Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Sabai, Sabai: New paintings by Chantala Kommanivanh

Nych Gallery is proudly presenting new paintings by Chantala Kommanivanh “Sabai, Sabai”, June 12- July 3, 2015. The opening reception is Friday June 12, 6-10pm.

After the United States pulled troops out of the Southeast Asian conflict in 1975, many Laotians were scattered across the world as refugees. “Sabai, Sabai” is Kommanivanh's visual documentation of the Lao American diaspora in Chicago, as 2015, marks their 40th anniversary. His figurative and abstract paintings are a combination of mixed media, oil, and spray paint on traditional canvas that both commemorate and inform viewers about displaced Laotians longing for a place in urban society.

This work is inspired by his family’s migration to Chicago as political refugees, and the struggle with dual identity they shared with many Laotian Americans. Influenced by his hip-hop upbringing, Kommanivanh sampled traditional Lao textile design, and re-presented it by overlapping graffiti marks on top of gestural impressions creating rhythmic dancing pattern.

The gallery is free and open to the public. Regular gallery hours are Tuesday-Friday 12-7pm and by appointment. Nych Gallery is located in the Pilsen Art District at 643 W. 18th st. Chicago IL 60618

Monday, May 25, 2015

CONvergence Panels: From Dystopias to Nagas and Lao Poetry

So, as one of the guests of honor of this year's CONvergence, I'll be holding several panels including "The Language of Dystopia," "Giant Lizard Theater: 10 Years Later," "Laopocalypse Now," "Legends of Laos" and "Nagas and Nightmares: Southeast Asia in Role-playing Games".

I'm super-excited! You can register for the convention at: http://www.convergence-con.org but in the meantime, here's a more detailed breakdown of some of the fun panels I'll definitely be on.

In "The Language of Dystopia": Writers have assumed that when dystopia arrives, it will come with a new coded language, such as Newspeak of 1984 or Blade Runner's Cityspeak. What's the attraction to making this a part of dystopia world-building? Where might it go in the future? Panelists: Bryan Thao Worra, Gabriela Santiago, and Mitchell Faas.

In "Giant Lizard Theater: 10 Years Later,": 10 years ago, MN writers held a poetry reading at CONvergence inspired by myths, legends, and SFF involving dragons, dinosaurs, and kaiju. I and other poets will perform, and you’re invited to perform, too!

In "Laopocalypse Now,": While East Asia has regularly figured in doomsday scenarios, Southeast Asian perspectives have rarely been shown. When they have, it's often been from a subordinate perspective. But what are some approaches to consider? And what should we avoid? Panelists: Bryan Thao Worra and Bob Alberti.

In "Legends of Laos,": With over 160 different cultures in Laos, there are many different beliefs that can be difficult to untangle. We'll look at many entities from traditional mythology, including giant carnivorous warrior-sorceresses and lusty super-simian bio-weapons. Panelists: Bryan Thao Worra and Roy C. Booth.

In Nagas and Nightmares: Southeast Asia in Role-playing Games,": Southeast Asia has a rich, vibrant range of myths and legends that are well-suited for role-playing games, but few have gotten it right. Looking at previous efforts, we'll discuss what game designers should consider as they develop adventures set there. Panelists: Bryan Thao Worra, Roy C. Booth, and Bob Alberti

Friday, May 22, 2015

"The Last War Poem" at 40 & Forward

As mentioned earlier, just in time for Memorial Day Weekend, "The Last War Poem" is now up at the 40 & Forward: Southeast Asian Americans Rooted & Rising blog organized by the Southeast Asian Resource Action Center in Washington DC. This is an ongoing effort to look at the various ways we have responded to our journey during the Southeast Asian diaspora that begin for many in 1975.

"The Last War Poem" was featured in 2014 at the Southeast Asian Globe and was also recently performed live by the acclaimed Catzie Vilayphonh in Philadelphia in a stirring performance at the Asian Arts Initiative.

This poem is dedicated to those who served, those who fell, those who remain, and those whose duty it is to remember.

