else one long poem (or section of a long poem). Applicants may submit any combination of poems (e.g., two, five-page poems or ten, one-page poems), but the total cannot exceed 10 pages.

Your manuscript sample must be from work that you have written in the time period that establishes your eligibility, and for which you have sole artistic responsibility. You may submit published work, unpublished work, or work in progress. Do not indicate whether or not the material has been published. Your sample has to be all poetry.

Your sample has to be completely free of your name, initials, address, or any other marks that could identify you. If your name appears in your manuscript or in your header, your application will be deemed ineligible.

Here's my writing sample that I used for my 2009 Fellowship in Poetry. I would stress that the important thing for you is to turn in a sample where your voice and ambition speak clearly and with focus, even as you cover different topics within your particular poetic concerns.

Good luck, and don't wait until the last minute!

Cells, Cycles and Haikus, a conversation with poet Roman Lyakhovetsky

When you truly find yourself on the path of a poet, you run into fellow poets from all walks of life around the world. Each has their own distinctive stories about how they came into the art. This week I'm sharing an interview with a poet who specializes in finding the big ideas in very small things, an approach I definitely appreciate.

Originally from Saratov, Russia, Dr. Roman Lyakhovetsky now lives in Israel. A researcher at Shaare Zedek Medical Center, his specialty is in celluar biology and molecular biology. As a poet, he's most well known for his haiku, which have appeared in various journals including Modern Haiku, Frogpond, Heron's Nest, the Living Haiku Anthology, Star*Line and Tinywords, among others.

I first encountered him through our mutual membership in the Science Fiction Poetry Association, and a shared fascination with global mythology, metaphysics and the fantastic, which often make an appearance in his work.  I also found that he and I shared very similar musical tastes. Because of his professional work in the sciences, I was curious to hear how that made its way into his creative writing.

I appreciate the time he took with me to discuss his approach to poetry, and I hope it inspires others on similar paths.

Do you mind telling us when you first developed an interest in poetry? How would you describe your access to poetry growing up?

This actually comes from my interest in music. I was fascinated with music from a very young age, but failed to make progress on any instrument. I listened to countless rock and blues albums and by the way learned the lyrics, because I wanted to know what are these guys singing about? So I got to know and appreciate the poetry in lyrics of Pete Sinfield (King Crimson), Syd Barrett(Pink Floyd), Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull), Tom Waits - oh, Tom always was and remains a huge influence, and through Tom Waits I reached the Beat poets - Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder.

I came to know that Kerouac wrote these short poetic units called haiku and got hooked on them. Then I reached the classic Japanese poetry, and learned to read and appreciate it. And then came the revelation - some night as one of my kids was sick, I sat by his bed and suddenly scribbled something about the moon. Somehow this reminded me about haiku and I thought that maybe I could write like this. Long story short, I started learning to write haiku and its witty brother senryu, and then I also got into writing tanka and collaborate with other poets to write renku. These days I continue to express myself through all of these.

You have a background in science. What are some of the interesting ways you've found this affecting your approach to poetry?

For me, both art and science are at the forefront of human creativity. I find that for me the best example of poetry in science is the discovery of the structure of benzene by german organic chemist August Kekule in 1865.

He told different versions of this story, but all of them are based on him coming up with the structure of benzene molecule as a beautiful ring-like closed chain of six carbon atoms after day-dreaming about Ouroboros - snake that is eating its own tail - the ancient Egyptian symbol of self reflexivity or cyclicality. This is the most beautiful story I know about when scientific discovery is inspired by spiritual image. I do not mix these things consciously, but I hope they do influence each other in my subconscious. I believe science, poetry and any other creative activity to be just sides of the same coin - human creativity, which I regard as one of the most beautiful gifts we intrinsically possess.

Which poem of yours do you usually recommend to someone who wants to read your work for the first time?

Well, since haiku are very short, I would allow myself to cite three I feel good to return to sometimes:

i bump into the last
line of the poem

dead sea i get as dirty as she wants me to

where the waterfall
becomes a river...
prayer at dawn

If you could have any imaginary being for a pet or a companion, what would you choose?

