Saturday, December 31, 2016

Vientiane In 12 Haikus appears in CAPITALS

And on the last day of the year, I get to report that my poem, "Vientiane In 12 Haikus" will appear in the Captials anthology, edited by Abhay K., an effort that took him 3 years. Contributing poets include Derek Walcott, Mark Strand, Ruth Padel and George Szirtes among others. 

185 capitals cities were examined in verse by the contributions of 173 poets from all continents. You can see the complete list of contributing poets at It can be considered "a Poetry Atlas for the capital cities of the World."  I'll be taking a look at more of the poets involved throughout 2017.

Because many of my regular readers are interested in Southeast Asia, in this anthology Hanoi is represented by Bao Chan Nguyen; Jakarta by Indah Widiastuti; Kuala Lampur is commemorated by Sharanya Manivannan; Manilais represented by Mara PL. Lanot; Phnom Penh is reflected by Chath Piersath; Singapore by Alvin Pang; and I represent Vientiane. Abhay K. personally composed a poem for Bangkok. Here you can see a preview of my contribution, but to see the rest, you'll have to get a copy.

Abhay K. is an Indian poet-diplomat and the author of two memoirs and five collections of poems. He received the SAARC Literary Award 2013 and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2013. Abhay K. also translated my poem The Grass into Hindi. I look forward to his continued success and vision, and hope that the wonderful poets who've contributed to this collection are able to keep in touch with one another and join in many other fine projects in the future.

His poems have appeared in over two dozen literary journals including Poetry Salzburg Review, Asia Literary Review, The Stony Thursday Book 2015, The Missing Slate, Eastlit, Gargoyle, The Caravan, Indian Literature among others and have been translated into Irish, Russian, Italian, Spanish, Slovenian, Portuguese, Mandarin and Nepali.

His most recent collection of poems is The Seduction of Delhi (Bloomsbury). His Earth Anthem has been translated into twenty-eight languages.

The publishers describe it saying:
A lyrical extravaganza, evocative of personal experiences and unique insights, Capitals embodies a medley of harmonious notes struck across the globe, resulting in the confluence of poignant imagery and soulful verse. A remarkable anthology to acquaint you intimately with the Capital cities of the world, it describes in exquisite detail their undulating terrains and pulsating lifelines and their cities beckon even the most seasoned traveler with promises of discovery. 
Embark on a journey like never before, as Kwame Dawes in his poem Green Boy takes you to a night in Accra when the crescendo of drums finally overcomes the gunshots, or accompany Mark Mcwatt as he drifts down memory lane in the suburbs of Georgetown and feel the raw emotion as Salah Al Hamdani laments of what has become of Baghdad. From Abuja to Zagreb, Seoul to Sucre, Ottawa to Wellington and Reykjavik to Cape Town, leave behind the trepidations of the unknown and the comforts of home, discard the frivolities of journeying to the physical façade of a beloved city—and set out to experience the world anew, for what this book offers you is a journey for the soul.
Capitals will be launched in New York on 5th January at the Poets House. Additional launches internationally will be held at the Jaipur Literature Festival in India on 21st January; in Delhi at the India International Centre on 27th January, in London on 1st February at SOAS, Brunei Gallery, University of London; at the International Poetry Festival, Granada, Nicaragua between 12-17 February 2017; and in Brasilia, Brazil in February, with further launches being announced in the future.

You can get your copy here.

A good year for Lao fitness

The classic ideal in the West is that of a healthy mind and a healthy body, and very often there's a strong connection between the two. This year has seen a significant level of achievement for Lao Americans at both a personal level and a community level. Across the US we saw events such as the Lao San Diego Boat Races inspired by the traditions of the Dragon Boat traditions found throughout much of Asia.

This year we also saw the success of Addy Thongsonlone from Oahu, Hawaii. Addy works as a police detective by day and trains as a triathlete in his free time. This year he successfully secured a spot in 2016 Iron Man World Championship, a grueling triathlon. Over at Little Laos On the Prairie,  we discussed Addy's humble beginnings in Hawaii, the challenges of being Lao American, and securing his spot in the 2016 Iron Man World Championship. 

Lao American bodybuilder Ko Chandetka competed in the Mr Olympia-Classic Physique Division and placed 7th this September. He was one of 17 competitors who'd made it to the final competition from around the world.

When I spoke with him he said “It feels great. Top 10 was my goal. And I actually defeated the winner earlier in June at my first show, so that keeps me really motivated.”

