Wednesday, September 28, 2016

National Coffee Day! Where's the Space Coffee?

This Thursday, September 29th is National Coffee Day!

What would the future be without coffee, brownian motion and whatever comes next? If you've got a speculative poem about coffee, share it here or on social media with the hashtag #sffcoffeepoem!

In the meantime, here's one of my older pieces, The Spirit Catches You and You Get Body Slammed, which first appeared in the Paj Ntaub Voice Hmong literary journal in the early 2000s.

The Spirit Catches You and You Get Body Slammed

I came to Missoula to ask him
About the inner workings of ua neeb.
To understand the symbolic significance of split horns
And spirit horses who trace their noble smoky path
To turns of an auspicious moon above ancient Qin.

My tape recorder at the ready,
My fountain pen freshly filled with indigo ink,
My ears, my eyes, my heart:
All were humbly waiting for
The wise shaman's words
To impart to the next generation
Of youths who sought this fading voice.

He spoke, and my interpreter said:
"Who's your favorite wrestler?"

I wasn't certain I'd heard properly.

"Grandpa wants to know who your favorite wrestler is."
My interpreter turned back to the shaman, speaking Hmong.

Rising with a stately elder's grace,
The shaman confidently said:
"Randy Macho Man Savage!" and struck a macho pose.

Smiling, he then offered me a cup of hot coffee.
I was too stunned to say anything more
For the rest of the afternoon.

Years later, I still have dreams of shining Shee Yee
Smashing writhing demons into blue turnbuckles,
Watching next to a hundred smiling shamans in the Audience

2016 Science Fiction Poetry Contest Winners announced

Over at the Science Fiction Poetry Association, we’ve just announced the 2016 winners of our annual Science Fiction Poetry Contest. In each category (Dwarf, Short, Long) the winners receive: $100 First Prize, $50 Second Prize, and $25 Third Prize. Additionally, they receive publication on Poetry Planet ( podcast magazine and on the SFPA website for first through third places.

Award-winning poet Michael Kriesel selected the winners of this year’s SFPA Poetry Contest. We received 93 Dwarf, 140 Short, and 36 Long entries from around the world. Our thanks to everyone who participated and to our contest chair, F.J. Bergmann who coordinated this year’s competition. The 2017 competition opens June 1st and closes August 31st.

1st place: Craving by Shannon Connor Winward
2nd place: Dragon Tongue Sushi by Robert Borski
3rd place: (untitled haiku) by Susan Birch

Honorable mentions:
Blurred Future by Bruce Boston
(untitled tanka) “at work” by Susan Burch
A Pop Culture Fairy Tale Tweet by MX Kelly

1st place: Regarding the Mastodons by Timons Esaias
2nd place: Gretel at Menlo Mall, 1996 by Stacey Balkun
3rd place: Even Happy Ghosts Can Be Scary When You’re 7 by Kathleen A. Lawrence

Honorable mentions:
Apple-Child Learns the ABCs by Stacey Balkun
The Myth of the Sun by Lisette Alonso
Singed, Unhurt by E. Kristin Anderson

1st place: Elvis Triptych by William Stobb
2nd place: Thirteen Ways to See a Ghost by Shannon Connor Winward
3rd place: We Shall Meet in the Star-Spackled Ruins by Wendy Rathbone

Honorable mentions:
The Problem of the Horse by Frederick Lord
The Blind Elephants of Io by Karen Bovenmyer
The Container Store by Gene Twaronite

An international literary organization, 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. You can visit the website at

Monday, September 26, 2016

Starship Sofas, Voice, and Song with Diane Severson Mori

Diane Severson Mori has been one of the amazing volunteers who's kept the Science Fiction Poetry Association a really positive organization for members around the world. Currently the membership chair of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, she's is a lyric soprano specializing in Early Music, especially Baroque and medieval music. I've appreciated her perspective, energy and professionalism when we work together. I think she's been a great role model for how we perform and blog about speculative poetry. Her reviews have always been insightful and thought provoking.

Diane is a dedicated teacher of singing, and has been an active blogger and podcaster in the science fiction poetry scene. She is the mother of a young multi-linguist and married to her very own Rocket Scientist. Over the last year we've been having a conversation about her approach to the arts and differences between life in the US and abroad. 

How did you begin to get started as a writer?

LOL, well, I was encouraged to write "Orbit" (by Chris Vera) after my mother moved out of the house I grew up in and he gently critiqued it and gave me tips on what readers might want to read in it. He then offered to publish it on his website "Mystic Nebula." It was the scariest experience of my life really. And one of the most satisfying. I would love to have more time and the discipline to write more. I also feel like I lack ideas, but I expect that comes with a writing practice.

The arts have been a very big part of your life. Can you tell us a little about your earliest encounters that you feel set you on this path?