I liked very much a book by British author Andrew Collins who writes about many things related to alternative explanations of history and the roots of modern civilization - the book is called From the Ashes of Angels. He suggests the biblical angels were some literary description of an ancient shamanic people that were wearing feathers as clothes and teaching others all kinds of wisdom. I think I would very much like to meet one of those to talk about how was it to live on Earth before the Great Flood!

Do you prefer coffee or tea?

This depends on the time of the day. I am a morning person, and in the morning nothing to stand between me and my coffee, but later on everything is possible :)

There are many opinions on what a "proper" haiku is supposed to incorporate. What are some of the most important elements to writing haiku you try to include in your work?

This one has to do with what a haiku actually "is". There are people who look more at the form, while there are those who look at the contents (atmosphere, poetic devices). I personally regard haiku as an evidence of a spark that ignites when the eternal touches the minutiae. If a haijin (haiku poet) happens to be near and records it, the perception of the moment itself can be shared. So for me this is what "makes" the haiku - a successful juxtaposition between something small and rutine to something universal. Another thing is the rhythm - it is hard to verbalize what I mean exactly, but I try to maintain the "musical flow" of the poem, sometimes changing words until they fit together. This is especially true for scifaiku, since sci fi words are usually quite long and they stand out in poems, so it might be hard sometimes to condense the poem, so it does not become too wordy.

Are you considering a full-length book or manuscript in the future?

I do consider compiling various drafts for a chapbook, but nothing definite as of the moment.

What's one of the most unusual subjects you've taken on with a poem so far?

I think that the "unusualness" of the subject is very subjective (pun totally intended). Being from Israel, I think that subjects like circumcisers and shaheed killers might sound very local and thus strange to the ears of outsiders. On the other hand, I wrote some tanka sequences that were based on most frequent words in songs ("Vaudeville Pawnshop,"  my tanka sequence based on the Ziggy Stardust persona of David Bowie was recently published in Atlas Poetica).

What's your idea of an ideal space to write?

My smartphone :)

What's one of your strangest dreams you remember?

Well to be honest I stopped remembering my dreams near when I stopped flying in the dream, so now I try to write imaginary stuff to compensate for lack of dreams.

New poem "Minions" to appear in Strange Horizons

Delighted to report that my new poem "Minions" has been accepted for an upcoming issue of Strange Horizons magazine in 2016. As a quick note, their submissions are closed until January, at this point.

I'm excited for the "Minions" poem because it will provide a somewhat different perspective on those who've served the forces of the antagonists of various horror stories over the centuries.

The immediate inspirations were the minor characters of Bram Stoker's Dracula but also influences from the Secret Wars of Southeast Asia and other parts of the globe during the 20th century. We'll see how clear that comes across when it finally goes online.

Strange Horizons is a magazine of and about speculative fiction and related nonfiction. Speculative fiction includes science fiction, fantasy, horror, slipstream, and all other flavors of fantastika. Work published in Strange Horizons has been shortlisted for or won Hugo, Nebula, Rhysling, Theodore Sturgeon, James Tiptree Jr., and World Fantasy Awards.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Reflecting on Southeast Asian American Legacies: 40 Years After the Vietnam War

On Friday, December 4th, the University of California-Merced convened the symposium Southeast Asian American Legacies: 40 Years After the Vietnam War in the California Room with a good attendance of almost 100 people from across the country, especially the Central Valley.

We had a great representation of many of the Southeast Asian refugee populations in the US today. The speakers and audience consisted of scholars, community organizers, and artists reflecting some very impressive expertise and community knowledge. I was excited to join everyone for what was my very first visit to everyone at the University of California-Merced. It's clear to see they're in the process of some very exciting expansions physically and culturally.

 The symposium began smoothly with the first panel, where Anneeth Kaur Hundle served as the moderator. Mariam B. Lam began by presenting on "Intersecting Southeast Asian/American Studies Field Formations."

I've met Davorn Sisavath in the past, most recently at the Association for Asian American Studies Conference in Illinois this year. As always, I enjoy her presentations. In this case, she discussed "Global Waste: The Social and Environmental Consequences of War" with a focus on the UXO issues in Laos.

I take a particular interest in her work because the way we address UXO in Laos today will likely inform how US and international policy addresses UXO clearance in other theaters such as the Middle East where similar weapons have been used extensively over the last four decades. I do hope that in the future scholars will have a chance to address the ethics of chemical defoliants and other substances in foreign conflicts, as well.

