Friday, August 31, 2012

[Poem] Kingdoms

Purple as
Crushed shellfish

Life expectancy,
That bruised question of finite measures.

Every hammered crown
Is removed some way.

Scepters with their strange rotations
Hold no true sway over the inner natures

Of manatee, mechanics
Or magma with her radial flow.

Inspired robes unravel every hour
For gifted maggots and their maws

Who roll in the smoky valleys
Once our fathers' holy mountains.

The Asia you know is murder
On monarchies.

American democracy is far safer
For two-legged mosquitoes.

There, competition rarely ends in graves
For anyone but foreigners,

        Distant and near.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Happy Frankenstein Day!

Otherwise known as the birthday of Mary Wollenstone Shelly, author of the perennial classic "Frankenstein: A Modern Prometheus."

I always have mixed feelings regarding her masterpiece. While she's the first major female science-fiction writer, I often feel she's a forerunner of Michael Chricton, postulating that disaster happens when you have  mix of science, ambition and greed. It's hard to describe this as pro-science. But there's no doubt about the influence she's had on so many art forms, literary and otherwise. I've happily wrestled with many a question regarding Frankenstein and his creation over the years. And that's a mark of great art that you can constantly return to it with new things to ponder.

Without Frankenstein, the questions of Blade Runner or even the X-men might be very different indeed. The iconography and ambitions of steampunk would also undergo many changes. The work of H.P. Lovecraft is somewhat indebted to Frankenstein as well, although his approach to the cosmic and the alien would have made for some difficult conversations between him and Shelly.

I've often wrestled with how we categorize Frankenstein's Monster. He's not a cyborg or conventional automaton, and he's not strictly a member of the undead. He's extraordinarily intelligent and strong, and in many ways seems like a reanimated conception of Hobbes' Leviathan or Nietzsche's Ubermensch, even as he could not be accepted by the world at large.

But this year, I'm pondering how do Lao values and our sense of horror intersect with the themes Mary Wollenstone Shelly was addressing. What I'm curious about is what is the root of the terror our community would see in such a reanimated figure who is otherwise articulate and significantly powerful.

We would probably want to look at how does Frankenstein and his creation violate the 5 precepts of Buddhism, which often deeply inform many of our cultural traditions. Violations of the precepts regarding drinking and sexual misconduct do not seem obvious. Violations of the prohibitions not to kill, steal or to lie seem obvious, and lead to karmic retribution.

Does Frankenstein's Monster have Buddha Nature, the zen koan might ask, and it would certainly be a very interesting question considering his nature as a combination of many individuals of bad karma whose remains were stolen.

In the Lao buddhist tradition, suffering arises when a person clings to one of the skhandas or an aggregate. Nibban is attained by relinquishing attachments to the skhandas. Those skhandas are form, feeling, consciousness, impulses, and perceptions. As an amalgam, Frankenstein's Monster is a very interesting entity with which to explore Buddhist metaphysics.

Lao aren't likely to respond with revulsion at the idea of human arrogance and 'playing god.'  But I think an interesting question would be how different elements of our culture might read the themes of the servant becoming more powerful than his creator and revolting against him, to disastrous consequences. One could also see Lao horrified at the ruling class (epitomized by Baron Frankenstein) being abusive of the other social classes and see it as an indictment of Lao feudalism.There could be some interesting re-imaginings of Frankenstein as more of a trickster figure along the lines of Xieng Mieng than a physical powerhouse.

This isn't the authoritative or complete list of how the Lao might read Frankenstein, but just some ideas of how we might re-frame his legacy and story in a way that's fresh and interesting. What interests you in the Frankenstein story?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Future Lovecraft now available from Prime Books

My poem "The Deep Ones" is featured in Future Lovecraft which was recently re-released through Prime Books this year. My copy just arrived this week. Edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles. Be sure to check it out if you see it on your bookshelves.

280 pages of horror inspired by early 20th century writer H.P. Lovecraft.

[Short Story] A Model Apartment

One of my early Lovecraftian stories was "A Model Apartment" which appeared in the fourth issue of Innsmouth Free Press in 2009. Drawing from the themes of "Pickman's Model" and "Dreams In The Witch House," "A Model Apartment " also integrated some of the myths and traditions of Laos and the Hmong culture including an entity known as a poj ntxoog.

I've received a few questions about whether there was a particular Hmong artist whose work inspired this story. There are certainly a few candidates who come to mind who lived in both Minnesota and Wisconsin.

