Saturday, April 09, 2016

Lao Poetry or Lao Models?

As we go into the tenth anniversary of On The Other Side Of The Eye, one of the interesting questions has been, how much progress have we made advancing and expanding the everyday understanding of the beauty of Laos, in all of its diversity. This is certainly a lofty goal but there are also some practical metrics that we can look at, as well. 

As a poet from Laos, I think it requires a flexibility of understanding the fickle nature of 'poetic fame' within the grand scheme of things. While we must take our work seriously, it does not mean that we remove ourselves from the living world in quite the same way as Buddhist monks do. I do feel both monks and poets are grappling with the inexpressible world, that world beyond what we can sense and feel. The world of the spirit and the not-spirit. A poet at their best should be making an effort to plunge deeper, deeper into the chaos and uncertainty of a world stuck in the constraints of time and space, and we make our best effort to reach something greater.

An ongoing problem I've had over recent years is the difficulty in finding my work online as a casual reader. Both of my earlier books from Sam's Dot Publishing are now difficult to find in print, while Winter Ink, through the MN Center for Book Arts is of a rare limited edition, and prohibitive for most casual readers. Tanon Sai Jai remains reasonably available, and DEMONSTRA, too, is still available from Innsmouth Free Press.  

Later this year I'll have to work on a comprehensive bibliography of my work which is complicated by my treatment of my articles for Asian American Press, Tripmaster Monkey and a few other publications more as one-offs and pieces that I otherwise don't track for one reason or another.

The previews I have available at Issuu are a stopgap measure, but I really do have to find a better solution if I want to ensure people can find Lao poetry easily. Or Lao American poetry, or Laotian American poetry as the case may be. It's a difficult scenario when the terms we use to refer to our community can require such nuance, even as others might just call it "Laos poetry," which no one with good grammar should really accept. But it's still the term our verse will be sought by.

How does a Lao poet reconcile with the practical fact that it is far more likely that people will search for Laos with terms such as "beautiful Lao women" or "Lao import models" or "Lao porn stars" seeking public figures such as the retired Playboy model Karouna Kay Sivilay, Jackie Lin,or the model and cosmetologist Lori Malay? Or perhaps people are simply looking for good Lao recipes, or Lao restaurant reviews that they can't find on Yelp. There are a few who will probably find my work by accident seeking the rules for Lao gambling or perhaps questions about adoption in Laos. I suppose there's a certain poetry in all of this.

As a writer, it all keeps you humble.

Sometimes you'll get students stumbling across your blog searching for posts that explain what your poems are about, or why you wrote your book the way you did. These are certainly worthy questions, but now you'll have to ask yourself, will you give them those answers easily, or make them work through it?

This is a world filled with extraordinary distractions that can easily derail both writer and reader. That's a fact of life. But what does it mean for us to persist at maintaining a blog for a decade, for better or worse?

Sometimes, all I know is that you have to make your best effort to create something of meaning against the looming eternal silence. Something. Anything. The rest is up to forces beyond our control.

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