From Minnesota, Hmong American scholar Kong Pheng Pha spoke on "Queering SEAS: Mashing up Queer, Southeast Asian American, and Critical Refugee Studies," with some very intriguing ideas and implications for how we might rethink the field.

Hopefully, each of them will share their presentations online for community members to consider in the near future. Even in less than two hours, it was a lot to take in and to process. But the presentations spoke well of the vital need for our voices to be heard and to be studied not as a novelty but with a very real conviction that our experience has many enduring implications for the modern world and the generations ahead.

The keynote speaker for the symposium was Cathy Schlund-Vials, who drew some great parallels between historic refugee and immigration issues with our current experiences today. The Southeast Asian diaspora was a subject that was personal for her, while also clearly impacting the present. There were some tremendous questions about what it means to be a refugee, and what our responsibilities are in the future. I'm very excited to see what she does during her tenure as the president of the Assoication of Asian American Studies in the coming years ahead

I am especially hoping she can bring greater engagement of Asian American artists and culture makers with academia. I'm deeply concerned about the education issues facing many Lao, Cambodian, Hmong, and other Southeast Asian communities. If a critical, focused effort isn't made NOW to create an inclusive environment, I think it will have a very corrosive effect on our wider community development that will be felt for decades. We will regret this era as one of many missed opportunities.

As mentioned last week, the poet Mai Der Vang and I did a presentation approaching the subject of the Southeast Asian diaspora through poetry.

We gave a thirty minute reading followed by a thirty minute Q & A with the audience, who asked some great questions about our upcoming projects, and what it means to tell refugee stories. For those of you who are interested in reading the works I read that day, I've posted my set up at Issuu.

Lar Yang gave a great presentation on the Hmongtory 40 project which is going full swing this month with exhibits in Fresno and Merced. One of my classic works, "The Last War Poem" was enlarged and shared for the exhibit in Fresno. I'll have a picture of that soon. It was exciting to see that they'd collected and gathered so many rarely seen photos and stories from the community, and I think the exhibit will present a very compelling but complex view of the Hmong journey.

Steve Arounsack spoke about "Digital Media and Southeast Asian Narratives" for the afternoon panel on "Community-Engaged Research with Southeast Asian Commuities," drawing on many different projects in the Lao community including the interactive multimedia materials developed for Legacies of War education efforts on UXO in Laos.

Leakhena Nou, from CSU-Long Beach, discussed her work with the Cambodian community survivors of the Killing Fields and the Khmer Rouge in "Trauma and Human Rights Among the U.S. Cambodian Diaspora: Applied Sociology in Action," during the afternoon panel.

There was a brief break for everyone to get refreshed and reflect on the day's events. Following that, TeAda Productions brought an excerpted version of Refugee Nation to the stage, examining the parallels between the lives of young Lao men involved in gangs and the struggles of veterans of the Royal Lao Army. Leilani Chan played the role of a Lao mother suffering from PTSD in Los Angeles and her efforts to recover. There were moments of great gravity and humor, as always.

The wild card for the evening was Saymoukda Douangphouxay Vongsay and May Lee Yang's dramatic comedy, Hmong-Lao Friendship  Play or Lao-Hmong Friendship Play, which upended any stereotypes of Southeast Asian women being prim and serious. At turns touching and side-splitting, the two have collaborated together on many projects in the past, but it's clear that they're a force to be reckoned with, bringing their distinctive style to the stage with confidence and joy.

As with any of these gatherings, I hope that in the future it will be easier to bring more community members to see these events. But I would like to think that this day helped to encourage many participants who were new to the idea of Southeast Asian voices being heard. It was filled with powerful moments and ideas, and I look forward to future events that are brought to UC Merced. A special thanks to Ma Vang, Seng Vang and Alisak Sanavongsay who took the lead in bringing this all together.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Lao Artist Spotlight: Lina Luangrath

If you're in New York on December 5th, be sure to check out the Lao Fashion Meets Philanthropy benefit for Legacies of War where Lina will be among those entertaining the audience throughout the evening. You can only find a few of her videos online at the moment, but she's showing really strong promise and potential as part of the next generation of artists in our community. She's definitely one to watch.