I'd probably approach the story much differently today, but it's one of the first widely available horror stories I wrote. I'll be discussing this and other Lovecraftian topics during the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Los Angeles September 28th-29th.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

[Poem] Saigon Autumn

Falling leaves seem so full of freedom
dying on the Autumn wind
Full of color
Like a saffron monk on fire
In the streets of Saigon
No one understands
Their protest.

Photographer Malcolm Browne, best known for capturing on film the self-immolation of a Buddhist monk in the early days of what would become the Vietnam War died on Monday, August 27th, 2012. He was well known for claiming to have been shot down in aircraft at least 3 times and thrown out of more countries than many people ever visit. My poem, "Saigon Autumn" was inspired by his photos which I first encountered growing up in Michigan during the 1980s.

On June 11, 1963, an elderly monk named Thich Quang Duc, clad in just his robe and sandals, assumed the lotus position on a cushion in a blocked-off street intersection. Aides drenched him with aviation fuel, and the monk calmly lit a match and set himself ablaze. Of the many foreign journalists alerted to the shocking political protest against South Vietnam's U.S.-supported government, only one, Malcolm Browne of The Associated Press, showed up.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Oldest human fossils to date found in Laos

Making the news recently has been the conclusions regarding a 2009 discovery in the Tam Pa Ling (Cave of the Monkeys) in Laos by paleoanthropologists who unearthed skull bones and teeth belonging to a modern human.

The remains are believed to be earliest fossil evidence of Homo sapiens in mainland Southeast Asia. They date back to 46,000 to 63,000 years ago according to a report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The remains include a partial skull, jaw fragments and teeth.

Once again, more reasons why books set in Laos could be some incredibly fascinating stories if writers took it seriously and committed more resources to understanding our roots and heritage there. It's certainly not the end-all-be-all but it is interwoven with the rest of the human saga.

Poet to Poet: Wendy Brown-Baez

A new "Poet to Poet" interview is up at the Twin Cities Daily Planet. This time, I'm interviewing the accomplished Wendy Brown-Baez. As always, these are interviews done in the form of poetry. After all, it's the form we work the most in.

We ask a wide range of questions this time, from questions of endurance to ceremonies of spirit and zestful earthwalks. You can visit Wendy at her official website at


Previously, we've interviewed poets such as John Calvin Rezmerski, Rebecca Marjesdatter, Fres Thao, Kris Bigalk and Kate Kysar. We have a few more exciting poets planned for the year, and I'm starting to line up some great poets for 2013. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

[Poem] Whorl

 Today, a poet died
 Because he lost all of his questions.

 Somewhere in France, a tire exploded,
 Delaying a young girl's tour.
 She’s burst tears,
 Caving around a fistful of euros
 As she senses lost moments

 Just over the next hill
 Floating, a red balloon.

 There she imagines Joan of Arc,
 A bicycle thief and Jacques Cousteau.

 A street that's been there
 For centuries.

 Elsewhere, a little boy becomes an artist
 As he sniffs his first jar of tempera
 Handed out by a young teacher from Hokkaido
 Unaware of the seventy two tubes of oil paint
 He will use in his entire lifetime.

 Today, I'm waving at a crow in Como Park
 As if my hands were semaphore flags
 Signaling "Hello," like a transient grey alien

 Wondering what a bird has to do to become
 reincarnated as a writer the next time around.

Yesterday, a girl I knew changed her hair color
 Insisting it made a difference, handing me
 An antique birdcage she found in the street
 Its curved door broken off, a rusty smile for
 Curious dogs who don't know what to make of it,
 Howling in a Frogtown alley devoid of poetry. 

From On The Other Side Of The Eye, 2007

Mali Kouanchao's "Solo"

Solo, Mixed Media, 2009, 44 x 58

Created by Lao Minnesotan artist Mali Kouanchao, Solo is part of her Displacement II: Never Free series examining the journey of Khmer refugees who were deported from the United States of America to Phnom Penh.

Lately in her artist statements, she has described Solo by saying "Part of my work is to navigate a way to document not merely the external surface lives of the deportees but their inner lives. Not only as individuals, but as new communities. A piece like Solo experiments with pop art and modern approaches to shake audiences from the cliched expectations of what a refugee and a Cambodian American looks like."

It hasn't been displayed widely but is arguably one of the key examples of what she has been reaching towards over the last decade. It's colorful yet chaotic, accurate but often seemingly fragmented, much like the Southeast Asian refugee narrative. How can one image tell enough of a moment in time among those whose lives so often seem to teeter on the edge of history's ashbins?