Monday, May 18, 2015

"40 Years. Countless Tears" by Mary Keovisai

Over at the 40 & Forward blog by SEARAC, this week they're highlighting the art by Mary Keovisai who is a Lao American artist currently living in California and is engaged in social justice issues. This one is a meditation on the journey of the kingdom of Laos and the US secret bombing campaign that would eventually leave over 30% of Laos contaminated with unexploded cluster munitions by the end of the war.

Mary Keovisai is the author of the 2012 text, Killing Me Softly: Remembering and Reproducing Violence in Southeast Asian Refugees, which was described as a thesis that examined "the ways in which Southeast Asian refugee narratives have been produced and replicated through institutions for the purpose of supporting legitimizing and justifying U.S. imperialism and war violence. It interrogates the limitations of institutionalized modes of memorialization and seeks to offer new forms of remembering and circumventing narratives of remembering. Furthermore, it seeks to connect different forms of state violence together to yield a greater analysis and understanding of the ways in which violence affects the lives of Southeast Asian refugees through an analysis of cultural productions and narrative practices. This project serves to highlight what is forgotten when refugees and domestic violence survivors remember and the connectedness and intricacy of various forms of U.S. imperialism and state violence." I think there were definitely some interesting ideas to consider within this, even as I continue to challenge the privilege we currently give to academia to validate our mechanisms of response to the roots and consequences of our diaspora.

In the conclusion of her thesis, she asks: "Who gets to “break the silence” and under what conditions? How can we capture the story of silence? That is, I sought to question how to “break the silence” without forgetting it. " As a poet, silence is becoming an increasingly interesting question for me, as I recently addressed in my poem "A Preface To Lao Silences". She takes note of the work of Ova Saopeng and Leilani Chan and many others who are also probing these questions. I don't know if all of you will agree with her conclusions, but I think they're worth taking into consideration. Her art that she shares with us and SEARAC is an important part of this continuing dialogue.

Today over 700,000 Laotians live as refugees around the world rebuilding their lives. Be sure to check out the entry at 40 & Forward this week, as well as other pieces that have been submitted since it began. Perhaps more importantly, consider adding your voice to this ongoing reflection.

MACHINE DREAMS: A Symposium of Robots, Arts, and Difference, June 11th and 12th!

I'll be presenting at MACHINE DREAMS: A Symposium of Robots, Arts, and Difference at the UCLA Charles E. Young Research Library. The main symposium is June 12th, while the reading, which I'm a part of, is on June 11th. I can guarantee you at least two, maybe even three poems on the emerging field of Laobotics.

The keynote speaker is Minsoo Kang, who is an associate professor of European history at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. He earned his Ph.D. in history at UCLA and is the author of Sublime Dreams of Living Machines: The Automaton in the European Imagination (Harvard University Press, 2011), and co-editor of Visions of the Industrial Age, 1830-1914: Modernity and the Anxiety of Representation in Europe (Ashgate, 2008). He is also a fiction writer who has published a collection of his short stories, Of Tales and Enigmas (Prime, 2007). He has translated works of Korean literature, including the classic novel The Story of Hong Gildong which will be published as a Penguin Classic in 2016. He is currently working on a book on the history of automata from the perspective of gender theory.

The other poets and writers I'll be performing with include Neil Aitken,  Kenji Liu,  Kima Jones,  Takeo Rivera,  Margaret Rhee,  Miyoko Conely,  Chiwan Choi, Mark Marino,  Jilly Dreadful, Isaac Shankler. Saba Ravzi, and Pablo Lopez. I look forward to seeing you there!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Sahtu Press Coming To Fresno, Saturday, May 30th

On Saturday, May 30th, thanks to a wonderful invitation by the Lao American Community of Fresno, Sahtu Press authors will be presenting at the Fresno County Woodward Park Regional Library, 944 E Perrin Ave, Fresno, California from 3:00 to 4:00 with a book-signing briefly afterwards.

The event is free and we'll be providing refreshments and beverages for guests.