Here, you can hear another example of her performance skills:

Montagnard refugee journey discussed at Salon.Com

Salon.Com recently did a piece on the Montagnard commuities resettling in the US: “America has forgotten about us”: Former allies in Vietnam flee persecution," by Chris Kenning, originally for the Global Post. I hope one day we view the Montagnards through a lens beyond their wartime roles in the world, and take the time to encourage them to build and grow their culture, to embrace new traditions and new ways of looking at their history and who they can be.

Growing up in my family, I learned about Montagnards of Vietnam first before I'd even learned about the Hmong, Khmu, Tai Dam, Lua and others who'd fought for the US State Department's CIA-trained secret army in Laos. The Montagnards played a vital role in supporting Green Berets in the highlands during the conflicts.

(photo by Chris Kenning)

They form one of many groups who were left on their own when the orders for withdrawal came 40 years ago. I'm saddedned that it's taken so long to get so many of America's former allies to the US where they might rebuild their lives in relatively more safety from post-war reprisals and discrimination.

It reminds me of how much farther we need to go to make this a better world for everyone, and to embrace all of our diverse journeys.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

"Lao Hospitality"

Found in the Southeast Asian archives at UC Irvine, "Lao Hospitality" was printed in a book (whose title I misplaced at the moment) in 1991, translated from French by a farmer in Fresno. There isn't much other information about this poem, unfortunately, but it's a good reminder of how much we lose over time, even as we try to save it.

Laos In NYC: Fashion Meets Philanthropy 12/5

If you're in New York City this Saturday, be sure to catch the Legacies of War benefit, Fashion Meets Philanthropy, which is raising funds for UXO clearance in Laos. The event will be held on December 5th at Civic Hall, 156 5th Avenue, New York City in the trendy Flatiron District.

The emcee is Catzie Vilayphonh of Laos In The House and Yellow Rage, and features the fashion of ModaBox and Article 22, with the cooking of Chef Phet Schwader of Khe-Yo restaurant. This event is historically significant because 2015 marks the 5th year of the United Nations Convention on Cluster Munitions going into effect. Additionally it is the 40th anniversary of the Lao diaspora, which many feel began in December with the government transition in Laos.

A live performance by emerging Lao American singer Lina Luangrath will also be a part of the evening, which includes a Southeast Asian-themed pop-up market. Lao American fashion designer Ari South will also be in attendance, as will Nor Sanavongsay of Sahtu Press.

ModaBox was founded by Lao American entrepreneur Monica Phromsavanh, whose work has been featured on NBC, Little Laos on the Prairie and more. Article 22 has made headline for their creation of fashionable jewelry made from UXO scrap metal recovered from Laos.

From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than two million tons of ordnance over Laos during 580,000 bombing missions—equal to a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24-hours a day, for 9 years. Almost 30% of those bombs failed to detonate upon impact in Laos, leaving over 1/3 of the Lao countryside contaminated today, 42 years since the end of the bombing.

Although Laos was officially neutral following the Geneva Accords, the bombing was an effort to fend off the Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese Army, particularly as they made a push towards South Vietnam. The bombing led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians within Laos. Today, nearly 30% of the victims of unexploded ordnance are children under the age of 12. Many of their parents hadn't even been born by the time the conflict ended.

While the US has been increasing its commitment to help clearance efforts in recent years, more work remains to be done.

Legacies of War executive director Channapha Khamvongsa will be on hand to share the journey of her organization and what's coming up ahead. The New York Times did a profile on her efforts earlier this year. Before founding Legacies of War, she worked at the Ford Foundation and Public Interest Projects, focusing on immigrant and refugee rights, global civil society, civic engagement, capacity building and transformational leadership. She was previously appointed to the Seattle Women’s Commission and served on the boards of the Refugee Women’s Alliance and Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership (CAPAL). She studied at George Mason University and Oxford University. Her Master’s Degree in Public Policy is from Georgetown University.

A limited number of seats are still available to this stellar event. Be sure to check it out and tell your friends to attend. End your year with a great night of fashion, philanthropy, food, culture and community.