My artistic side comes from my mother and her Irish heritage. She played the organ at church and has a lovely singing voice and an innate musical ability which she passed on to me. I sang in public (at school) from a relatively young age (I sang at the school assembly when I was 5). I was encouraged to pursue musical expression by my parents and my teachers, but never pushed. I learned how to play the piano, cello and the tuba as well, but singing was always what I excelled at. Sometimes I wish I'd been given more structure and discipline, but my voice, at least, was allowed to develop naturally.

My mother was also the reader and as soon as I could read myself, I always had a book with me and we made many trips to the library. It was a sacred place for me, a refuge. I even volunteered at our local library in middle school.

Life abroad has figured significantly into your journey. What are some of the ways this has changed your approach and perspective on the arts? What was one of the biggest changes for you to adapt to when making the transition to Europe?

Yes, I left the USA in 1992 never to return for any significant period of time. I’ve been home for holidays and other trips, for work and vacation, but I haven’t lived in the US in nearly 25 years. I still consider it home, however. That’s where my cultural orientation remains, regardless of how long I’ve lived in another culture.

It has, as you suggest, changed my perspective on many things, including the arts. When I first arrived in Germany I was astonished at how broad and deeply the arts, and music in particular are appreciated in Germany. They don’t have Separation of Church and State and people pay a Church Tax to support both the Protestant and the Catholic Churches (but no others). That money to quite a large extent goes toward music programs. Nearly every church has a paid organist/music director (or several) and there is enough money to pay for soloists for larger performances such as The St. John Passion by Bach, for instance. And people actually go to concerts, the opera, cabaret, the theater and such!

The Germans also love to learn and nearly everyone takes some sort of class or lessons of some sort be it to learn a foreign language or learn an instrument or singing. It is relatively easy to earn a living as a freelance musician and private voice teacher in this country.

And the Germans love to read! There are still many brick and mortar book stores in Germany and you can order just about any book you want and have it arrive within a day or so, even from England (for books in English)! It helps that the country is geographically relatively small and densely populated, so it’s not really fair to compare it to the USA, but still…

So, while there are many things that I appreciate about the arts in the USA, there is much to be said about a culture that appreciates and supports it to the extent they do in Germany (and to a certain extent in Europe as a whole).

The biggest change for me in moving to Europe was first and foremost the language. I have a certain facility with languages, I have always been fascinated by them and attracted to them. I now speak 4 European languages reasonably well. But, that said, learning to function in a foreign language means adopting the mind-set of the culture to a certain extent. And sometimes I feel not quite like myself, or like I live a dual (or triple) personality. Otherwise, I’m a pretty resilient person and just kind of go with the flow.

You were mentored by Cornelius Reid, who was a specialist in the bel canto technique. What's a lingering memory you have of him?

I suppose the most important lesson I learned from him is to remain objective when it comes to my own singing ability and to my students. That as the function of the voice improves so will also my (or their) ability to express the music improve and the ease with which that takes place increases. I am often my own worst enemy and the more I can rely on my voice working properly the easier it is for me to let go of judgement and live the music (or the text, if I’m reciting a poem or narrating a story). His precept that if we hold our attention to producing pure vowel, pitch and intensity and stay away from subjective judgement, the voice will produce and the music will happen by itself.

You also were mentored by Carol Baggott-Forte, who's known for her belief that there's an organic natural response innate to all voices. What have been some of the key take-aways you've found from her approach?

Well, Carol got that from Cornelius! She has a phenomenal ear and the most astounding instinct when it comes to figuring out a voice and what it needs to improve. She doesn’t shy away from requiring the singer to make “ugly” sounds, if it means it will lead them toward better function and therefore improved vocal response. Her approach is really the epitome of "no nonsense.” And therefore it is really pretty easy to just do what she asked to the best of your ability and let go of the idea of beautiful sounds. Often what we think of as beautiful is delusional and we are just hanging on to familiarity. Her ability to “make it ok” is one of the most comforting things in the world.

Coffee or tea?

Oh, COFFEE!!!! We are kind of coffee snobs in our household. We prefer Italian style roasts - not a surprise since my husband is from Italy - and we have a manual espresso machine. We usually buy our beans in Italy and we grind them fresh every morning. Making coffee is very much a process. It took me a long time to learn to make our morning coffee consistently good, because well, I needed coffee to be able to do it! Now, I go on auto-pilot and it’s fine.

How did you first get involved with StarShipSofa?

I got my first iPod Shuffle when we lived in London in 2006 in order to listen to audiobooks. I had a lot of time on my hands there and did a lot of walking around and putzing around at home. It was then that I discovered podcasts and StarShipSofa was the second (after EscapePod) that I discovered. It took me several shows to parse Tony Smith and Ciaran O’Connell’s accents, but they were so funny and personable and I loved those early shows that focused on an SF writer.

