Tuesday, July 31, 2012

August has been recognized as Lao Minnesotan Artists Heritage Month!

For the very first time, the Governor and State of Minnesota has issued a certificate of recognition recognizing the contributions of Lao Minnesotan Artists in the month of August, 2012.

The text above reads: "This certificate is presented to the Lao Minnesotan artists in recognition of their international, national, and local contributions to communities. As the third largest Lao populated state, Minnesota recognizes the significance of the dedication and performance of these artists. Therefore, with the appreciation and respect of the people of Minnesota,this certificate is presented to Lao Minnesotan Artists. Celebrated: August, 2012"

While it is NOT a formal proclamation this year, it IS a certificate of recognition, and our community has many reasons to celebrate this month in Minnesota, with deep thanks to all of you have have been a part of this journey over the years. Maybe in 2013 it will even be a nationally celebrated holiday of Lao American Artists Heritage Month.

We began in Minnesota because it is home to over 50 Lao American artists in different stages of their careers, including the only two Lao Americans in the country out of 200,000 to hold fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the only two Lao Archibald Bush Artist Fellows, a Carey Prize in Spoken Word winner, and has been the host to national Lao American exhibits and gatherings including the National Lao American Writers Summit, Legacies of War: Refugee Nation Twin Cities, Lao'd and Clear, a SatJaDham Conference and many others. Lao Minnesotan artists have been recognized by the State Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans for their arts leadership and lifetime achievements, and many other exceptional accolades. So we're very happy to see the Governor recognize those contributions to international, national, and local arts and culture. 

Hopefully, this recognition will continue to inspire and energize others to add their voices to the great American tapestry, and to treasure the great stories and visions within themselves and all living beings.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Lao artist designs 'world's smallest house'

Lao artist Van Bo Le-Mentzai out in Germany was recently featured on CNN for designing "The One Square-Meter House."

You can find his website here: http://www.hartzivmoebel.blogspot.com/

For $300, it has enough room to sit or, when tilted on its side, to lie down and sleep. Le-Mentzal is giving away the plans. It has a roof, a lockable door, a foldout desk and a window. When asked what was the point, he said it was about "Making us stop and think about how we live."

An interesting idea indeed. And now I have the urge to go out and try it.

So far, the conversations I've had regarding the house have been intriguing, ranging from the quickly dismissive to the genuinely intrigued. The most recurring theme on both sides of this continuum has been that the lack of of a bathroom is a bit of a deal-breaker. My personal hamster-wheel is spinning with the idea of creating a series of these across the US as a default 'artist' guesthouse for Lao American artists and community organizers, each individually decorated to the personal tastes of the host or community.

Come 2013, in Minnesota during the Lao American Writers Summit, I'd enjoy seeing an exhibit of these where three or four have been constructed to reflect particular concerns of the communities from Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois, who are the most likely to field "houses". Would we see houses that address UXO and the legacies of war, what it means to be part of Refugee Nation, or the concern for the health, education and success of Lao women? Perhaps a house that addresses Hepatitis B and the risks for Lao. The possibilities are endless. But how would you approach such a project?

Guests at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival

Some exciting updates on the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in California this September where I'll be one of the guest authors:

The special guest for 2012 is Michael Reaves, a writer known for scripting series such as Batman: The Animated Series, Star Trek: The Next Generation and The Twilight Zone. An anthology he co-edited with John Pelan, Shadows Over Baker Street, features Sherlock Holmes stories set in the world of Lovecraft. Mr. Reaves will receive the Howie Award for his contributions to Lovecraft cinema, penning the classic 1987 episode of The Real Ghostbusters entitled "The Collect Call of Cathulhu", the first time Cthulhu appeared on television.

The other authors confirmed to appear include myself, Cody Goodfellow, Denise Dumars, T. E. Grau, and Michael Tice. I'm looking forward to meeting them all. Additional authors are still being confirmed.

I'll be sharing examples of my work from Innsmouth Free Press, On The Other Side Of The Eye, BARROW, and a few other works that have been previously scattered around the world.

[Poem] The Deep Ones

From the sea we come,
From the sea we come,
Our mouths, the inns of the world,

The salt of the earth unwelcome
At the tables and charts of
Explorers who expect:

               Commodity and pliant territory
               Kingdoms, not wisdom.

               Blood, not heaven’s children.

We grow with uncertain immortality
At the edge not made for man

Bending, curving, humming cosmic—
Awake and alien

Our mass a dark and foaming mask,
A bed of enigma to certain eyes

One with the moon,
One with the stars,
One with the ash that whispers history

In the same breath as myth and gods
Whose great backs yawn before us

As we change with a growing tongue
Growling amid the dreamlands

              We built one blade, one leaf, one golden wall at a time.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Thursday, July 19, 2012


One of the things I was happy about regarding the cover of On The Other Side Of The Eye was being given permission to include a traditional nak from Laos. Not only that, but it was also the nak from my family's wat in Modesto, making it the first time a Lao American nak has appeared on the cover of a book by a Lao American. And as far as I can tell, anyone else's.