He recently completed a documentary that is now in the production stages. He was with us at the 2015 National Lao American Symposium and Writers Summit in Minneapolis. I've always been impressed by his desire to overcome hardship and adversity, and to take a stand against bullying. He's managed to keep humble about his roots but he's well-regarded in the Midwest for his values and his friendship to others. It's wonderful to see him continuing on his path.

Over in Florida, Noy Alexander, is going on four years at NoyFit. She's into strength training with "a passion for all that is FIT and Powerful!"

 She is now a professional a Fitness Trainer, Nutrition Consultant, IFBB Bikini Pro, and a Licensed Esthetician specializing in skincare and aesthetics. She also does freelance in Make Up artistry for the pure joy of it. She has had a life-long appreciation for fitness and beauty.

Noy initially began her fitness journey at City Athletic Club in Las Vegas, but now is making waves in Miami. Noyfit’s services include One On One and Group Training, Meal Planning, Online Workout Programs, Bikini Body Makeovers, Posing Instruction (both in Person and through FaceTime) Comprehensive Competition Consulting and Showtime Make Up and Hair Services.

She is an ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer and Specialist in Sports Nutrition. She's already put together a lengthy resume from competing over many years.

A relative newcomer to the scene is Pon Thamthavong, who has been demonstrating healthy fitness to the community through NPC Bodybuilding in the Bikini Fitness category in the Tennessee region. I interviewed her briefly for Little Laos On The Prairie this year.

She told us her fitness journey began 4-5 years when she decided to start training. She'd always been an active person, and liked being outdoors, going hiking, and so on. For her, "Training was just another activity or hobby until I fell in love with it. One winter I decided to start working out with one of my guy friends just for fun. I didn’t really know correct forms or how to use the equipment, so he was a great help."

After that she trained herself, looking up videos and searching for different workout routines. She started to see results and kept going. Trainers and friends asked why she didn’t compete in a fitness competition since she's always at the gym. "I always wanted to but I wasn’t sure if I can stick to a strict meal plan. Beginning of last year I was like, "You know, I can do this.” So she decided to train for the competition.

She had 12 weeks to train for the Flex Lewis Classic (National Qualifier) competition. So she found a coach that wrote out her meal plan, what she needed to work on, what supplements she needed to take, and saw him twice a month. "I was nervous and excited at the same time. I was scared that I was going to fall and mess up my poses. I came in 3rd in my class. It was a great experience and I would do it again."

For now, she competes for fun, not to become a pro.

It will be interesting to see who else comes onto the scene and inspires Lao Americans with their approach to fitness and community building. If you know of others we should be keeping an eye out for, let me know.

A reminder to my fellow poets:

The point of poetry isn't to win a fellowship or tenure, to get on a stage or a page. It's to share something that can endure in the souls of those who need it most, even for worlds yet to be.

Friday, December 30, 2016

[Poet Spotlight] Bryan D. Dietrich

Happy birthday to Bryan D. Dietrich, past SFPA President, educator, and award-winning member of the organization. He was in fact my direct predecessor as an officer of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, and one of those whose example influenced my decision to run for the position. By odd coincidence, our birthdays are just 48 hours apart. I first became familiar with his work through his 2012 collection, The Monstrance which was nominated for an Elgin Award for Book of the Year.

Bryan D. Dietrich is the author of a book-length study on comics, Wonder Woman Unbound, and six books of poems: Krypton Nights, Universal Monsters, Prime Directive, Love Craft, The Assumption, and the previously mentioned The Monstrance. He is also co-editor of Drawn to Marvel, the world’s first anthology of superhero poetry.

He has published poems in The New Yorker, The Nation, Poetry, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, The Paris Review, The Harvard Review, Yale Review, Shenandoah, Open City, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Witness, Weird Tales, and many other journals.

I might recommend taking a look at his "On Reasons For Going To Hell," "On Darwin, On Wholes," or his ambitious short cycle, "The Master Diaries," each found in The Monstrance to get a sense of what I particularly appreciate in his work.

Having won The Paris Review Poetry Prize, a “Discovery”/The Nation Award, a Writers at Work Fellowship, the Isotope Editors’ Prize, an Asimov's Reader's Choice Award, a Rhysling Award, and the Eve of St. Agnes Prize, Bryan is a five-time finalist for the Yale Younger Poets Series and has been nominated multiple times for both the Pushcart and the Pulitzer.

Bryan lives in Wichita, Kansas with his family, where he deftly dodges interviews while composing his latest terrifying manuscript.