I also joined their listener forum and Tony personally vetted everyone in those days. He followed links to my My Space space (which I’d also just discovered then and which still exists!) and heard some of my music. He claimed to have been blown away by one song in particular (I Wanna Die Easy) and asked if he could play it on the show - even though it has nothing to do with Science Fiction. That’s how our friendship began. Later in 2008, just after my husband and I had moved back to Germany, and Tony had been running fiction on the show for a few months he discovered that I read out loud to my husband every night before sleeping. He asked me if I could narrate a story for him. That first one (SSS No. 10 - Infinity Syrup) was a story by Laurel Winter, who is also a Rhysling award winning poet.

At some point we both noticed that I had an affinity to reciting poetry and I was his go-to girl when he had poetry submissions. Much later, when my son was about 15 months old, I decided it was time to get back into narrating. Tony had, in the meantime, unfortunately abandoned putting poetry on the show. It’s a lot of work splicing a show together and poetry is very work intensive. I thought that was a huge shame, because, let’s face it, most people don’t even know SF poetry is a thing. And so, I made it my mission to prevent it from falling by the wayside. I started producing a segment for StarShipSofa called Poetry Planet in which I showcase poetry on a particular theme.

I also started producing the Rhysling, Dwarf Stars and Elgin Awards showcases for the SFPA, which also run on SSS as part of Poetry Planet. Unfortunately, since it is a labor of love, done in my copious spare time and is quite work intensive, I haven’t been able to do it very regularly. In 6 years I’ve produced 17 of them.

You've done some amazing readings of poems by other authors over the years. What are some of the things you take into consideration as you prepare to record a piece?

Well, naturally, I read it several times. I try to make sure I understand it (although that’s not always possible!) and know how to pronounce all the words - that’s an important aspect for me! I read it aloud a few times before recording it, paying attention to meter and rhyme. If the sentence structure and line breaks don’t jive I try to find the best way to deliver the poetry to maximize understanding for the listener without sacrificing structure and meter. This is sometimes surprisingly difficult, but always a rewarding challenge!

This is really the crux of my association with poetry. I came to poetry as a singer - a lot of classical song is poetry set to music and I’ve always thought it important to understand the poetry as well as the music. Since I started reciting poetry for podcasts, I’ve discovered how much “Music” is inherent in poetry, in and of itself. I don’t write much poetry myself, and I’m a performer myself. I understand that sometimes it’s hard for poets to imagine their own poetry being recited by someone else, but I have also received many complements from poets who were pleasantly surprised to hear their own poems with new ears. Some have said it became a new poem for them.

What are some of your projects coming up in 2016 that you're looking forward to?

I’m very much looking forward to a few singing projects coming up in the 2nd half of 2016. I’ll be singing the music (and poetry - in Latin) of Hildegard of Bingen, an 11th century mystic, abbess, herbalist, cardinal and pope chastiser, and general Wonder Woman. I guess you can consider me an expert on her music and it is always a pleasure to have the opportunity to bring it to more people.

I’m also singing in a small vocal ensemble and we’ll be singing in Berlin soon, as well as a more concerts in Northern Germany later on this year.

As for poetry, I have a backlog of podcasts I’d like to produce for Poetry Planet and the SFPA award showcases. We’ll see if I can find the time to do them! Since becoming membership chair for the SFPA and producing their Newsletter, I’ve had much less time for podcasting. Sigh.

I’m still reviewing collections and chapbooks for Star*Line and Amazing Stories and have quite a backlog there as well.

Be sure to visit Diane online at

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Friday, September 23, 2016

2016 Dwarf Star Award Winners

As the President of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, it is my privilege and honor to announce the 2016 Dwarf Star Award Winners.

Now in its tenth year, this award is given by the Science Fiction Poetry Association to recognize the best speculative poem of 1–10 lines published in the previous year. Although hundreds of excellent very short science fiction, fantasy, and horror poems are regularly published each year, they seem to be mostly overlooked in the Rhysling Award process.

In the history of the Rhysling Award, few poems of 10 lines or fewer have been nominated, and none has won. Yet, there seems to be a surge of interest in short forms. It is not uncommon to find excellent scifaiku, tanka, cinquains, and other speculative short poems in poetry journals. The Dwarf Stars Award acknowledges excellence in this specialized field.

Our thanks this year to Dwarf Stars editors Jeannine Hall Gailey and Lesley Wheeler!