This is the first time the three award-winning Lao American authors have appeared in California together.

Audience members will join authors Nor Sanavongsay, Krysada Binly Panusith Phounsiri and Bryan Thao Worra as they read from their latest books and discuss other exciting issues in Lao American literature coming up, particularly after the National Lao American Symposium and Writers Summit in Minneapolis this April.

Krysada Panusith Phounsiri, better known as "Binly" is a Lao-American artist and engineer. He was born in Laos in 1988 and came to America with his family in 1989. He graduated from UC Berkeley in 2010 with a Physics and Astrophysics Double Major and a Minor in Poetry. His debut collection is “Dance Among Elephants,” published by Sahtu Press. His work has been featured in the Journal of Southeast Asian American Education and Advancement and the Smithsonian’s “A Day In The Life Of Asian America” digital exhibit. He’s also an accomplished dancer and photographer, traveling to various regions of the world to compete in competitions and teach workshops.

Nor Sanavongsay is an award-winning Lao American writer in the San Francisco Bay area and the founder of Sahtu Press. He has been a member of the SatJaDham Lao Literary Project, the National Lao American Writers Summit, the Lao Artists Festival of Elgin, among many others. He is the author of children's books inspired by Lao folktales, such as Xieng Mieng: A Sticky Mess. Some of his handiwork can be seen from companies like Encyclopaedia Britannica, Sears, Zoosk, and others.

Bryan Thao Worra is an award-winning Lao-American writer. He holds over 20 awards including a Fellowship in Literature from the National Endowment for the Arts, and is the author of 6 books with writing appearing in over 100 international publications. He is the first Lao American professional member of the international Horror Writer Association and is an officer of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. Bryan Thao Worra’s work is on display at the Smithsonian’s national traveling exhibit, “I Want the Wide American Earth: An Asian Pacific American Story.” He represented the nation of Laos in 2012 as a Cultural Olympian during the London Summer Games. His 2013 book, DEMONSTRA, was selected as Book of the Year by the Science Fiction Poetry Association.

The reading is also a historic occasion because this month is Asian Pacific Islander American Heritage Month and the 40th anniversary since the end of the war in 1975 and the beginning of the Lao Diaspora.

The Laotian-American Community of Fresno was founded in 2000 by concerned Laotian community members as a source of mentorship, guidance, and support for community members and their families as new lives were being established in the United States. They are the only Lao-run nonprofit in the Fresno area, and their mission is to promote and preserve Lao cultural heritage and traditions through traditional Lao dance classes and Lao literacy classes, and also to empower and encourage Lao youth to pursue college educations.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Operation: Babylift: Perspective and Legacies exhibit at the Presidio

Over the weekend I had the chance to visit the Operation: Babylift: Perspective and Legacies exhibit at the Presidio Officers Club in California. It will be up from now until December 31st.  This exhibit "explores the diverse experiences and lasting impacts of a dramatic airlift that removed more than 2,000 Vietnamese children from their war-torn country to be adopted by American families as Saigon fell in April 1975." And as you can see, I'm quoted at one point among the exhibit displays.

There's a lot to process during this exhibit although some might think it somewhat modest and sparse. In fact, however, I find that it's the blank spaces and the unanswered questions that give the exhibit particular poetry and poignancy.

This is an exhibit where there are no easy answers, and I think for many who were involved directly or even tangentially, there are still lingering questions of what was the humane thing to do, and what we still have to be accountable for during the last 40 years as so many of these children grew up, found families, or didn't. It's definitely worth a visit.

Running Home documentary examines human trafficking, marathon running in Laos

For Portland residents, Running Home is a new documentary premiering on June 6th looking at the philanthropic efforts of Nang Nonnarath Dunn to build a better future for at-risk Lao youth overseas and to fight human trafficking. Many of us had a chance to meet her during the National Lao American Symposium and Writers Summit in Minneapolis in April. You can see the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vn9_ZmUw1ng&feature=youtu.be

Re-Imagining the Kinnaly

The Kinnaly is one of the key figures of Lao traditional culture, present in our myths, legends, and many architectural elements. It has roots in Hindu and Buddhist tradition, with many elements of Lao culture now reflected in the stories we pass on to the next generation. 