Over the last ten years since I first took a picture of it in 2003, the residents painted it. Here's how it looks today in Modesto:

[Poem] What Kills A Man

We're approaching the 5th year anniversary of my first full-length book of Lao American Speculative Poetry, On The Other Side Of The Eye, from Sam's Dot Publishing in 2007. This book opened with "What Kills A Man," an original piece that had never been previously published before.

This poem came out of an understanding that there is infinite space beyond us but also within us. As we see the discovery of the Higgs Boson and the findings of the Hubble telescope among others, I'm happy to see much of this remains relevant.

In many ways, the poem was also inspired by Albert Einstein's famous remark "The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking...the solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind. If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker."

What Kills A Man

                     Always small things:
                     A round.
Split atoms.
A second.
A footstep.
A sip.  A bite.  A word.  A cell.

A motion. An emotion. A dream.
A fool.

A bit of salt. A drop. A fragment.
The true root of arguments.

What kills a man is mysterious
Only in how minute the culprit
Behind the blow.

We’re careless, and forget:
Even when what kills a man
Is another man,

It is a small thing that kills a man,
The whole earth a single grain

            On a sprawling table filled with the smallest things.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

UXO Op-Ed in Twin Cities Daily Planet

Over at the Twin Cities Daily Planet this week is my Op-Ed "New Legacies Between Old Friends" on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to Laos. You might also want to check out the entries over at Little Laos On The Prairie and our Haiku of the Week for additional perspectives and thoughts.

It's been 2 years since we convened the Legacies of War: Refugee Nation Twin Cities at Intermedia Arts but there is still work to be done. An ambitious aid package has been announced, but Lao Americans need to commit to making their voices heard if we want to be a part of a country worth being a part of.

Dr. Ketmani Kouanchao receives Honor An Educator Scholarship

Dr. Ketmani Kouanchao was recently awarded the Honor An Educator scholarship from California State University-Fullerton.

Dr. Kouanchao pursued and recently completed a doctorate in Community College Leadership from California State University-Fullerton. She has researched and presented workshops nationally on issues of cross-cultural leadership, women’s leadership, and leadership development – especially in communities of color, federal and state-funded programs, and the non-profit sector. Her passion is developing student support programs for students to achieve academic and lifelong success.

Born in Savannakhet, Laos, Dr. Kouanchao grew up in Minnesota with her parents and 4 siblings, including award-winning Lao American visual artist and entrepreneur Mali Kouanchao. Dr. Kouanchao was involved with the SatJaDham Lao Literary project in its early years and contributed work to their anthologies in addition to supporting their national conferences.

She specialized in the study of the recruitment, retention and matriculation of at-risk, low-income historically underserved students. For over 16 years, she has worked at the university and community college levels including the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and currently serves as the director of EOPS/CARE programs at Mt. San Jacinto Community College in San Jacinto, California.

The Honor An Educator Scholarship was established by the generosity of donors connected to CSU-Fullerton who appreciate educators who made a difference in their lives.

Dr. Kouanchao expressed her thanks by saying "As I continue to pursue new knowledge and ideas with which to serve our community, I wanted to thank you all from the bottom of my heart and will do all I can to uphold this honor and the wonderful intentions with which it was presented."

In an interview, she further added "When I told my mother that I had received this scholarship, I wish you could have seen her eyes and the pride she felt for me and for our family."

"In my essay," Dr. Kouanchao said, "I spoke of how my mother could not be the teacher she was meant to be, but she never turned her back on education and its infinite potential for us. Knowing that I have earned the committee's faith and trust in my journey as an educator is meaningful not just to me and my family but to our community."

The scholarship review committee was impressed with the quality of her application and applaud Dr. Kouanchao's academic success. Dr. Cavallaro, Dean  of College of Education at CSU-Fullerton will host a reception to recognize scholarship recipients and their donors during their Annual Autumn Awards program scheduled to be held in October 2012.

Dr. Kouanchao also expressed her thanks to her mentors Dr. John Hoffman and Dr. Dawn Person, as well as Dr. Evangeline Napala Meneses who served as her outside reader during her dissertation defense.Her dissertation examines holistic identity development of Lao American students, particularly in community colleges in California. Her findings suggest a strong link between family, culture, and the students sense of purpose as they participate in higher education, often as the first in their families to attend college.

In the United States, less than 1% of the 200,000 Lao Americans resettled in the US hold an advanced degree, and fewer than 10% successfully graduate college. Educators like Dr. Kouanchao are committed to seeing a change in these statistics by 2020.