This year’s first place winner:
We Begin This Way by Stacey Balkun, Gingerbread House 16

Stacey Balkun received her MFA from Fresno State and her work has appeared or will appear in Gargoyle, Muzzle, THRUSH, Bodega, and others. She is a contributing writer for The California Journal of Women Writers at A 2015 Hambidge Fellow, Stacey served as Artist-in-Residence at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2013. Her chapbook, Lost City Museum, is forthcoming from ELJ Publications. You can visit her website at

Gingerbread House Literary Magazine is dedicated to publishing quality poetry & fiction with a magical element. “Take your fairy tale and twist it. Bend your fantasy to suit your needs. Be original and fresh, loose and lovely.” They publish six times a year, every other month.

Additionally, the voting membership of the Science Fiction Poetry Association selected the following poems for 2nd and 3rd place:

2nd Place (3-way tie)
“at the barre” by Julie Bloss Kelsey, Rattle 51

The Doorman by F.J. Bergmann, Grievous Angel, May 2015

Weathering by Sandi Leibowitz, Silver Blade 25

3rd Place
Alice was chasing white rabbits out of a black hole by John C. Mannone, Abbreviate Journal, July/August 2015

Congratulations to all of the winners! A reminder to all active members that nominations for the 2017 Dwarf Stars Awards will open on April 1st, 2017 and conclude on May 15th.

The SFPA was founded in 1978 to bring together poets and readers interested in speculative poetry and is an international literary organization. It produces two journals and confers three annual awards in speculative literature. You can visit us online at

Dr. Svengsouk on Arts InFocus

From WXXI's Arts InFocus series:

Have you ever experienced a deep sense of calm after listening to soothing music? I'm sure you can relate when I say that listening to music can bring peace in stressful or uncertain times. Well, local doctor, Jefferson Svengsouk is putting this into practice at Strong Memorial Hospital's Palliative Care Unit. He's combining his two passions, caring for people in need and playing the Native American flute. We recently visited him as he played at the bedside of someone in need. Aired 9/16/16.

You can learn more about his work at:

2016 Elgin Award Book of the Year Winners!

As the President of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, it is my privilege and honor to announce the 2016 Elgin Award Winners!

This award is given by the Science Fiction Poetry Association to recognize the best full-length book and chapbook of speculative poetry published in the previous year. The Elgin Award is named after the founder of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, Suzette Haden Elgin.

2016 Elgin Award Full-Length Book:

1st Place: Crowned: The Sign of the Dragon Book 1, by Mary Soon Lee
2nd: The Robot Scientist's Daughter, by Jeannine Hall Gailey
3rd: Dark Energies, by Ann K. Schwader

2016 Elgin Award Chapbook of the Year:

1st Place: Undoing Winter, by Shannon Connor Winward
2nd: Stairs Appear in a Hole Outside of Town, by John Philip Johnson
3rd: A Guide for the Practical Abductee, by E. Kristin Anderson

Congratulations to all of the winners!

For the Elgin Awards, Chapbooks must contain 10-39 pages of poetry. Full-length Books must contain 40 or more pages of poetry. E-books are eligible, but self-published books are not. Single-author and collaborative books are eligible; anthologies are not. Books containing fiction as well as poetry are not eligible. Books must be in English, but translations are eligible. In the case of translations that also contain the poems in the original language, those pages will not count toward the total page count. Only members can nominate books. They may not nominate their own books, but they may nominate multiple books, and the books need not be by members in order to be nominated or to win. Nominations are due by June 15th of each year.

The SFPA was founded in 1978 to bring together poets and readers interested in speculative poetry and is an international literary organization. It produces two journals and confers three annual awards in speculative literature

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Interviewed in L.A. Weekly

I and Southeast Asian American artist Sayon Syprasoueth were interviewed at L.A. Weekly recently regarding my perspective on President Obama's recent visit to Laos in "Obama's Visit to Laos a Watershed Moment for L.A.'s Lao Community," 

A big thanks to Jason McGahan who took the time out to learn about our community's journey and the complexities of the Secret War.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Recipe: Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas

In a surprising twist of coincidences, the African-Canadian author Minister Faust and I have a lot of unusual common interests, including a love of the old TV series Sledge Hammer! and also this recipe, which was one of my favorite dishes growing up, thanks to my sister sending it to my mom years ago in the 1980s. She didn't fix it often, but when she did, I made sure the whole dish was gone by the end of the night.

I'm sure it's probably an acquired taste, especially compared to many of the offerings available today, but for me, this is a wonderful find, and I appreciate Minister helping me track the recipe down once more. Now here's hoping we don't have some massive Internet outage that loses it for all time, or something.

Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas or Chicken Enchilada Casserole

Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Mexican Cookbook, 1977

1 Cup chopped onion
1/2 Cup chopped green bell pepper
1-2 garlic cloves, minced (optional)
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Cups shredded cooked chicken
1 4-ounce can chopped green chiles

3 Tablespoons butter
1/4 Cup flour
1 teaspoon ground coriander
3/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
2 1/2 Cups chicken broth
1 Cup sour cream
1 1/2 Cups shredded monterey jack cheese
12 corn tortillas

In a large skillet or saucepan, cook onion, garlic and green pepper in the 2 tablespoons of butter until tender. Combine in a bowl with the chicken and chile peppers. Set aside.