Artist Nor Sanavongsay and I have been working together for the last year on a project to expand our visual vocabulary regarding the Kinnaly and how they might be depicted within a more modern, imaginative and inclusive perspective. 

Some examples are below, but you can also visit Nor's tumblr at http://artofnor.tumblr.com where he is also posting examples from many other exciting projects he is working on.

"The Last War Poem" to be featured on 40 & Forward

One of my classic pieces, "The Last War Poem," was originally featured in the anthology Bamboo Among the Oaks in 2002 and later in DEMONSTRA in 2013.  It will be reprinted online later this month at 40 & Forward, the new blog of the Southeast Asian Resource Action Center in Washington D.C.

The poem is one of my early efforts to examine the journey of Lao and Hmong veterans of the secret war for Laos between 1954-1975, and in many ways was an early example of what would come to be my signature style with poetry over the last decade.

Appearing at the Oakland Book Festival, May 31st

I, Nor Sanavongsay and Krysada Panusith Phounsiri will be at the Sahtu Press table at the Oakland Book Festival on Sunday, May 31st.

The Oakland Book Festival is a one-day, annual literary event. Dedicated to books, ideas, and the pleasures of literacy, it aims to serve the reading public, to encourage debate, and to celebrate the City of Oakland. It will host more than ninety writers in 2015 and is free and open to the public with over 40 events planned during this time.

We hope to have many exciting books for you including copies of DEMONSTRA, A Sticky Mess, and Dance Among Elephants. We hope to make this an exciting way for you finish up National Asian Pacific American Heritage Month! If you have any special requests or questions in advance, let us know and we'll do our best to address those!

Reading at Mendocino College on May 7th

As part of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, I'll be reading at the Mendocino College Library in Ukiah, California at 7pm. The official press release can be found at the college website. I'll be reading selections from DEMONSTRA for 30 minutes but also opening the floor to questions and an open mic.

This reading is particularly significant because this year marks the 40th anniversary of the Lao diaspora that has sent over 700,000 Laotians around the world to countries such as the US, Australia, France, Canada, Thailand, Japan, England and more. DEMONSTRA received the 2014 Elgin Award for Book of the Year from the Science Fiction Poetry Association and many of the poems in this collection address the diaspora, particularly the long poem, "The Dream Highway of Ms. Mannivongsa."

This event is sponsored by Friends of the Mendocino College Library, an affiliate group of the Mendocino College Foundation. Please visit www.mendocino.edu for more information about the event or visit http://foundation.mendocino.edu/site/ for more information about the Mendocino College Foundation. Mendocino College is located at 1000 Hensley Creek Road in Ukiah, CA.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Kaiju-A-Gogo! A chance to rampage through Laos and the world as a giant monster!

In case you missed it, Kaiju-A-Gogo is finally live!

A great giant monster-building strategy game, this has my particular endorsement because it is, to my knowledge, the first video game to ever feature Vientiane as a city you can meaningfully play in, complete with authentic Lao landmarks.

It's only $12.99, although for a limited time, for $20 you can also get a lifetime subscription to all of the future downloadable content and updates. I'm particularly waiting for this fellow:

First their intention is for them to release the Chlorophyll Creeper, Shrubby and the Massive Mutant, Armagordon, which should be very soon. So what are you waiting for? Get a copy already!


Appreciating Lao American stories

I grew up in many different places as a child. Missoula, Anchorage, Ypsilanti, Saline, and summers in Wisconsin. My father was a pilot, while my mother worked at home. I went to Otterbein College in Ohio in 1991 which seemed far from home at the time, some four hours away. It was nestled in a quaint little college town that laid claim to being the birthplace of Prohibition, and having a donut shop that opened up at midnight just down the street.