Bangkok Arrival at Toe Good Poetry

My poem "Bangkok Arrival" including an all new live recording is coming to Toe Good Poetry Journal in August! More details to come. Never before published in any of my collections, it was once originally slated to be part of a poemoir (memoir written in poetry) that may yet come out, but for the time being, it is appearing at Toe Good Poetry.

In the meantime you can also catch my previous poem with them, "Metropolis," with a live recording of that poem as well at: http://toegoodpoetry.com/2012/02/bryan-thao-worra


Appearing at H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival

I'll be attending the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival this September in Los Angeles as a professional guest!

I'll be there reading selections of my work, particularly from The Innsmouth Free Press, and most likely the Lovecraftian poems from my first full-length book of Lao American speculative poetry, On The Other Side Of The Eye, celebrating its 5th anniversary this year.

This year’s festival has a cartoon theme. Besides the weird shorts and features, they have scheduled a special animated block featuring South Park (South Park: The Coon Trilogy) and Scooby-Doo (Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated episode “The Shrieking Madness”).

In addition, one of the guests this year is Michael Reaves, who penned the classic 1987 episode of The Real Ghostbusters entitled “The Collect Call of Cathulhu”, marking Cthulhu’s television debut. I'm particularly excited about this because it's one of my personal favorites.

If we're really lucky, I'll also get to do a very quick workshop "Yuk! Writing a Lao horror story."

You can find my Lovecraftian work in the anthologies Historical Lovecraft and Future Lovecraft, Bamboo Among the Oaks, and as Innsmouth Free Press #4. Select issues of Paj Ntaub Voice and Tale of the Unanticipated also include such work. And of course, my books of poetry,  On The Other Side Of The Eye and BARROW. 

The H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival promotes the works of American science fiction and horror author H.P. Lovecraft through motion pictures by both professionals and amateurs, current and classic, national and international. The festival was founded in 1995 by Andrew Migliore in Portland, Oregon to promote and encourage film and television adaptations of Lovecraft’s great works and other, similar weird-tale writers, such as Edgar Allan Poe, M.R. James and Robert E. Howard.

 A very special thanks to Innsmouth Free Press for connecting me to the Festival!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

[Poem] In The Markets Of Bangkok

Inspired 10 years ago, uploaded in 2006.
Never included in any of my collections, however.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Lao Artist Spotlight: Mali Kouanchao

Among the most well-known of the Lao American visual artists working today is the award-winning Malichansouk (Mali) Kouanchao.

Born in July, 1971, she is a Minneapolis-based visual artist, web and interactive designer, and like many of the leading contemporary artists with a Lao heritage, her family comes from Savannakhet. Her multidisciplinary works typically explore the relationship between art, transformation, and communal healing.  Her life served as the basis for the 2010 children's book Mali Under the Night Sky by Youme Landowne.

She serves on the advisory committee for Legacies of War, a national project established to raise awareness of the Secret War in Laos, as well as to advocate for further U.S. support toward the removal of cluster bombs and increased aid for cluster bomb survivors. She believes "public art should empower the maker and educate and transform the community."

The Kouanchaos resettled in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1979. At the time, she came with her parents and four siblings as refugees from the Laotian Civil War. In the 1980s, she attended South High School in Minneapolis. She attended the University of Minnesota pursuing a BA in 1998 in Fine Arts, with minors in Chinese and East Asian Studies. She continues to live in Minneapolis today.

She is among the first of Lao American artists to receive funding and support for her art from institutions such as the Minnesota State Arts Board, the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, the Bush Foundation and the Jerome Foundation. Her work is greatly in demand, and it is hard to find examples of her early output from the 1990s and early 2000s. However, you can still find many of the murals and mosaics she has worked on, including Hand to Heart,Harmony, People, Places, Connection,Integrity, Sol y Mariposa, and Faces of the Future, Reflect Our Past.

As a poet, I work with her on many occasions, including the 5 Senses Show of Hmong and Lao Artists, Lao'd and Clear, and Legacies of War: Refugee Nation Twin Cities among other projects. Her work has demonstrated some intriguing ideas and approaches that I always look forward to seeing.

In 2010 she received an Asian Pacific American Leadership Award from the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans for her work as a visual artist.She also received an Excellence in Visual Arts Award from the 2010 Lao Artists Festival in Elgin, Illinois. Kouanchao is the last Lao American to ever receive a Bush Artist Fellowship. Before they stopped being awarded, the fellowship was one of the largest artist fellowships in the country from a private foundation. Savannakhet weaver Bounxou Chanthraphone is the only other Lao American to have ever received the honor.

Her latest project has been her series Displacement: Never Free, which examines the lives of Cambodian and Southeast Asian American deportees and the impacts of US policies on their families. Kouanchao also created the series Living Spirits: Collateral Bodies incorporating traditional Southeast Asian spirit houses and paper lanterns with modern photographic techniques to examine social and political issues.