How do we evaluate it? Do we compare it to the work of others? If so, then what are the other key works by Southeast Asian Americans we need to know? Who is creating work addressing the issues of social justice, particularly immigration reform? Are these the questions we might see examined in the work of Andy Warhol or other pop artists from the mainstream community?  

It is fair to ask where does an image like this fit next to Campbell's Soup I or Basquiat's Untitled (Skull) or the work of Hugh Tran. Warhol's concern with his body of work was the dehumanization that took place when one encountered an image enough times. Meaning is a slippery enough thing within art as it is. We struggle to say: "This blob of paint, that line, that texture embodies an idea that means something to you in your experience and culture."  When we create a piece like Solo that will speak to mainstream, Khmer and Lao audiences in different ways, how does the artist's message and critique retain potency and coherence?

When we look at Andy Warhol's repeating Campbell's soup cans or Marilyn Monroes, or anyone's, where is the point where it has lost meaning?

Yet, we so rarely encounter an image like Solo or any image of modern Khmer, especially as seen by a Lao woman. How many times would we need to see this, or something like this, until it has gained or lost meaning?

Of course, we might also ask: Amid all of the garish, flamboyant colors, is this effective in capturing the inner spirit of the subject and the cultures that form him? Does it move you to learn more, or does it erect a barrier that keeps you distant and disengaged with his experience? Many of us are are accustomed to the dour images of the Khmer in the aftermath of the Killing Fields that we've become enured to such iconography. What will keep the visual language of the Khmer, or any community's experience fresh, but accurate?

Warhol felt that embracing dehumanization was absurd, and his body of work attempted to bring that critique forward. For cultures who've experienced the apex of dehumanization such as the Killing Fields even as contemporary social forces attempt to commodify them and reduce them to cogs for corporations, how should their art or the art of their neighbors who are witness to this respond? How do we create art that defies the machinery Warhol and others despised, even as others like Takashi Murakami seem to embrace it through movements such as Hiropon Factory?

Colin Cotterill and Lao Censors

Channel 4 recently did a short piece on the struggle of novelist Colin Cotterill to get his Detective Siri novels translated and sold in Laos in "Highs and Laos as crime writer struggles to publish novels" I did an interview with him some time back for Bakka Magazine.

Probably some of the key take-aways from this article that I'd note is the assertion that "the government retains tight control over publishing and the Ministry of Culture must rubber-stamp any translations that eventually make it on to the bookshelves."

Additionally, it's an interesting matter that even for a well-known author "Other hurdles include finding a translator and persuading the Christian owner of the only printing press in the country to print the books. Even if Cotterill succeeds in getting his titles translated and published there is no guarantee that Laotian readers will fall in love with them. This is a country with few bookshops. Fiction is not popular and few customers want to buy books of any kind in the local language."

Assuming that's accurate, what's the implication for Lao American writers or others hoping to break into the Lao market overseas? Especially in genres such as horror, steampunk, or science fiction and fantasy? I guess we'll just have to find out as we prepare the Lao American Speculative Arts Anthology due out in a few months.

This all really reinforces my continued assertion that we need many more Lao and Lao American publishers and channels for distribution, and to rebuild a core body of writers who keep the Lao language alive through bold translation and the creation of new work beyond that of educational, business or government purposes.

3 poems accepted with the Buddhist Poetry Review

The Buddhist Poetry Review will be featuring 3 new poems of mine this September. These will be: "A Koan of 32 Kwan," "Idle Fears," and "The Buddha of Bombies." There will be a little something for everyone in this batch, ranging from a discussion of Lao Buddhism as it intersects with the Mahayana and Zen traditions, popular culture and horror, as well as social policy regarding UXO.

Buddhist Poetry Review is a quarterly online journal dedicated to publishing fresh and insightful Buddhist poetry.Their vision encompasses the full spectrum of Buddhism, and they welcome submissions from authors who write from any perspective. In their view, "Buddhists have used poetic expression from the very outset of their religion to capture and celebrate the teachings of the Buddha. Our mission is to foster this tradition by providing a forum for new poetry written in that timeless spirit."

Interviewed by the Horror Writer Association

I was recently interviewed for the official newsletter of the Horror Writer Association this month by Ron Breznay. This is, at the moment, for members only, but hopefully later I'll get a chance to share it with all of you in the future.

Among the questions I answered were some gems like "What are some of the Laotian mythological creatures that you’ve written about?," and a retelling of a particularly humorous incident when you had submitted a short story to a Lovecraftian journal (that shall remain nameless) and a transformative encounter with Nang Nak.

The Horror Writer Association is an international professional organization "to bring writers and others with a professional interest in horror together and to foster a greater appreciation of dark fiction in general."