Professor of English at Newman University, Bryan grew up watching classic horror movies and dreaming of becoming a comic book artist. He remains conflicted about choosing a tenure-track job over a chance to be an extra in Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks, but is comforted by several facts: the first person to be abducted in Aliens is named Dietrich, the composer for the original Mummy was named Dietrich, and the Kecksburg UFO incident occurred in December of 1965, just before Bryan was born. Further inferences are welcome. Be sure to check out more of his work at:, (un)naturally enough.

[Poem] Surprises in America

Ten years ago, I first uploaded this performance of my poem "Surprises in America," one of my more well-known pieces I read in the early 2000s. As I look back at it now, I find it interesting I opted not to include it in my first full-length collection On The Other Side Of The Eye, but did include it later in my 2009 collection Tanon Sai Jai. This poem was inspired by a number of incidents growing up in the Midwest, and I believe I'd finished it sometime before 2003, when I discovered my long-lost family after my first trip to Laos in 30 years.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

NEA Heritage Fellow Bounxeung Synanonh

He is now one of only five Lao in the world to hold this distinction, in addition to master weaver Bounxou Chanthraphone (2000), needleworkers Mone and Vanxay Saenphimmachak (1993) and singer Khamvong Insixiengmai (1991) in the 34 year history of the awards.

Here is a video of the first time I ever met him in person in San Francisco during the first International Lao New Year in 2009.

Here, the NEA puts his life's work into context:

"Laotian-born Bounxeung Synanonh is a master performer on the khaen, a free-reed mouth organ made from 16 lengths of bamboo. Born in Savannakhet, Laos, in 1949, Synanonh is a member of the majority lowland ethnic group, the Lao. At the age of 15, he lost his sight and that same year he started learning the khaen from village elders, including his uncle. The musical tradition of the khaen is essentially oral and must be learned directly from other musicians. Learning by ear, Synanonh quickly became proficient and expanded his knowledge by listening to khaen players on the radio and by performing at festivals and other community gatherings. The sound of the khaen is extraordinarily complex, as the player inhales and exhales through the instrument so it produces sounds continuously, and because of its multiple pipes, it plays multiple pitches simultaneously.

When Synanonoh immigrated to the U.S. as a refugee in the early 1980s, fleeing war and the Pathet Lao re-education camps, his musical skills were quickly prized by the stateside Lao community. The khaen and its repertoire are strongly associated with and central to lowland Lao culture. The khaen tradition is generally found in Lao communities in Laos, northeast Thailand, and in the Laotian diaspora. Synanonh is especially adept in the style of Savannakhet, his home community, but he is also recognized in the Lao community for his skill in a wide range of regional styles. He has been invited to travel to all the major Lao communities in the U.S. to perform for public events like the Lao New Year’s celebration, as well as for home-based ceremonies like that which is performed to initiate a new home.

The khaen has a deep solo tradition and also provides essential instrumental accompaniment for lum, a tradition of sung poetry. For many years, Synanonh was the preferred accompanist for lum singer and 1991 NEA National Heritage Fellow, Khamvong Insixiengmai. Their work together is commemorated on the album Bamboo Voices: Folk Music from Laos (1989). In 2007, Synanonh performed at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival as part of the Mekong River: Connecting Cultures program. He has also made sustained efforts to teach the next generation, taking on two apprentices in 2008."

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Creating Pangolin Awareness

So, as a heads up, World Pangolin Day will be celebrated on the third Saturday in February, or February 18th, 2017 this year.

I adore Pangolins almost as much as Dachshunds, so I'm going to be discussing them regularly this upcoming year to raise more awareness of these intriguing, endangered creatures.They used to be found in Laos, but are increasingly hard to find, if it all.

They are almost all but extinct in Asia at the moment unless serious conservation efforts are supported. Chinese officials just finished seizing tons of scales of these poor animals, but there's still more work that needs to be done to protect them.

ArtAsiaPacific 2016 Almanac: Laos

OLE VIRAVONG-SCOVILL, Future Memories 1, 2015, 
acrylic, ink and watercolor on paper, 58.4 × 43.2 cm. Courtesy the artist.

ArtAsiaPacific's 2016 Almanac featured a report on recent happenings in Laos.

Among the highlights, the National Institute of Fine Arts (NIFA), previously the Faculty of Fine Arts, opened "a new, modern art school in Vientiane equipped to support growth of the creative industries." They also drew attention to NIFA's Lao Fine Artists’ Association (LFAA).