Mali Kouanchao also has become well known for popularizing Lao beef jerky through her brand Cool Jerk. It has been well received at music festivals, conventions, and community events across the US, thanks to her entrepreneurial spirit. She is also doing work in the speculative arts, preparing a new venture called WizardFantasy.Com, although it remains to be seen how this will be implemented.

Recently, she and the renowned design studio Burlesque of North America created a new app called Mighty Match based on the classic game memory.  they wanted to create an app that fun for kids and adults alike to teach the letters of the alphabet, as well as fruits and vegetables. The app features original music created by the acclaimed DJ Mike 2600.

You can visit her online at http://djai.net/mali/

Updates on OTOSOTE's Greatest 'Hits'

I recently took a look at what were the most popular posts on this blog.

Over the last six years, you've really enjoyed the posts about the dreaded Mongolian Death Worm, the Filipino creature known as the Aswang, and the "Wild Men of Asia and Poets" most likely since it involves Yu Zhenhuan,who was such a cutie as a young boy, as you can see below.That or else maybe you're all fascinated by lingering cryptozoological mysteries of the Vietnamese Nguoi Rung and the Laotian Khi Trau.


At the moment there appears to be no new major updates regarding Mongolian Death Worms since 2009. They are still considered extremely deadly and biologically improbable, despite the assertions of Mongolians who actually live in the area versus the rationality of European Americans. 

It does lead me to consider an interesting question, however, that a speculative writer could make a story contemplating whether or not the nak of Laos would consider them adversaries, nuisances or allies. The relationship to corrosion and lightning, or William Gibson's assertion that they could be symbols or mascots of anxiety are certainly rife with potential.

As far as the Aswang goes, apparently there's a new trilogy of novels regarding the Aswang Wars that treats them as bood-sucking nocturnal shape-shifters who belong to three different clans, whose various members also have attributes more commonly connected to the mandurugo, mantahungal, and the sigbin. I'd be interested in hearing what my Filipino readers think of the series. Is it worth a look?

Yu Zhenhuan is still rocking on and looking for love.

And the search continues for the Nguoi Rung and the Khi Trau. We probably really need to expand our community literature on the 'Khi Trau', which would probably be more formally known as a Ling Kway or Ling Nyai in Lao. 'Khi Trau' is from one of the ethnic minorities of Laos but I'm uncertain which one it would be from specifically.  I imagine it would most likely be found near Southern Laos or the Bolovens Plateau, where a good many other cryptozoological entities tend to be discovered.

But what do you think?

[Poem] Minotaur. Spanish translation

A recent Spanish translation of my poem "Minotaur" was generously provided by Caroline Arroyo of Madrid. "Minotaur" first appeared in BARROW, 2009 from Sam's Dot Publishing. With my deepest thanks to her for a fine job in capturing it's literal and inner cores.


No hay nada detrás de la sedosa capa roja del matador.
Si buscas al hombre,
Mira hacia un lado.
                    Carga furiosa, un carbón rabioso
                    Atrapado en el momento
Para espadachines españoles
Envueltos en una escena inevitable

Intercambiando lugares con su asesino.
                        Algo muere dentro de el,
                        Sin saber por qué.


There is nothing behind the red silk cape of the matador.
If you’re looking for the man,
                               Look to the side.
                              Charging furious, a raging coal
Caught in the moment
For Spanish swordsmen
Wrapped up in an inevitable scene

Switching places with his killer,
                                 Something dies within him,
                                 Not knowing why.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Third Annual Luang Prabang Film Festival Call for Short Films

I recently heard from Thi-Von Muong-Hane, a Lao-French filmmaker who has lived in Vientiane for 4 years.

She is curating a short films program for the Luang Prabang Film Festival. They are looking for some Lao filmmakers or artists who may have some short films to propose.

As a new festival (2012 will be the 3rd edition) they unfortunatly cannot pay for the screenings, the travel and any other cost for the filmmakers. They can provide lodging once you get into Laos.

They're trying to show a panel of Lao shorts produced in Laos (by Lao and foreigners), or abroad by Lao filmmakers, in all genres (including experimental, documentaries, fictions, music video, animations...), but the program must be kept short, so they'd rather screen movies that last less than 30 minutes.

As you have come to expect: Each movie must be watched by the censorship board, and they have no guarantee that any of them will pass it. Even if a movie screened in Laos in the past can be refused this year, without any explanation.

If you have any interesting contacts for the festival, please contact them, and arrange to send a copy of the film to: Thi-Von Muong-Hane thivonmuonghane@gmail.com

Studying Carnivorous Plants in Laos

One area of my interests is in the diverse but delicate ecology of Laos, much of which was devastated in the secret bombing and defoliation of Laos during the mid-20th century.

Italian researcher Marcello Catalano is studying Nepenthes, a form of carnivorous plants also known as pitcher plants in Laos. From prior accounts and research, we know that these plants have been found on Bolaven, Phu Khao Kouay and Nakhai Nam Theun.