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Assembling Origins

While it's a slightly quixotic gesture, almost ten years ago, I had the opportunity to return to Laos for the first time in 30 years and search for my long-lost family. I was successful in finding my mother's side of the family. They are living in California and I still remain in touch with them.

However, due to a number of factors, my father's identity and his side of the family remain an enigma. While I am inclined to accept my mother's viewpoint: "He didn't want to be a part of your life 30 years ago, he doesn't get to be a part of it now," the completist, the historian within me says I am obligated to be neutral and at least hear the other side, although it is my understanding he has since passed away.

In 2008, my sister found this photograph and sent it to me. It was the first image that may or may not be a picture, at some point in time, of my biological father. A transcultual adoptee's life being what it is, until final, definitive confirmation is established, I am obligated to consider this part of the case still fully open.

In theory, these are some of my long-lost relatives on my father's side, but the photo was given to me without any identifying features or method of contact, so they remain an abstraction. They could still be living out in the countryside or they could be in a suburb of Vientiane. Who can be certain?

From one point of view, this experience and this separation does shape a significant amount of my writing and my sense of the world. It constantly obliges me to ask: What is family, what is memory? What does it mean when others have control of what you can know about yourself? To discover truths will not necessarily change who you are, what you value, who you love. But when others decide for you, well. What can one say?

As a poet I have often taught my students that this is the role of poetry. To see the uncertainties of the cosmos and not be paralyzed by it, both at a macrocosmic level and a microcosmic level.

[Poem] On A Stairway In Luang Prabang

Well, many visitors may be coming over to my blog today because of the recent reading of my poem, "On A Stairway in Luang Prabang," on BBC Radio Scotland's The Written World series read by Khanthieng Muongphene, a lecturer in engineering from Laos. Alas, they did not get a chance to mention all of the amazing people involved in the translation of the poem into Lao, but hopefully I'll be able to share that with you a little later this week.

"On A Stairway In Luang Prabang" first appeared in my 2009 book Tanon Sai Jai, which was available from Silosoth Publishing in Minnesota or as a free e-book.

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 here.

This is the original version in English:

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?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Happy 122nd Birthday, H.P. Lovecraft.

As many know, the early 20th century horror writer H.P. Lovecraft was a significant influence on my own work, despite a great many controversies regarding his character and themes. But I think his body of work is still worth wrestling with, both his, and the work of those he influenced, as much as we wrestle with Shakespeare. He was complicated, a man of almost innumerable phobias and the verbiage to describe them. He had an uncanny knack to make some of the most ordinary, everyday observances take on a most bizarre cast.

Among my short stories, they almost always incorporated Lovecraftian elements regarding cosmic unknowability where human action is minute and almost meaningless in the face of the infinite, where, try as you might to order the cosmos, the cosmos won't be ordered about by the likes of you. Key among those short stories have been:

"What Hides and What Returns," Historical Lovecraft, Innsmouth Free Press, 2011
"A Model Apartment," Innsmouth Free Press, Issue 4, 2010
"The Dog at the Camp," Tales of the Unanticipated, Autumn, 2006
"The True Tale of Yer," Bamboo Among the Oaks, MN Historical Society Press, 2002
"A Dream of Laaj," Paj Ntaub Voice, Vol. 7, No. 1, 2000

There are many of my speculative poems that have also been influenced by Lovecraft's work that might not be as obvious. Certainly the influence is clear in "The Deep Ones" but I would also recommend you consider a poem like "What Kills A Man," "Observing the Oblivious," "Moments in the Eye" or "Her Body, My Monuments."

But I'll be discussing all of this and more at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in September in California! I look forward to seeing you there!


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Dwarf Stars open

Submissions are now open for the Dwarf Stars anthology, from which the best short poem published in 2011 is selected. Anyone may submit their own poems or those of others; there is no limit to how many poems you may submit for the anthology, but only SFPA members may vote for the award.

Submission is open to all genres of speculative poetry, including science fiction, fantasy, horror, and “unclassifiable, but speculative.” Poems must be no more than ten lines not including title or stanza breaks and first published in 2011; include publication credit. Send e-mail submissions to Editors are welcome to submit entire issues; no need to name specific poems. Poems must be received by August 31, 2012.

"Stainless Steel Nak" accepted by Lontar: The Journal of Southeast Asian Science Fiction

My new speculative poem, "Stainless Steel Nak" was accepted by Lontar: The Journal of Southeast Asian Science Fiction. A big thanks to their awesome poetry editor over there, Kristing Ong-Muslim.