Significant highlights from the report include a one-night exhibition on June 10, 2015 marked the end of the Laos Arts Incubator, a socially inclusive multimedia and mural arts project facilitated by the US-sponsored arts program American Arts Incubator.  The event included "a performance by theater group Khao Niew Lao, using puppets made from recycled plastic, and an extensive wall mural addressing environmental issues."

I was intrigued that I:cat Gallery organized “Return: Back to the Roots” (3/13–25) with six local artists to coincide with the Vientianale International Film Festival.. Artists explored their personal interpretations of “return” inspired by the Hmong philosophical concern for the individual’s spiritual journey home.

In Europe,  Marisa Darasavath, Vong Phaophanit and collaborator Claire Oboussier presented some new works in France and England respectively. Vong Phaophanit and Claire Oboussier combined "film and sculpture to explore the human body and surgery as metaphors for landscape, conflict and memory in Laos," and had also done a Toronto installation, "Dream House"

Catzie Vilayphonh's Laos in the House exhibition in Philadelphia also drew attention from ArtAsiaPacific, particularly the work of Chantala Khommanivanh. Be sure to read the full report.

Thai Trisaksri Ghost Repellent Device: $1,500

Still going strong after 7 years: In Thailand, Boondee Workshop continues to offer the Trisaksri Ghost Repellent device for approximately $1,500 plus $140 for U.S. shipping, depending on the exchange rate at the time. In fact, they're on their new and improved model.

It would be a matter of some dispute about how effective this device is for ghosts and phi outside of Thailand, I suspect. Does it affect poltergeists or redcaps? Is it good for banshee or corporeal undead? They've been selling this since 2009, with many technologists doubting its effectiveness and disparaging the high cost, which seems perfectly reasonable. This is one of those devices where one is hard-pressed to prove it doesn't work.

"Do you see a ghost here?"


"Good, keep it plugged in, it's working fine."


"Do you want to take the risk of returning it to find out it was working all of this time? If you bought it in the first place, you really need this. You THINK you don't need it now, but do you really want to take a chance?"

And dissatisfied customers are going to either fall into the category of people whom the ghosts take care of anyway, so they won't be coming around to complain. Or else the humiliation of asking for a refund from a guy who sold you a box of wires and circuit boards to chase off a ghost for over $1,5000 will make most people just write it off.

I wonder how competitive this niche industry is. Is there's someone who's selling an even cheaper but slightly less effective device, or counterfeit versions? "You should only trust genuine Boondee Workshop ghost repellent for your peace of mind and personal safety! Accept no substitutes!" or something like that.

They certainly make the compelling pitch:
"You or someone may have experience with ghost or devil after bought new second hand house from the former owner. Some houses may have bad spirit inside which will interfere your daily life unhappy and frighten your children. Finally many of you leave away the house and find a new home. We have a solution for you, "Trisaksri Ghost Repeller". Just place this device in side your house and switch ON. All ghost and devil will leave away your home and won't come back again. Now who run away, You or ghost? Save money in finding a new home."

Why would you take the chance? Over in Thailand and Southeast Asia, as we've pointed out, there are certainly tons of ghosts, spirits, and other entities you don't want to be messing around with if there's a simple solution to get rid of them.

"For god's sake Boonmee, I told you to get a Trisaksri!"

Overall, it's a interesting point in time to see how our communities in Southeast Asia are trying to turn towards technologically-centered solutions beyond the more conventional mor phi, Taoist or Buddhist rituals and traditions. I wonder if their primary customers are going for an all-technology solution or mixed methods.

In theory, the device takes "inaudible" and visual readings, and gauges EMF disturbances. If there's an improper anomaly, emits an appropriate radio wave that is reputed to kill ghosts or drive them off. It's unclear if this is a ward or actually destroys the ghosts.

This brings up an interesting conversation on the karmic propriety of such actions and who's accountable. Does it affect other entities as well? How does it differentiate from friendly phi or other benevolent spirits? Or is the assumption that friendly phi would be polite and not be bothering you in the first place.

I wonder if it might be more effective if you double it up with a Boo Buddy interactive ghost hunting bear. The hamster wheel spins. In any case, if you do find yourself with indisputable proof that your Triaksri Ghost Repellent device works, let us all know.

Doxiepunk: Dachshund Adventure of the Week

Ready for blastoff!