He would like to hear from anyone who has ever seen these plants anywhere else in Laos, or if you have any extra information about the plants in the 3 places already mentioned. Even the smallest news could be very precious for researchers.

During a recent 3-week trip to Laos, his main obstacle was that few people were found who visited the forests and had means of transport and access to remote areas where the rare nepenthes were likely to be found or observed.

He found two species in Laos, the Nepenthes Mirabilis and the Nepenthes Smilesii. In the lowlands, agriculture is destroying the Lao forests and the rare Nepenthes Mirabilis is not recognized for its value. The Nepenthes Smilesii is growing on large plateau lands, also at risk because of agriculture.

Catalano wanted to "check the national park just opposite of Pha Taem (where smilesii grows, and on the Lao side the mountain system is the same), but there was no way to get there or at least in the area." He was given a lead regarding a national park very close to Bolaven, where nepenthes has been found.

He would appreciate any additional information you can provide: rafflesiana@yahoo.com

SFPA Announces 2012 Rhysling Awards

The 2012 Rhysling Awards for speculative poetry were recently announced by the SFPA:

 Short Poem
1. Shira Lipkin, "The Library, After"

2. Erik Amundsen, "The Lend"

3. Lyn C. A. Gardner, "In Translation"

Long Poem
1. Megan Arkenberg, "The Curator Speaks in the Department of Dead Languages"

2. G. O. Clark and Kendall Evans, "The 25-Cent Rocket: One-Quarter of the Way to the Stars"

3. Mary Turzillo, "The Legend of the Emperor's Space Suit (A Tale of Consensus Reality)"

A big congratulations to all of the winners! It was not an easy choice this year, but it's never really an easy choice in any year.

I look forward to seeing who the nominees and winners are next year!

[Poem] The Grass (Thai Translation)



Among jade grass blades
Even mighty bodhi trees
Must share the same earth

Translated by Joy Panigabutra-Roberts, 2012/2555. 

"The Grass" first appeared in Tanon Sai Jai, 2009

Saturday, July 14, 2012

French translations of my poetry

Edouard Dupas has a fine blog at POESIE ET RACBOUNI.

There, he takes the time to translate a number of international poets into French, particularly American poets from diverse but less well-known communities. He has translated five of my poems so far:

"On A Stairway In Luang Prabang"

"The Ghost Nang Nak"

"Little Bear (Ursa Minor)"

"The Dancer Introduces One Of His Aspects"

and "In the Markets of Bangkok."

Several others are pending, and I'm looking forward to them. If you stop by his blog, be sure to tell him I said bonjour! And take a look at his translations of other poets as well! He is a passionate reader with a voracious appetite for good poetry!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Lao Artist Spotlight: Kheuthmy "Loy" Khambay

Bringing some quick attention to a Lao American visual artist recently spotted on Etsy and with her own website at http://www.iamloy.com:  Kheuthmy Khambay, who is more commonly known as Loy.Her first solo art show called the Ah-Loy Show in 2007 which boosted her confidence to put on an annual show since with a new theme to showcase her vision.

Among themes she's explored in her work to date:  Loy's Eden, Loy's Seven, Loy In Laos, Loy's Seduction,  and Sao Loy. She's also doing commissions for a reasonable rate. She attended Full Sail University with degrees in Commercial Art and Film & Video Production.

She and her family are from Savannakhet, and her work adds to the growing number of visual artists from there, such as Mali Kouanchao, Bounxou Chanthraphone and Vong Phaopanit. Loy's style also occasionally brings to mind some of the work of Kinnari Phimpadubsee and Aloun Phoulavan for me, but you'll be able to tell the difference between the three of them easily.

She considers her art to be inspired by Feng Shui principles. Among her series so far, I think Loy's Seduction is the strongest of her work series, venturing into areas you rarely expect to see Lao visual artists. It's blunt and striking.

Loy In Laos and Sao Loy are the series I expect most people will gravitate towards, or her floral work, but I  think it's far more interesting to see where she might go next if she kept exploring the themes Loy's Seduction suggest. She'll be able to pay the bills doing commissions closer to Loy In Laos and Sao Loy, but  I think her lasting statements will be found in the transgressive images that go against the grain of what Lao artists are expected to present. Her Ah-Loy series was also notable, very playful with a great use of color, and many will probably have several favorites from the series.

I'm looking forward to seeing how well she can sustain her output in the coming years ahead.

The Plain of Jars

Back in 2006, I wrote an article for Dark Wisdom Magazine entitled "The Cryptic Plain of Jars" examining the history and legends surrounding the mysterious Plain of Jars in Laos.  The jars have figured prominently in many of my poems and short stories centered around Laos, from "The Last War Poem" to "Phonsavan." My Lovecraftian short horror story "What Hides, What Returns," also mentions them although this was not one where they played a major role.