In the same pan, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter. Blend in flour, coriander, and salt. Stir in chicken broth all at once, whisking to prevent lumps. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Remove from heat; stir in sour cream and 1/2 cup of the cheese.

Stir 1/2 cup of the sauce into the chicken mixture. Pour about 1/2 cup of sauce in the bottom of a 13" x 9" baking dish and swirl to coat. Wrap tortillas in a paper towel and microwave 30-45 seconds or until hot and pliable.

 Optional - you can opt to dip the tortillas into the hot sauce instead of heating them in the microwave as the book suggests, but this gets quite messy, so try microwaving until they're pliable enough that they won't break when rolled.

 Fill each tortilla with about 1/4 cup of the filling, placing each tortilla in the baking dish (2 rows of 6 enchiladas seems about average). Pour remaining sauce over enchiladas, making sure to coat everything so it doesn't dry out. Top with remaining shredded cheese.

Bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes or until cheese is melted and just starting to brown around the edges. Makes 6 servings for normal people - 4 for folks who love this dish and can't get enough.

7th issue of LONTAR revealed

LONTAR recently revealed the cover for its upcoming 7th issue in addition to its table of contents. The print edition will be available in Singapore bookstores in October! Keep an eye out for it. I'll have my poem "This Island, New Laos" featured in it.

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. Issues #1 and #2 were published by Math Paper Press; issues #3 and onward are published by Epigram Books.

七星鼓 (Seven Star Drum) by Zen Cho

The Four Deaths of Taylor Ngo by TR Napper

Blind Date by Melissa De Silva

Candlenut Farm by James Penha

Ink: A Love Story by Vida Cruz

The Tigers of Bengal by Manish Melwani

This Island, New Laos by Bryan Thao Worra

Eden and Our Habits by Zeny May Recidoro

The Sultan’s Tent by Brandon Marlon

The organisation sends a suicide bomber with their best regards by Subashini Navaratnam

In His Own Words by Russ Hoe

Une Nouvelle Vie
Ichthyosaur Birth by Christina Sng

from “The Anti-Art Anti-Evolution of Manic Piggy Dream Gurrl”
by Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

The Other Universe
by Cyril Wong

In Suspicion of Beauty: On Eka Kurniawan by Tiffany Tsao

Sequential Art
Falling by Elvin Ching

Monday, September 12, 2016

SFPA President Announced

This week, the Science Fiction Poetry Association has announced that I’ve been elected as the organization’s new president. Little Laos on the Prairie has asked me to speak a little about that.

Founded in 1978, every year the organization publishes several journals, hold contests and presents 3 major literary awards for writers. I myself was a recipient of the Elgin Award for Book of the Year in 2014. The Science Fiction Poetry Association also provides resources for poets seeking professional publication and networking opportunities.

I thank my predecessors at the SFPA including Bryan D. Dietrich and Sandra J. Lindow who served as the interim president of the organization until the elections could be held. I look forward to the next years ahead and encourage you all to visit us at or at our facebook page and other social media.

Beyond UXO: Contemplating Emerging US-Lao Policy

This week, President Obama made a historic trip to Laos, the first time in both nations’ history that a seated US president has made the journey there. There’s a great deal to appreciate about the occasion symbolically, even as we must consider the policy realities that will emerge from this visit.

There’s great optimism that has emerged from the announcement that the US commitment to UXO removal in Laos will be at least $90 million to address the 80 million unexploded bombs that continue to contaminate over 30% of Laos over 40 years since the end of the 20th century conflict.

Our hope must be that there will be effective transparency to ensure that the resources and support those funds are designated for will reach those who need it most. There are many provinces, who, despite expanded efforts to clear UXO, have yet to receive any substantive aid in decades.

The support for women’s health, education and nutrition in Laos are also programs that have badly needed support, as well. I’ve mentioned to others the need for guarded optimism regarding the United States engagement with Laos. This is because we must always take care to consider the political calculus that has brought us to any particular point in history like this. Why Laos, why now?

 History has shown us time and again that when the US provides humanitarian aid and other resources, there is something that is sought in exchange. That’s the nature of politics, a transactional friendship, especially between those whose strategic benefits have been identified. While it is exciting for the US to invest more funding and resources in Laos, we must take care not to create undue dependency or lay down the roots for an exploitive relationship on either side of the friendship.

We have seen in many other nations the toxic effect of excessive foreign NGO involvement in addressing development issues when foreign funds give the wealthy and the elites of a nation reasons not to invest in their own people. With care, Laos could avoid that scenario.