My real education was spent largely outside of class when I began searching for my roots among the Lao refugees in diaspora across the United States. As one of the children who'd been adopted by Americans in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, I'd known of my nominal roots, but I also knew that I knew very little of what that entailed outside of what I could find in a few copies of National Geographic.

Growing up, the Vietnam War was interpreted to me as a war for Southeast Asian democracy and freedom, and that the US veterans had been undermined by pro-communists, hippies, and left-wingers who forced the government to turn its back on our allies. It was a very fear-driven narrative, but one in which the US was the clear protagonist, a friend helping friends.

The story of Laos was always presented to me as a side-war by my family, with very little of the conflict considered important except stopping the flow of arms and troops on the Ho Chi Minh trail, missing POWs, and fighting drug traffickers. It took a long time for me to finally find people who could speak of the full experience beyond footnotes. In the textbooks of my time, you almost never found our story or even a mention of our country.

There was a retired farmer working for USAID during the war in Laos named Ed Buell who once remarked that anyone who spoke English in Laos didn't have a clue about the problems there. That's lingered with me because it seems so little has changed in Lao development almost half a century later.

I was raised among American holidays, with a big emphasis on Thanksgiving and Christmas as the times family got together. In hindsight, I spent most of the time a little distant from everyone. There was a lot of it that bored me waiting for the turkey and ham, the mashed potatoes and lefse, the cauliflower, casserole and jell-o. There were stories that were told about the family and those who weren't there with us anymore. At the time, they were really abstractions, and I didn't really feel like those stories were fully mine, despite all of my extended family's best intentions.

As I began my journey back into the Lao community, I discovered many of the youth had few of the stories of their families that they remembered at great length either, and we were losing even those few stories they had as the years passed on. It was hard for many of them to see or appreciate what their family stories could mean in relation to our larger histories and how many gaps we had. And it was hard for them to understand that telling their stories was something that could make a difference in preserving Lao culture as their elders asked.

Decades later, with so many of my aunts and uncles passed on, I'd since learned to appreciate the brief time we have with everyone, and how few stories really stay with us in the end, yet how vital those stories are. It ties us together, and it creates a line of continuity in our human effort. It is a means of healing, and it is a way of creating a guidepost to decide where we go next. Without stories, change is very difficult.

In "The Prophetic Imagination" by Walter Brueggman, there's a discussion of the prophetic vision. One part of this is recognizing the world's pain. The other part is recognizing the world's possibilities. It is a combination of hope with a critical eye that provides the impetus for change and transformation in society.

As we mark Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and the 40th anniversary of the Lao Diaspora, I think we've been fortunate to see so many efforts emerging now who recognize the importance and vitality of sharing Lao stories internally in our community and externally.

Lao culture is in a historic transition period as we transition to a democracy after over 600 years as a monarchy. Traditionally our values have embraced harmony, the search for wisdom, and diversity as we built a community with over 160 ethnicities in the borders of Laos.

As might be expected, the transition to life in Minnesota has had many unique opportunities and challenges. The same is true for Lao in many other states, and I think our efforts have suffered sometimes because non-profits have often had difficulty accessing funds that allow them to build projects that really serve families that are scattered so far across the country in pockets. This is very different from how many Lao households were raised and adapting to the American lifestyle can be a very disruptive change.

But we need to start somewhere and part of that process comes from valuing our stories. A Lao proverb that sticks with me, to this end is "If you know, teach. If you don't know, learn." In the coming months ahead with the Lao Assistance Center and a grant from CURA's ANPI grant, I hope to work with many emerging storystellers in our community to build our collective body of knowledge. We still have space, so come join us!

Friday, May 01, 2015

The Pancakes of A.C. Wise

So, A.C. Wise' google image search results have become inexplicably, abysmally mundane over the last time I checked in on her. This simply cannot stand.

Per tradition, I asked her to choose the form of the Destructor and she responded this year with "pancakes". Thus chosen, we find ourselves here. Happy Friday, and be warned, there is significant dispute whether you can drown such a nefarious entity with maple syrup, or if that simply makes it stronger, even if it is just a short stack.