From Thailand to Lucasfilm: Paitoon Ratanasirintrawoot

NBC Asian America did a nice profile on Thai American artist Paitoon Ratanasirintrawoot and his journey "From Thailand to Disneyland to Lucasfilm," which I hope inspires many of us from Southeast Asia as artists.

I found it worth noting where his father came around to seeing it might be a path for Paitoon: "My dad was convinced that I might have 'something' and said: 'If you ever become the best in Thailand, it's just a small country. You might as well give it a shot and go face the world." For our Lao artists, I'd be interested in hearing if any of them ever heard any support from their parents or relatives along similar lines.

It seems like a small world that he trained at Columbus College of Art and Design, which was close to Otterbein College where I was studying in the 90s, and when they note "It didn't help that the coursework was rigorous, people could be unfriendly, there were few Asian faces, and there was a language barrier," I can certainly see how many could feel that way about Ohio at that point in time.

Ratanasirintrawoot notes "I didn't really have a life; it was a test of character because I had been pretty spoiled my whole life since my four older brothers always protected me." It's nice to see that he was able to ultimately overcome his culture shock, although I wonder what systems we could have had in place to make his adjustment to US colleges easier?

It's also cute to note that he helped to create the language for Stitch from Lilo & Stitch: "It's a combination of Thai, Japanese, and Korean mixed together."

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Dr. Yang Dao and Noi Sengsourigna perform in Minnesota, 2009

A rendition of a traditional Lao song performed during Noi Sengsourigna's last night in Minnesota while touring the United States from Vientiane, Laos.

Noi Sengsourigna is a Lao musician, artist and educator. She grew up in a family dedicated to the preservation and the teaching of Lao culture and is actively continuing the tradition while pursuing many other pursuits in Vientiane. An architecture graduate from RMIT, Australia, her passion is Lao culture, music and dance and sharing them with children.

In pursuit of that passion she became a songwriter, producer and performer in live concerts, on television and in recordings. She has been a news reader on Lao National Television, and volunteers with many community projects to help the Lao people.

I'd met her by chance in Milwaukee while she was traveling across the US in 2552 (2009) in order to raise awareness of the beauty of Lao culture, providing many concerts and arts demonstrations during her visit.

A year ago Little Laos on the Prairie interviewed Noi Sengsourigna to catch up with her about her latest projects. Here you can see an additional performance of the classic Lao song, Dok Champa:

Monday, December 26, 2016

[Poet Spotlight] Jenna Le

Today for Poet Spotlight, I'm excited to highlight Jenna Le, who is the author of  the 2016 book of poetry, A History of the Cetacean American Diaspora (Anchor and Plume Press). She is also the author of Six Rivers (NYQ Books, 2011), which was a Small Press Distribution Bestseller.

Her poetry, fiction, essays, criticism, and translations appear or are forthcoming in AGNI Online, Bellevue Literary Review, The Best of the Raintown Review, Crab Orchard Review, The Los Angeles Review, Massachusetts Review, The Village Voice, and elsewhere.

I've greatly enjoyed reading her verse. She's a Minnesota-born Vietnamese American, which always gets my attention. She earned her B.A. in mathematics as well as an M.D. degree. She currently lives and works as a physician in the Upper Valley region of New Hampshire.

Le has been a Minnetonka Review Editor’s Prize winner, a two-time Pharos Poetry Competition winner, a William Carlos Williams Poetry Competition finalist, a Michael E. DeBakey Poetry Award finalist, a Pamet River Prize semifinalist, a four-time Pushcart Prize nominee, a Best of the Net nominee, and a Rhysling Award nominee.

I'm always interested in what direction Vietnamese American speculative poetry will take, and with A History of the Cetacean American Diaspora, she presents a bold text to respond to. This easily became one of my three favorite books of the year. 

As Anchor and Plume describe it: "9 million years ago, the ancestors of modern whales left their terrestrial habitat to embrace the unknown perils of an oceanic existence. In this new poetry collection, Jenna Le reflects with wit and lyricism on the ways that land and sea creatures alike are defined by their predecessors' immigrant narratives. In doing so she writes from a wide variety of perspectives including her own as a second-generation Asian-American, daughter of Vietnam War refugees, and physician in the melting pot of the Bronx. Here is a book of verse steeped in the aromas of sea salt and ambergris, blood and antiseptic, love and death."   This one ought to be a strong contender for a number of awards in the coming years ahead. 

I find her style brief but strong in imagery, imagination and daring. Don't miss "Công Binh", for example, or her recent "Chè Bắp." You also owe it to yourself to see how she works with the myth of Marsyas, which tie in to the classics of Greece as well her own personal experiences.