Economic and Business Policy
For Laotians everywhere, we must take a particular interest in the Trans-Pacific Partnership emerging. While Laos is not yet a member in the negotiations, its centrality to Southeast Asia gives it a likely stake in decades ahead if it’s ratified. More study is needed to determine the disadvantages the TPP poses to many, such as opening the way for corporations to sue governments that enact various policy changes regarding labor, intellectual property, education and other resources.

We normalized trade relations with Laos in 2004. But in practical application in the US, how have we reduced barriers for Lao American entrepreneurs? What policies are in place to allow us to successfully and reliably engage with Laos in terms of importing and exporting goods, while still meeting the complex regulatory demands of current US policy? What do we need to ask for in the coming years ahead to ensure a positive and collaborative trade relationship?

Immigration and Legal Policy
Other ongoing policy concerns we need to hear more on includes the arc immigration reform is taking. Even as the State Department has been directed to hammer out a deportation agreement with Laos, how do we ensure a humane process with adequate opportunities for redress, especially for Lao in the US with limited financial and legal means? How do we reduce barriers in the process to prevent unnecessary hardships on families? These are just some of the questions that must be asked.

How will the United States address challenges of human trafficking with Laos, such as the recent case regarding Lao involved in slave labor conditions on farms in Hawaii? We’ve seen an increase in cases of elders with roots in Laos being stopped for narcotics trafficking in the US in addition to illegal wildlife parts and various herbal medicines of dubious value.

A few year back, Secretary of State Kerry placed a $1 million reward for anyone who provided information to take down the Xaysavang network that has been a notorious figure in international illegal wildlife trafficking. What will be the policy on this, going forward? How will Laos fit into emerging changes in US drug war strategies?

Environmental Policy
While Laos has made very ambitious plans to develop its infrastructure including a railroad to China and a hydroelectric dam, community activists around the world have been very concerned about the environmental impact on both the flora and fauna as well as the residents whose livelihood depends on the Mekong. What will the US position and support be regarding this matter?

Cultural Policy
I would urge Laotian Americans need to support increased funding for the US Embassy in Vientiane to facilitate greater intercultural exchanges between Laotian artists, educators, and culture builders if we are to be serious about a renewed friendship between our two nations. Expanded support for Fulbright scholars and foreign exchange programs in both countries would also be important.

Hopefully, we’ll see an effective implementation of the Peace Corps program as well.

The US has made it a policy to encourage human rights and religious freedom in Laos, and that looks like the continued direction it will take. Hopefully, the US will also support measures that address media justice, as Laos continues to rank low in media freedom. Recently, the government of Laos approved a cybercrime law that criminalizes dissent and puts user privacy at risk . There is much that could be done to encourage an expansion of freedom of the press, which has been demonstrably important in functioning democracies.

There are some tremendous opportunities before us, and we must not let cynicism prevent us from making efforts in good faith to support each other’s growth. To achieve these ends, we need to commit to civic engagement in both nations and to support those who are doing genuinely good work with clear results. We have so much to learn from each other, and this could be an amazing century, as long as we reach for the best within ourselves.

Friday, September 09, 2016

President Obama in Laos

"If only President Barack Obama had been allowed to ride an elephant by Secret Service. Next time!" Art by Lao American author Nor Sanavongsay.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Influences: Nick Cave performs Leonard Cohen's "Tower of Song"

This month, both Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen have birthdays: September 22nd for Nick Cave, September 21st for Leonard Cohen.

Along with Tom Waits and Shriekback, both musicians' music and writing have always been the strongest influences on my own work and approach to poetry. They've been the soundtrack in the background of most of my road trips across Lao America over the last two decades. One of my first introductions to Nick Cave's work was his album Henry's Dream, but also his cover of Leonard Cohen's music on the tribute album I'm Your Fan. 

"Tower of Song" is one of my favorites of Leonard's because of its masterful structure. I think it's one of those wonderful songs where everyone can do a cover of it that makes it their own, even a Leonard's voice and influence shines through. 

You can do a straight cover, or you can do it like Nick Cave, changing up the style, rhythm, tempo, and vocalizations throughout to create an ambitious depiction of what the legendary Tower of Song might well indeed sound like as you climb its various floors. It's fierce, classic and rocking and in my estimation, a wonderful and artful interpretation of Leonard Cohen's work that we all might aspire to. Give it a listen.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Happy birthday, Sayon Syprasoueth!

Happy birthday to Lao Khmer American artist Sayon Syprasoeuth!

He's been a great part of our cultural rebuilding efforts across the country and abroad as we navigate our diaspora. Be sure to check out his work at

[Poem] On a Stairway in Luang Prabang

Today President Obama is in Luang Prabang, so it seems a good day to revisit my poem that was a part of the London Summer Games in 2012. This was the same year he was also campaigning for re-election in the United States. 
 This poem first appeared in my book Tanon Sai Jai in 2009, after I received a Fellowship in Literature in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts, the first Lao American to hold this distinction.