One of the early leading figures from Europe who tried to determine their origins was a French woman named Madeleine Colani.

The New York Times recently featured an article by Elisabeth Eaves considering Colani's journey entitled "In Laos, the Lady and the Jars" It's an useful, albeit brief, introduction, if you're interested in the early 20th century history of Laos before the major conflicts began as a French colonial woman saw it. This is significant considering so much of early 20th Century Lao history is informed from the perspective of men who are military, missionaries or diplomats.

It would be fascinating one day to hear an account from one of the native Lao who lived during that time. But those accounts may soon be lost to time irrecoverably and we may soon be obliged to resort to only imagination and empathetic supposition instead. 

Part of the Rain of Poems

As part of the Poetry Parnassus during the Festival of the World and the Olympics, my poem "No Regrets" was included in the 2012 Rain of Poems in London on June 26th.

Considering my work on UXO issues, there's a certain poetry to it all, if you'll pardon the pun:

This project was organized by Casagrande, which is a Chilean art collective that has developed a series of publishing projects and art actions related to poetry and interventions into public spaces. Casagrande has worked on three main projects since 1996 including the publication of a journal that changes its format every issue, giant posters installed in metro stations throughout Santiago, Chile, the sending of a DVD to the library of the International Space Station, and public performances including the series "Bombing of Poems".

 They work with the slogan 'can't be sold, can't be bought' (no se vende ni se compra). In other words, each poetic action, every project or final product is free..

[Poem] Kinnaly

While "No Regrets" was ultimately chosen as the poem included in the Poetry Parnassus in London this year and "The World Record Anthology," there were six poems that had been submitted for consideration: "On A Stairway In Luang Prabang," which is being read on the BBC later this month, "Zelkova Tree," "The Shape," "Thread Between Stone," and "Kinnaly."  Originally, "Kinnaly" appeared in my 2009 book Tanon Sai Jai:


So many days in flight, in the air or on stage
Lately, you seem half human, half bird,
Almost mythic, always beautiful and magic.

Bridging worlds beyond words and page,
Where trees have a special music and cities a special poetry,
We pass on our hopes one song, one note at a time until one day

Every sword is set aside happily to build instead,
A nation of peaceful students bright as summer lightning
Whether in Washington or Vientiane, Paris or the Bay.

We grow, step by step and smiling,
Not just to remember today,
But to change and transform before returning to the heavens,

Holding the dreams of elders and our own as one,

Not just for the world made by yesterday
But for the best stars yet to be.

Coming soon to BBC radio!

 I've just been asked for permission to use ‘On a Stairway in Luang Prabang’ on The Written World, a not-for-profit venture with the BBC to broadcast a poem from every one of the 205 competing Olympic nations on BBC radio between March and September in 2012.

 The poems they're presenting will be produced and broadcast by the BBC in English, and when possible the language of origin. In my case, that will be Lao. The esteemed Khanthieng Muongphene, a Lao community leader living in England will be reading my work for this project. Many people helped to work on this translation including Kongkeo Saycocie, who was the lead translator, and Chomsy Kouanchao. A special thanks is also due to Channapha Khamvongsa and the family of Manininh Vongvirath.

Additional exciting news is that the poem text for many of these writers being made available online, as audio downloads, and supported with visual content where required. In addition, the texts and translations of the poems might be reproduced as postcards or posters in order to support the venture.

I'll have more news for everyone soon. Thank you for your outstanding support!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

[Poem] Peaks of Buddha

In the aftermath of the Poetry Parnassus in England this month and the onset of the London Olympic games, it seems like a good time to present an older poem of mine that first appeared in the Minnesota-based journal, Whistling Shade in the early 2000s

Peaks of Buddha (Originally appeared as N'est ce pas Olympus)

High in the mountains
        the air seems so thin
        poets tell me
        the movies lied

There is no wise man at the peak
        no enlightened sermons at the summit
        clad in cartoon robes
        with the fabulously poor hygiene
        reserved for only the holiest bonze

Strewn across the tourist trap
        former camps, lingering with peyote and marijuana
        bones of the shattered, snickering with
        feigned novelty and righteousness,
        a young woman's festive undergarment
        lost during a drunken search for peonies

Sage advice is best found buried
        in a sheath of scribbles
        nestled by your heart
        trust in poetry, they whisper

In a cracked mirror found in the brambles
        I barely looked human
        holding my face in my palm
        I could only wince and place it back down.

The Lao American vote: Not a given

While a big focus is being made on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to Laos, it raises questions for me about the long-term commitment and development we'll see out there.

Even as promises for restorative aid and support have come out, we should also bear in mind that as voters, Lao Americans are still very polarized when it comes to choosing between Democrats and Republicans. As one of the largest growing communities in the US with over 200,000 to 400,000 potential eligible voters, in certain areas, the Lao American vote can make a surprise key difference that could affect final outcomes.