I'm looking forward to future books from her, even as I'm amazed by how she balances an artistic life with one in medicine. She discusses this in her enjoyable essay at Big Think, "Centaurs, Ligers, Doctor-Poets, and other Hybrid Breeds." I certainly hope Minnesota brings her back to read and present in the near future, and that it's not too long before she gets to travel abroad to share her work. I know I'll be following her work closely in the future. Be sure to visit her website at

Images of Welcome in Laos: US Edition

Something for a study in the way we construct our political imagery. I'm going to present these without comment and let you form your own opinions about what the messages might be and how, why particular shots were composed and released to the wider world a large.

50 years ago in 1966, Vice President Hubert Humphrey from Minnesota made a visit to Laos in February. In 2016, President Obama made a historic first visit to Laos 62 years after Laos was recognized as an independent nation by the United Nations. You can also see the way the media took pictures of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her first visit in 2012.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

What are the major cities of Laos?

One of the common questions I get is “how many cities are there in Laos?” I’m presenting the list here because we’re at a particular point where many Lao American kids can probably name more cities in World of Warcraft, Mass Effect, or Star Wars than in Laos.

 Here are sixteen major cities in Laos, based on population. The majority of them are capitals of their province. For emerging writers, if you're looking for cities where you can set your stories or poems in in Laos, this can be a helpful starting list along with the currently accepted way to spell the names of these cities in the Lao language, as well as some common alternate ways of spelling the city names in a romanized fashion. 

The list is ordered from the largest populations to the smallest. Keep in mind there are of course hundreds if not thousands of rural villages across the countryside.
  • Vientiane ວຽງຈັນ
  • Pakse (Pakxe) ປາກເຊ
  • Savannakhet ໄກສອນ ພົມວິຫານ
  • Luang Prabang (Louangphrabang) ຫຼວງພະບາງ
  • Xam Neua (Xam Nua, Sam Neua) ຊຳເໜືອ
  • Phonsavan (Ban Phonsavan) ໂພນສະຫວັນ
  • Thakhek ທ່າແຂກ
  • Muang Xay (Oudomxai) ເມືອງໄຊ
  • Xaysomboun (Viengchan) ໄຊສົມບູນ
  • Pakxan (Muang Pakxan) ປາກຊັນ
  • Attapeu (Attopu) ອັດຕະປື
  • Ban Houayxay ຫ້ວຍຊາຍ
  • Luang Namtha ມ. ນາແລ, ຫລວງນໍ້າທາ
  • Phongsali (Phongsaly) ຜົ້ງສາລີ
  • Sainyabuli (Xaignabouli) ເມືອງໄຊຍະບູລີ
  • Salavan (Saravane) ສາລະວັນ
  • Sekong (Xekong) ເຊກອງ

As always, check with an elder to confirm this is the correct spelling before you use this to print t-shirts or get a tattoo of your favorite Lao city.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

On The Other Side Of The Eye: The Book turning 10

In 2007, my first full-length collection, On The Other Side Of The Eye was published by Sam's Dot Publishing of Iowa. While I can trace back much of my literary journey to 1991, and arguably earlier, but this is still one of the pivotal moments for me. 

The original cover was designed by Yuk Ki Lau, a friend of mine I'd met through my work with the non-profit organization, Asian Media Access in the early 2000s, and my book featured a foreword from Barbara Janes Reyes, which I appreciated very much. The reading for the book launch was held at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. Among the readers who were a part of this were Katie Vang, Barbara Jane Reyes and Oscar Bermeo. My editor from Tripmaster Monkey, Mai Hoang, also came to attend all of the way from New York, and my publisher also came in person. 

The Hmong artist Seexeng Lee also brought along a unique painting for all of the guests to sign. Cakes by Fhoua made a cake for the guests inspired by the cover. This was all really exciting because it marked one of the first full-length collections of Lao American poetry in the United States. I thank all of the teachers who added it to their curriculum in the early years.

There was a lot to learn from the entire process. I still have a number of the previous drafts of the collections of my work I tried to get out into the world, including some entitled The Burning Mirror; The Lingering Bone; A Memory of Remains; and The Zen Labyrinth. I’m satisfied with the final results, of course.