On A Stairway In Luang Prabang

Step as you will through life,
A thousand ways, a thousand places.

Carry a home in your heart
Or spend years seeking the door
Where your soul will always smile.

Do you ease the way for others,
Or just yourself?

Do you climb great mountains
Just to leave them unchanged?

One day, the heights of holy Phou Si
Will lay as soft valleys.
We, only memories.

But our children's children?

Will they, too, have reason to smile,

Like those dreaming strangers
Who finished their stairs for us?

I previously blogged that you can also see the Thai translation by Joy Panigabutra-Roberts or the French translation by Edouard Dupas at his blog.  Kongkeo Saycocie provided a Lao translation in the contemporary Lao format.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Laos Free, 4 years later

Four years ago when this short animated film was finished, many of us thought the idea of President Obama signing the authorization for increased funding to clear the UXO in Laos was too much to hope for. But today, we've taken a step closer to making that a more concrete reality.

Dare to imagine. Work to create change. Dare to share your story.

Lao epics and American foreign policy

This week during President Obama's address to the nation of Laos there was an interesting "blink and you'll miss it" shoutout to the epic of Sinxay. Without reading too much into it, I will say that it's an interesting example of traditional Southeast Asian literature to cite, compared to other examples that were possible including Phra Lak Phra Lam, Xieng Mieng, or Phadaeng Nang Ai

At the risk of oversimplifying the plot, I think it's a wonderful choice because the fullest version of Sinxay is an optimistic tale of reconciliation: The giant war-hungry King of the Nyak has returned from the dead after his defeat by the hero Sinxay. The King of the Nyak initially wants revenge and to give in to his old lusts and desires for Sinxay's aunt, but after a conversation with everyone, comes to see the errors of his ways and sees that he had a second chance before him. The King of the Nyak then helps to build a bridge with everyone between the realm of the Nyak and the humans and everyone lives in harmony going forward.

Of course, that was written centuries ago, but it can easily serve well as a message and a metaphor for today. Time will tell if we've all learned our lessons. 

You can obtain a copy of an exceptional English adaptation of the tale at by the Whittleseys, and several versions are also available at Dokked Publishing in Laos. As I've noted elsewhere, unfortunately, many other English translations and summaries are presently very difficult to read, but hopefully this will change in the coming years ahead as more interest grows in the traditional Lao myths and legends.

President Obama speaks in Laos

As my generation and I watch history being made with the arrival of an American president in Laos for the very first time, I appreciate the moment with guarded optimism. Our intertwined history together gives many reasons to appreciate the gestures and promises of friendship very carefully.

With both nations nominally democratic republics, going forward, we ALL must participate in a process that ensures accountability and equity, harmony and prosperity. To do any less, to fail the responsibilities of civic engagement and expression would open the floodgates in both nations to disparity. We would fail the sacrifices of generations who believed in the absolute principles of freedom and self-determination in the modern world. We would fail our families in both nations.

There is much both Laos and the United States have to teach other. There is much to respect and admire, even as there is much we can critique. We must remember that critique without a commitment to change is worthless.

But as always, we must dare to hope, and to consider our legacies to the world. We must always remember, but we must also transform. Today must NOT be seen as the closure of a chapter, but an opening of a gate to a wondrous road ahead, infinite in possibility.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Doxiepunk: Dachshund Adventure of the Week

"Dachshunds and Dragons!"
Monster Park, San Gabriel, CA

CNN coverage on UXO in Laos

Yei Yang was among the victims of US UXO left over in Laos since the end of the bombing over 40 years ago in 1975. CNN did a profile on him and others in Laos this week as President Obama attends this year's ASEAN summit.

Over 80 million unexploded bombs remain in Laos. The US has recently announced a new aid package of $90 million that will hopefully address the situation, but there's still much work to be done.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Happy birthday, Salma Hayek

Today actress Salma Hayek celebrates her 50th birthday!

Like many in the world, I first became familiar with her through her breakout role in Desperado, although the role that really stood out from those early years was From Dusk til Dawn where she portrays the vampire queen Santánico Pandemonium. This was a breathtaking performance that explored the nature of the erotic, power and terror. All told, she actually doesn't have that much screen time or dialogue, but in that performance she conveyed a lot with very little to work with.

Since then, she's had an accomplished career with remarkable range from comedies to action adventures like Once Upon a Time in Mexico and Desperado. Artistically, her greatest contribution so far outside of genre work has been Frida, an unflinching biography of artist Frida Kahlo.