At least one Republican think tank that has been supporting development abroad since 2003, the International Republican Institute: http://www.iri.org/countries-and-programs/asia/laos

At their website, they discuss their history: "In its infancy, IRI focused on planting the seeds of democracy in Latin America. Since the end of the Cold War, IRI has broadened its reach to support democracy and freedom around the globe. IRI has conducted programs in more than 100 countries."

They further highlight that their board of directors is chaired by U.S. Senator John McCain and many other prominent Republican figures in the public and private sector. Their two core programs in Laos are the Rural Women's Political Participation initiative and Civil Society Development.  One might ask what this will all mean as we interact with participants in these programs in the future.

Many Lao may be drawn to promises of support for small businesses or an anti-communism platform. But others may be drawn to programs that address women's rights and support for family reunification and other immigration policies that reduce barriers to travel and support of their families. Policies that strengthen the security of overseas financial transactions and reduce fraud, corruption and human trafficking are also things that could shift a Lao vote. Because of current deportation policies, some Lao Americans may not find a candidate palatable if they do not create ways to reduce family hardships. UXO issues, veterans rights, etc. There's a lot to consider.

Like many communities, the end point is also that Lao Americans will not support parachute candidates who just drop in and just as quickly fly out once elected. They will support candidates who have built a reputation of trustworthiness and reliability.  This includes showing up at community benefits, new years festivals and other occasions. But also convening meetings to meet the community face-to-face will make a big difference.

These are just some things to consider as we approach November.

International Cryptozoology Museum approaching 10 years

Today is cryptozoologist Loren Coleman's 65th birthday!  He's the founder of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

He also has a masters in social work and acts as a consultant for the Maine Youth Suicide Program. Most of us are familiar with his work in cryptozoology and his specialization in topics regarding bigfoot, sasquatch and the wendigo.

I think he'd be an interesting person to consult regarding the legendary nguoi rung of Vietnam or the Buffalo Monkeys of Laos, for which there is still scant research translated into English. But in any case, if you see him today, be sure to wish him a happy birthday, or even better, donate to the International Cryptozoology Museum to help him and others keep up their work in widening our understanding of the world and the many mysteries that remain to be discovered! :)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

[Poem] Nerakhoon

I've received a few questions this week about how I feel regarding the Amy Senser verdict in the death of Anousone Phanthavong. She received 41 months, which is much more than Vincent Chin's killers ever served. But it does not bring back a young man whose family needed him. I think of the words of Winston Churchill: "This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of a beginning."

While I'm still pondering how I will write a specific poem responding to the case, one of my poems that has been coming back to my mind since the case began is "Nerakhoon." It is a poem I originally wrote in homage to Thavisouk Phrasavath's classic film of the same name. This was first published in my book Tanon Sai Jai in 2009. I'll let the rest speak for itself.


I love our traditions but our ways must change, too,
If I want a tomorrow worth having.

We have rites and ways of setting things right,
But it‟s sad we need to have those already.

That we‟ve wronged each other so often before
It‟s become routine.

I can forgive all of this, but

What a place this might be where the soul doesn‟t need a map,
A reason, an order to be kind.

For such a world,
I would happily release one last turtle to the sea,
A raven to the winds, whatever needs to be free

If only I could believe and trust
Words and hearts and destiny.

Little Laos On the Prairie, Clinton & UXO

The Minnesota-based blog at Little Laos On the Prairie penned a nice response to Secretary of State Clinton's visit to Laos on July 11th, courtesy of Chanida Phaengdara. For those of you who are looking for a real Lao American response to the visit, this is a great place to start.

"57 years later: U.S. Secretary Clinton's historic visit to Laos," is not the most imaginative title they've had, but it gets the point across: http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/blog/chanida-phaengdara-potter/57-years-later-us-secretary-clintons-historic-visit-laos.

I've gone on the record as being happy to see Secretary Clinton visit Laos, but it's a guarded optimism. Many of us were concerned she would bypass it altogether, focusing instead on her trips to Burma and Vietnam. UXO has proven to be one of the key issues being highlighted there, but I hope some mention is being made of other environmental concerns developing in Laos, from deforestation to the dam construction, illegal logging, addressing narcotics production and other issues. Human trafficking, MIAs, a rise in AIDS and a limited infrastructure for addressing crisis conditions, in addition to media freedom are also topics that could also be addressed. But we'll see what additional policies and changes emerge in the future.

Media coverage has appeared in Newsweek, the New York Times, the Washington Post and elsewhere, but we must also keep working to inform our legislators to support measures that enable greater exchange between our two countries without throwing either nation under the bus to 'realpolitik' or unscrupulous corporate machinations and exploitation.