Trying to figure out how you built an audience for Lao American poetry was a challenge because we really didn't have a baseline at the time. There weren't really any readily available resources I could turn to, so I was deeply grateful for the support of the Minnesota State Arts Board and the Loft Literary Center for their grants at this point that allowed me to experiment and find my audience. If you're in Minnesota, you absolutely ought to apply for these opportunities when they present themselves, and I think it's important to advocate for more support for such programs, especially among private foundations.

In the years since, I can now see where I developed more confidence to take risks and to try different ways of getting my work into other people's hands. You learn when it's good to give complimentary copies, and that you should always have at least five copies of your book with you or at least in your car whenever you go someplace. You learn the importance of making it easy for people to find your work. I also believe it's important to keep in touch with people, at least as a poet. Because a book is the beginning of a relationship with your readers and your community, not the end.

As I learned to understand what it meant to be an author with a book, On The Other Side Of The Eye taught me a lot about the journey of a writer. Over a decade, it has taken me to the Olympics, to an NEA Fellowship in Literature, the creation of the Lao American Writers Summit, and the presidency of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. It helped me understand what I wanted to do with my later books, and how we present them. I'm happy to see so many other younger artists and writers influenced by what I was trying to do with my first book, and I'm most pleased that I can still open it up and surprise even myself with what's written in it.

I plan to spend some more time in 2017 reflecting on specific aspects of this journey over the last ten years, even as I also take the next steps for my newest books development.

Friday, December 23, 2016

[Poet Spotlight] Burlee Vang

Today's Poet Spotlight is Burlee Vang, the author of the chapbook Incantation for Rebirth (Swan Scythe Press, 2010). He was recently selected by Mai Der Vang for Poem-a-Day on December 20, 2016 at the Academy of American Poets, and shared his poem "To Live in the Zombie Apocalypse," and discusses his journey in the interview Writing from the Absence: Voices of Hmong American Poets.

His prose and poetry have appeared in Ploughshares, North American Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Massachusetts Review, Runes: A Review of Poetry, among other publications. His work has also been anthologized in Twentysomething Essays by Twentysomething Writers: Best New Voices of 2006 (Random House) and Highway 99: A Literary Journey Through California’s Great Central Valley (Heyday). In 2006, he was the recipient of the Paj Ntaub Voice Prize in Poetry.

I've always been impressed by his imagination and his poetic talents since I first came across his work while assisting the Paj Ntaub Voice. He has a unique gift and a love of the fantastic that made it very easy for me to feel a sense of connection with him. Over the years, I've watched him grow by leaps and tiger bounds into a great voice among Hmong poets with much to say to the world, while always taking joy in the speculative arts, unafraid to bring his culture and traditions into his work. One of my favorite poems of his remains "Muse of the Man Tiger."

He holds an MFA in fiction from California State University – Fresno, and is the founder of the Hmong American Writers Circle. As always, its significant to understand that although the Hmong trace their roots over 4,000 years ago to pre-dynastic China, they did not have a written language until the 1950s, and the Hmong creative literature arguably did not emerge until the late 1980s in the US.

In 2011, he, along with his brother Abel, were awarded a Nicholl Fellowship in screenwriting from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Mary, and their two children, Belle and Jude.

His first feature length film with his brother, Bedeviled, was released in October at Screamfest LA. Be sure to catch it if you love horror!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

[TBT] An interview with Mizuo Peck, 2007

10 years ago, I interviewed emerging actress Mizuo Peck for Minnesota-based Asian American Press. The interview appeared in March, 15th, 2007. This particular interview was thought lost for many years during a major server change for the paper that started pretty much from scratch. I'm currently in the process of recovering the interviews and articles that I can, including this one. She's gone in some great directions since, and was even able to reprise her role in later sequels to the Night At The Museum franchise.

New York-based Mizuo Peck recently shot into the spotlight with her role as Sacagawea in Ben Stiller’s comedy Night At The Museum, with Robin Williams, a monkey, and Dick Van Dyke. Many felt the half-Japanese actress stole the show in this holiday blockbuster. Previously, she appeared in New York stage productions, television commercials, and music videos, but is getting ready to take on even bigger projects. Asian American Press had a chance to catch up with her:

Asian American Press: How long have you known you wanted to be an actress?

Mizuo Peck:
I’ve wanted to be an actress since I was eleven years old. I was at TADA!, the professional Children’s Theater Company, singing and dancing till the age of 14.

Then I went on to study drama at Laguardia high school of the performing arts. I started dabbling in commercial work and modeling around 16 and became an official SAG member on my 18th birthday! I remember how excited I was to sign my own name.

Then it was off to SUNY Purchase to round out my education and get a BFA in theatre. I feel proud that I've always been so goal oriented and focused.