As they note over at the IMDB: "...Salma Hayek was born on September 2, 1966, in the oil boomtown of Coatzacoalcos, Mexico. Hayek has freely admitted that she and her brother, Sami, were spoiled rotten by her well-to-do businessman father, Sami Hayek Dominguez, and her opera-singing mother, Diana Jiménez Medina. Her father is of Lebanese descent and her mother is of Mexican/Spanish ancestry. After having seen Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) in a local movie theatre, Salma decided she wanted to become an actress. At 12, she was sent to the Academy of the Sacred Heart in New Orleans, Louisiana, where she pulled pranks on the nuns by setting their clocks back three hours. She was soon expelled. Only after attending Mexico City's Universidad Iberoamericana did she feel ready to pursue acting seriously."

She's broken a lot of ground for Latinas in the US, both in the arts and society. I look forward to her next projects ahead.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Afrofuturism and Laomagination: Starting points

For many of my Lao American writers looking for inspiration and way to push our speculative arts to the outer limits of our imagination, I'd strongly recommend taking a look at many of the Afrofuturism anthologies suggested here recently by Tonya Pennington in her article "Top Ten Black Speculative Anthologies You Should Read."

Among the ones I'd strongly recommend in particular are of course Sheree R. Thomas' Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora. I had the pleasure of meeting her in Minnesota during Diversicon in 2005, along with Minister Faust, one of my favorite African Canadian writers whose work has had a direct influence on mine. Thomas' followup: Dark Matter: Reading the Bones is also an interesting follow-up if you enjoyed her first anthology.

Much of my work is also interested in social justice, and for my students I've been strongly recommending Octavia's Brood which puts its roots and perspective right up front. "Whenever we envision a world without war, without prisons, without capitalism, we are producing speculative fiction. Organizers and activists envision, and try to create, such worlds all the time." There's a need for "short stories to explore the connections between radical speculative fiction and movements for social change." And by extension, poetry, if you ask me.

Bill Campbell is a great guy, and his anthology, Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond brings together over 40 different authors with some amazing voices to the science fiction and fantasy fields. He's the founder of Rosarium Publishing, whose values align closely with my own. Over at their website, they declare "We simply believe that talent does not inherently have a race, religion, or region; there is no talent solely found in X or Y chromosome; talent is everywhere, and we will comb the four corners of this globe to find it. We like to be crazy, wild, provocative. We also like to chill, and there's never a moment where you won't find us laughing."

They go on further to say "...we're here to “introduce the world to itself,” so you never know where you'll find us." I think that can speak deeply to the Lao experience.

Definitely check out their whole catalog, and you'll find a lot of gems there already for a publisher that just started in 2013. They're as old as Sahtu Press and they've gotten some great traction, but they can always use more support and word of mouth.

Rosarium Publishing has already put out the wonderful Southeast Asian Steampunk anthology The SEA Is Ours by Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng. So, I'm inclined to recommend Lao American speculative writers keep an eye on them and to support Rosarium whenever you get a chance. 

I'm also very fond of Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, put together by Tananarive Due and Daniel Jose Older. It gathers together fiction from many of my favorite writers like Sofia Samatar, Nnedi Okorafor, and Ken Liu and takes on some wonderfully imaginative scenarios with great humanity and voice.

Obviously there are so many more to seek out, but these are definitely fine starting points for us to look at. How can Lao imagine a future for themselves in the aftermath of our conflicts and as part of our ongoing diaspora?

My own path as a speculative writer has been deeply influenced by many of the mainstream names of 20th century speculative literature such as Heinlein, Asimov, Asprin, Lovecraft, Tolkien, Gaiman, Herbert, and Leiber. But I hope that the emerging generation of Lao and Southeast Asian writers would be able to also take their cues from the many writers of color and international voices whose work is coming to the forefront today.

Together, we can chart out truly new territories and new perspectives on the possible and the impossible, the fantastic and the phantasmagorical.

Cthulhu & Shanghai Tunnels 21st H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival

The kickstarter for the Cthulhu and Shanghai Tunnels 21st H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, Oregon is down to its final week! They've taken us to ancient Egypt, R'lyeh and now the Shanghai Tunnels. It looks like it will be a super fun event to support!

Even if you can't attend in person, they've got an amazing number of perks you can get for supporting them! I'd love to see them hit their $35K goal which includes a Devil's Reef playing card deck and other goodies.

Among the standouts is "The Jade Amulet" as noted in Lovecraft's story, "The Hound": In the coffin lay an amulet of curious and exotic design, which had apparently been worn around the sleeper’s neck. It was the oddly conventionalised figure of a crouching winged hound, or sphinx with a semi-canine face, and was exquisitely carved in antique Oriental fashion from a small piece of green jade.

You'd have to back the festival at $60, but you also get the t-shirt, program and digital download pack, which is a pretty good deal!