[Poem] Notes Regarding the Living Heart

In recognition of Secretary of State Clinton's historic visit to Laos today, I'm presenting a poem from my 2009 book, Tanon Sai Jai:

Notes Regarding the Living Heart

A single seed can turn into a forest.
A single heart can transform a nation.
To be brave is jai ka.
To be generous is jai kwan.
To test the body, climb a mountain.
To test the soul, meet another.
To find happiness, meet as strangers,
But don't stay that way.
With a sabaidee, greet the days, one by one.
With a khop jai and a smile, do what you can
To change worlds, even one inch, one hand at a time.

That is the path of the jai,
Human and forever growing.

Monday, July 09, 2012

[Poem] Observing The Oblivious

I squat

Among bamboo and scaly

Like a stone-faced deity
From Bayon.

The ant devours my puny home
To make his own.

Fears my magnifying glass
And sole.

We never look up enough.
Who knows

If the feet of God
Aren’t about to leave their own mark

On our fragile spines,
As they uncurl

Beneath his summer home ceiling

                  When he isn’t looking.

From On the Other Side of the Eye, 2007

Nalok, or Lao Hell

Recently spotted at one of the Wat Lao in California, this image is a depiction of the punishments that presumably await evil-doers within Lao cosmology.

The Lao word is Nalok, a variation on the Sanskrit word Naraka. The exact metaphysics I think are still in need of research but a historic understanding of these notions is fraught with a significant amount of intercultural contamination. Between Jesuit, Catholic, Protestant missionaries of the 1800s to the 20th Century, popular media, and the influence of Chinese and other Southeast Asian cultural concepts of the afterlife, the everyday person's idea of hell these days will be something of a metaphysical melange. 

How does one reconcile eternal punishment with a system of reincarnation, for example? Most Lao tend to believe in a punishment in the afterlife that lasts a very long time, but it's not permanent. 

As we can see here: One may be forced to climb thorny trees on a burning mountain while being chased by wild beasts and pecked at by birds while jerks with sharp spears try to stab you to extra-death while you're naked. And this isn't one of the worst ones.

Researchers will have to see how much influence the Chinese notion of Diyu,  or the "Ten Courts of Hell" has on Lao culture once it began to interact with Hindu cosmologies and the folk religions of the different ethnicities of Laos.

In some Chinese accounts, there are eight cold hells, eight dark hells, and an estimated 84,000 miscellaneous ones where everyone goes for a while before rebirth. So typically bureaucratic. According to some sources though, the hells eventually underwent a form of cosmic reorganization until the being known as Yama would up with ten courts, each overseen by its own king. The Tang dynasty then came to believe there were 18 hells comprising 134 levels. The image above would apparently be an interpretation of the "Mountain of Knives," with significant creative license.

To get a sense of the Buddhist concept of naraka, you need to read the Devadatta Sutra. You'll typically find 8 is a significant number: 8 hot naraka, 8 cold naraka, but in other sources 500 to thousands of naraka have been cited. Much like the lists in the Iliad, or many of the classics of Asian literature, once you hit 10,000 or so, it's just an abstraction meant to imply a hell of a lot of whatever you're counting.

And yet, do elder Lao have a more detailed concept of Nalok? Or is it just an amalgamation of borrowed cosmological constructs? Where do the ancient Nak and Nyak fit into all of this? These are just some of the questions I would advise any researchers or writers to consider.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

China's Space Program: A waste?

An interesting article was posted on IO9.Com noting a Wall Street Journal columnist who asked if China's human missions were a waste of time and resources compared to developing technology for unmanned projects, etc. The WSJ doesn't really take into account really long-range thinking and development, in my opinion. But I also have a bias given my enthusiasm for a Lao space program.

The image here is from REUTERS/ Xinhua/Ren Junchuan:

10 artists from Basel Art Fair

The Daily Beast recently highlighted 10 artists from the Basel Art Fair in Switzerland. Gabriele Basilico's photos of architectural works we'd normally consider brutalist stood out the most for me.

What do we make of his efforts to find elegance in such structures? It stands as an intriguing question considering the architecture of many buildings near Vientiane, Laos constructed around Social Realist principles, or something like the Patuxai monument.

The London-based trio known as Troika also caught my attention from this group, but I was not particularly enthralled with many of the other selections. They made great effort, but from the photos shown, not much that I would return to with great curiosity.

You can see more of Gabriele Basilico's work at: http://www.gabrielebasilico.com

Sunday, July 01, 2012

[Poem] Imperious

In the end, I'm a minor beginning
Of a love for small empires.

Tiny kingdoms who don't
Outwear their welcome.

Short reigns, minor abuses,
Powers and scandals that

Don't tip the earth off her axis.

The kind only daffodils
And mayflies seem to master

Before becoming one again
With wet stone, hoary space

That a single atom (with some luck)
Can convert into an entire new galaxy

Who won't remember us, like a callow child
Playing in the bluegrass before the rain.

From On the Other Side of the Eye, 2007