Acolytes, the Grotesque and Nancy Hightower

Nancy Hightower occupies an interesting and wondrous space in the world as a writer and educator. Her short fiction and poetry have been published widely in journals such as Gargoyle, Strange Horizons, Danse Macabre, Sundog Lit, Word Riot, and the New York Quarterly. Her novel Elementari Rising has been well received, and she reviews science fiction and fantasy for the Washington Post. 

The Acolyte, her debut book of poetry was released in October, 2015 from Port Yonder Press and is already recieving good reviews for her approach to reframing biblical narratives. 

Her work has been called haunting, surreal, and feminist. She holds a Ph.D. in English/Creative Writing from the University of Denver, and was recently listed as one of the Top 100 Creatives by Origins MagazineNancy has a tremendous wit and breadth of knowledge, especially regarding the grotesque and the fantastic. Behind the scenes, one gets the sense there's a grand adventure yet still unfolding for her. It's a delight to read her verse when she bring all of this into play, and The Acolyte has one of my strongest recommendations for books of poetry this year. 

I'm delighted she took time out of her busy schedule to discuss her latest book and what's influenced her. Be sure to visit her online at

How did you first develop an interest in poetry? How would you describe your access to poetry growing up?

I think I really developed an interest in a first year college class on American poetry. I quickly ate up all the dark poetry of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, but my professor at the time also turned me towards the more life affirming work of Denise Levertov (which was a good call, and her books very much influenced The Acolyte, as much as Sexton's Transformations. I'm sure I read poetry growing up, but the fantasy novels of Tolkien and L'Engle took precedence over poetry until college. Once I got into grad school, Rikki Ducornet (the queen of dark, weird fiction) really pushed me to develop my poems--I wrote "REM" in her class.

Which poem of yours do you usually recommend to someone who wants to read your work for the first time?

Probably "PTL, circa 1981" (I grew up watching it being built, and saw both the good and darkness that came out of it) or "Jael" (the woman who nails Sisera's head to ground and saves the children of Israel; it's a great Bible story, and doesn't get a lot of play time in any sermon I've ever heard). "Jael" is super fun for people to read, and "PTL" is one that many people relate to, I think.

Do you prefer coffee or tea?

Coffee. Always coffee, but never black and always with a ton of cream and sugar, so that it's more like chocolate milk (will people still respect me knowing this?)

If you could have any imaginary being for a pet or a companion, what would you choose?

Can it be a fictional character? If so, I think I would have Door from Neverwhere to be a companion. First, I'd never have to worry about forgetting my keys again. But also, there is something about her exile, her journey, that really speaks to me. I think exile is a common theme in The Acolyte as well.

You've often given presentations on the grotesque in art. What seems to surprise your student the most these days when you discuss this?

I often talk to students who feel like they can't be shocked anymore. From a generation that has seen Saw or Hostel, they believe that they've grown immune to violence, or that violence is entertainment. The grotesque (with a capital G, the kind defined by Flannery O'Connor or Geoffrey Galt Harpham) is an aesthetic that ties horror to humor and beauty in a way that smashes boundaries. The way that I present the subject, the Grotesque will do its best to erase the boundary between you and whomever you consider the Other.

Do you prefer to write in silence, or with music?

Usually music. I often have a soundtrack to write a particular story or poem or novel.

Faith and the feminine are some of the themes you take on regularly in your poetry. There's often a particular undercurrent of the mysterious to these works. So far, who's been one of the most difficult figures to address in your verse?

Tamar's story has always fascinated me. Here's this young woman with two dead husbands on her hand, and she's waiting for Judah's last son to grow up to get a shot at helping to carry on the family line. Judah is so scared that his last son will die too, he doesn't give her to him in marriage. So, she dresses up as a prostitute and sleeps with Judah, taking his bracelets as a pledge for payment... This is one desperate, creative woman. When Judah finds out his widowed daughter in law is pregnant, he says to bring in her and burn her. But that's when she pulls the best sting operation, since she takes out his bracelets and says, "Discern, whose are these." Judah's response is equally amazing when he declares, "She has been more righteous than I."

Now, you've got to understand, up to this point, Judah has been a total ass concerning family. It was his idea to sell his younger brother Joseph into slavery. He was going to let Tamar die childless and alone. But here, he finally owns up to not protecting his family, and the Judah who later meets a King Joseph is completely different. He offers himself up to be a slave to Joseph for life.