And yet, I also wish I had explored other things like sports, music, graphic arts, the Peace Corps, etc. Well I suppose I can start now... It's better late than never!

AAP: You really added a lot to Night At The Museum, even though you didn't get to say much. What were some of the interesting things you learned this time around?

MP: I learned so much from this film. Mostly about how important it is to be prepared and professional. I was working with so many great actors that I would’ve never wanted to be the one who dropped the ball. I really enjoyed doing all the research and preparation to play Sacagawea. She was an amazing woman in history.

AAP: Do you have any immediate projects you're going to be working on this year?

MP: I don't have any specific projects just yet. I do have some options and some scripts that have come to me but I haven't made any decisions. Perhaps I'm waiting for something better? I am in LA right now trying to book a pilot!

AAP: What are some your favorite movies?

MP: My all time favorite movie is Luc Besson's "La Femme Nikita". Whatta role! I love movies from the seventies like "Badlands" and "Clockwork Orange". I'm also a big fan of everything Tim Burton does.

AAP: What do you think audiences would be surprised to know about you? 

MP: I think they'd be surprised and glad to know that I am a regular girl just like them. Well maybe a bit kookier but definitely not like those perfect shiny stars they read about in magazines.

I try to stay healthy and active but I'm terrible at going to the gym. I like African dance classes! I drink coffee and eat cookies. I don't have a closet full of designer clothes and I love to visit my dad in Upstate New York so I can wear sweatpants and chop wood.

AAP: Do you have any advice for people thinking of getting into acting?

Don't do it! No, I don't mean that. Do theater and make movies because you love to and not because you wanna get rich and/or famous.

It's such a hard life of inconsistency that it's really not for everyone. And yet, on a personal positive note, with luck and perseverance dreams really can come true!

AAP: Has your family been supportive of your acting?

MP: My family is extremely supportive and psyched about my budding career. My dad lives in a small town upstate and has plastered my picture all over it. His gushing can get embarrassing at times but I know he's just so proud.

Everyone from the mailman to the guy who works at Radio Shack knows about my role in Night at the Museum.

AAP: Will there be any fun extras with you in the Night At The Museum DVD?

I hope there are! It would be great if they showed all of the different takes Robin Wiliams explored during our scenes together. He had me cracking up with all his off the cuff adventures in Africa stories and sexy hot wax jokes as I was melting his body back together.

AAP: What's the best thing someone's told you about your acting?

MP: I think the best compliment has been that I was strong and grounded in my role. For Night at the Museum, many people have said that I was graceful and gave the character depth.

AAP: Are there any words of wisdom someone's told you about acting that's sticking in your head these days?

MP: Luck is when opportunity meets preparation.

You can visit Mizuo Peck online at

Mizuo Peck today

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

2017 Southeast Asian American Studies Conference

The 2017 Southeast Asian American Studies conference will be held July 27-29, 2017, at the University of Massachusetts Lowell in Lowell, MA. The theme for this year's conference is "Community Engagement, Research, and Policy in Action." Their call for proposals is open until February 1st!

The 2017 conference will highlight Southeast Asian American communities in New England. Lowell, Massachusetts, is home to the second largest Cambodian American population in the United States, as well as Vietnamese, Lao, Burmese, and Bhutanese Americans. Nearby Dorchester, MA, and Providence, RI, are home to significant Vietnamese and Lao American populations, respectively.

This conference also seeks to build bridges across disciplines (humanities, social sciences, and sciences), and across/among scholars, artists, policymakers, and community members. What are the range of approaches to Southeast Asian American Studies? How might we foster communication and collaboration between fields and disciplines? What interdisciplinary approaches have been fruitful? What are some challenges to working across disciplinary boundaries? Given the opportunities and challenges of community-engaged research, what role can scholarship play in enabling social change for diverse SEAA communities? How can engagement with SEAA communities enrich and inform scholarship, and vice versa? We seek papers and panels from the humanities, social sciences, and sciences -- particularly in the areas of education, health, and public policy -- as well as from community organizations.

Since the first Southeast Asians in the Diaspora conference in 2005 at UC Riverside – which began as a conversation between scholars in Vietnam Studies, Southeast Asian area studies, and Asian American studies – the field has expanded into an established field concerned with a range of issues in Southeast Asian America. This conference seeks to build on this growth of Southeast Asian American Studies and continue to explore ways to work with communities, advocate for change, and formulate policy initiatives.