I've always thought that it was Tamar who made Judah the Lion of Judah. And, of course, it is she who starts the line of David, the line of Christ. How to encapsulate that story, with all of its betrayal and redemption, was difficult, but I finished that poem in only two drafts.

You've been spending a lot of time in New York. Have you noticed any changes to your approach to writing, lately?

Maybe. I guess it's easier to produce here because everyone is writing a book or producing a play or writing an article. You get caught up in it. For instance, I co-wrote a book proposal over the summer with DJ Spooky. That wouldn't have happened before I moved here.

Of all of the advice you've been given as a poet over the years, what's been advice you've wrestled with, and what's been the easiest to apply?

Well, in all honesty, I think of myself as a fiction writer more than a poet. But I remember that Rikki Ducornet used to slay me with her critiques--I'd write a long poem, and she'd pick one line from it, and say, "Start there. That's your line." I found when revising poems, I can do that on my own now--keep maybe one line from previous draft and create something very sparse, yet tight--you see some of those in The Acolyte.

The Acolyte has been getting some excellent reviews. Will you be doing a wider book tour throughout 2016?

No plans for a book tour--although I am doing more readings in NYC!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Alisak Sanavongsay interviewed at Little Laos on the Prairie

Little Laos on the Prairie recently did an interview with Alisak Sanavongsay, who's been a long-time comunity builder involved with many of the national and local efforts to rebuild Lao culture in the US.

From efforts with the SatJaDham Lao Literary Project to the Southeast Asian American Legacies Symposium, he's assisted groups such as the National Lao American Writers Summit, Cooking with Nana, the Laotian American National Alliance, the Elgin Lao Artists Festival, the Center for Lao Studies, and many more.

Based in Merced, California, he shares his perspective with the community and his ideas of what makes a good leader in the Lao community. Worth checking out!

Souvankham Thammavongsa's "Cluster" featured at the Globe and Mail

Souvankham Thammvongsa is an award-winning Lao Canadian poet whose books include Small Arguments; Found; and Light, all from Pedlar Press. Among her notable awards is the Trillium Award, and the CBC Bookie Award for Book of the Year in the poetry category for Light, which is a beautifully composed text that has my highest recommendations.
A short film was based on her book of poems Found. It was inspired by her father's notebook from the refugee camps she discovered in the trash one day. She recently came to Minnesota in April to meet with other Lao writers, artists and scholars as part of the National Lao American Symposium and Writers Summit.

Recently, the Globe and Mail featured her poem "Cluster."  It's always an achievement when a poet is featured in the newspaper, even more so, for Lao in diaspora. I hope this serves as encouragement to everyone that there is indeed space for our words, our dreams, our journeys.

Documenting the Cambodian diaspora with Pete Pin

Art Radar recently posted a great interview by Lisa Pollman featuring Pete Pin, "Inter-generational project reveals complexities of Cambodian diaspora"  that also has many implications for those of us who are documenting the Lao diaspora. It's well worth the read, espeically for its questions of art with intergenerational dimensions and a sense of community-centered creation.

His projects have included “Cambodian Diaspora,” “Cambodian Diaspora: Memory”, and “I am Khmer,” which may not strike some as particularly ambitious titles, but they're functional enough.

There's a lot that should resonate with Lao artists here. In the Khmer community, he didn't grow up with much access to art, and he felt a great disconnect from his culture and his identity. Pete Pin defied the statistics and went on to puruse his graduate degrees.

What's encouraging to me is that he purchased his first camera in 2008, and got what many would consider a later start in life as a photographer.  He found inspiration in the work of Richard Avedon and Robert Frank thanks to exhibits in San Francisco. I would hope this encourages Lao not to be intimidated by the idea of starting later in an art.

One notable concept he mentions is the "hinge generation" put forward by Eva Hoffman. It's an idea of trauma experienced through recieved memory, which is particularly of interest for Lao who were born in the 1970s and on. Many of us have a sense of what our elders went through but did not directly experience it. For Lao, there's a consistent frustration that elders, particularly parents and grandparents don't talk about those experiences in any great detail, and there's not much of a clearinghouse for these stories where we can reassemble a sense of what really happened during the Secret War. In an era of such intense personal documentation, it remains a very visible gap in our human record.

Hoffman notes that those of us interested in preserving the memories of our elders and discussing our journey have to beware of self-indulgence and narcissism. Without naming names, I can say that I've seen that in action in Lao and Southeast Asian narratives. Hoffman has further warned that we can't see ourselves as''a victim of victims, as damaged by calamities that had been visited on somebody else.'' She notes that "if we insist on fidelity to our childhood knowledge, we may run the risk of being unfaithful to what our parents themselves knew." So this could become a challenge.

Pete Pin's present work is centered on documentary photography, not photojournalism, so these are images that are taken over a long-period of time, and not necessarily shots centered on things we'd consider breaking news. I can see many Lao photographers across the country working with this method. Pete Pin makes note of some other interesting approaches to photography, such as participatory, collaborative and performance photography.

Pete Pin and Lisa Pollman discuss a New York Times article by Teju Cole "Memories of Things Unseen" and the idea that photography is a memorial art, and one that intersects "memory, space, and time."

Pete Pin mentions an issue in putting together exhibitions that we learned during the Legacies of War: Refugee Nation Twin Cities exhibit in Minnesota five years ago, that you have to be careful not to reintroduce trauma. There's a challenge because we can't always be sure what's going to trigger those memories or where the outcome goes. You need responsible facilitation and use a safe space. Pete Pin even suggests having mental health resources on hand, which is not an issue other communities exhibiting community-centered arts typically include.

The project shifted for Pete Pin, which originally was concieved as creating an archive of family stories, but I find his current conclusion interesting, that family stories should really stay with the families. I think about this as I remember The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, and some of the conversations we were having about this back then. He now makes efforts to get people to participate at their own levels of comfort.

Overall, there are some very interesting ideas presented here that I think many in the Lao community need to consider as we go forward with our own efforts to document our diaspora. Be sure to give this a read.

New Soudary Kittivong Greenbaum Poem, "Narratives"

Soudary Kittivong Greenbaum was one of the founding members of the SatJaDham Lao Literary Project, which marks its 20th anniversary this year. Her work has been published in many of the anthologies SatJaDham released in the late 1990s. Her experience has taken her from Alaska to Texas, and points in between.

Since the days of SatJaDham, she has gone on to a career in the non-profit sector, building over 15 years experience, with a focus on human rights, social justice, equity, education and public health.

She recently had a new poem published at Little Laos on the Prairie, "Narratives." Be sure to check it out.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Krysada Panusith Phounsiri at Lao American Review

This week, Lao American writer Krysada Panusith Phounsiri's poem "Ode to Kao Niew," which first appeared in the Sahtu Press collection Dance Among Elephants was featured at Lao American Review.

Krysada Binly Panusith Phounsiri is a Lao American who was born in Houay Xai, Laos. He immigrated to the U.S. at age two where he lived in Southeast San Diego. He began writing poetry at age 11, but fell in love with poetry when he attended UC Berkeley. He was a Physics/Astrophysics double major, with a minor in Creative Writing, and a professional dancer who has performed internationally. He is also an avid photographer. His work has appeared previously in publications such as the Journal of Southeast Asian American Education and Advancement and the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s national photo project “A Day In the Life of Asian America.”

Dance Among Elephants is an original poetry collection by Krysada Binly Panusith Phounsiri that debuted in 2015. It is the second book to be published by Sahtu Press, which specializes in literary work by Laotian Americans.

Dance Among Elephants was released in softcover format with over 70 pages of previously unpublished poetry and photography touching on the Laotian American experience. The personal and historical are intertwined in Phounsiri’s collection. Using a variety of styles, Phounsiri demonstrates his versatility bringing powerful memories and dreams together in a profound meditation of love and loss. Some poems draw on from his journey as a Lao American and his family’s struggles to rebuild after the war for Laos.

Other poems of his confront "the lingering ghosts of unexploded ordnance still in Laos, clashes of the heart, and efforts to preserve the voices of his elders while charting a course uniquely his own."

Throughout December, if you order Dance Among Elephants from Sahtu Press directly, you copies will be personally autographed by the author.

On writing

You can't be a writer if you're afraid of sounding weird.