This news is good because it's still a few more weeks before "Full Metal Hanuman" is ready for prime time. But that's a different story. This poem could also have become "A Stainless Steel Ratsi" but that's a more esoteric Lao science fiction in-joke. I'm happy with this poem because it's not everyday one gets to pay homage to the work of the late Harry Harrison, Phillip K. Dick, Lao culture and the Southeast Asian zodiac all in one poem. I'll be excited to see it come out in the final version, which will also be Lontar's inaugural issue.

I still really have to figure out how I'd do a Lao steampunk speculative poem, especially one with Lovecraftian elements. But all in good time.

Harry Harrison had a significant impact on my work, primarily through his Stainless Steel Rat series, followed by Make Room! Make Room! and the satire Bill, the Galactic Hero. Among the key things I still try to apply from him as a writer is conscientiousness about how easy you make it for your translators internationally even as you have fun with language. Of course, several of those who've been translating my poetry over the last few years may have  different perspective on that.

If you haven't checked out Stainless Steel Rat, the key take-away theme is: 
"We must be as stealthy as rats in the wainscoting of their society. It was easier in the old days, of course, and society had more rats when the rules were looser, just as old wooden buildings have more rats than concrete buildings. But there are rats in the building now as well. Now that society is all ferrocrete and stainless steel there are fewer gaps in the joints. It takes a very smart rat indeed to find these openings. Only a stainless steel rat can be at home in this environment."

I often wonder how other Lao like the stories and what it would be like if they were writing something along that vein.

In the Lao tradition, a nak is a term for a young monk that comes from a legend of a nak who wanted to be a disciple of the Buddha, so he disguised himself as a human. The nak accidentally fell asleep and turned back into his true form, terrifying everyone. He was told he could no longer be a disciple, but because of his great faith, he was granted his wish that young monks taking their vows would be called nak.

In the glossary of On The Other Side Of The Eye in 2007, I explained that a nak is "Sometimes synonymous with Naga. Typically depicted as a many-headed giant serpent, as a river creature, and sometimes as a subterranean being. Nak are believed to help the Lao during wars, floods and are associated with fertility. Some say the Lao are descendants of a giant Nak living in the Mekong. To some, Nak are snake deities who converted to Buddhism and now protect the Buddhist Dharma. In art, they appear on the balustrades of temple causeways and platforms ("naga bridges"), personifying the rainbow, bridging the earthly and celestial worlds."

Two excellent resources to learn more about the Nak are the recently published books The Enduring Sacred Landscapes of the Naga by the Ngaosrivathanas and Naga Cities of the Mekong by Martin Stuart Fox. Keep an eye out for them.

Op-ed: The poetry of Lao spoons

Over at the Twin Cities Daily Planet, I'm considering an old poem, a spoon, a Leonard Cohen tune. And of course, pondering UXO. August is the annual anniversary of the United Nations Convention on Cluster Munitions (in addition to Lao Minnesotan Artists Heritage Month, soon to be National Lao American Artists Heritage Month.)

On A Stairway in Luang Prabang on the BBC

On Tuesday, they'll be reading my poem "On A Stairway in Luang Prabang" on BBC Radio:

They'll have the recording posted up for 7 days. They didn't have enough space to mention that Mrs. Chomsy Kouanchao also played a big hand in preparing the Lao translation with Ai Kongkeo Saycocie. It is being read by Khanthieng Muongphene, a lecturer in engineering from Laos. We're hoping it gets mentioned in the actual reading and we'll be making a note of that on other websites and posts.

An interactive map featuring the poems of all of the writers who were cultural olympians for this program has also been posted at the Guardian. Thanks, everyone!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Considering Rasdjarmrearnsook

The Daily Beast recently noted Thai artist Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook's video series, "The Two Worlds." The premise is Araya rambles off into the Thai countryside with reproductions of famous Western paintings and then tapes the responses of the farmers and asks them to interpret it. Then Araya brings the results back to her colleagues in Thailand and around the world. This is a still from one of her videos of farmers looking at Millet's The Gleaners.

I enjoy the idea of art appreciation in unusual settings, but I'm not sure I agree with what appears to be a very arrogant, elitist act on one's own countrymen (literally) to prop up a former colonial power's aesthetic standards.

"You don't get Jackson Pollack? Bumpkin. But at least I'll make money showing my results of your ill-informed reactions at the MoMA!"

I haven't seen the entire videos but I would hope Araya bothered to engage them in a longer discussion afterwards about how 'mainstream' Thai aesthetics view these examples of Western art, or alternate responses. In any act of art engagement, there should be more to it.

The typical bio you can find online for her is "Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook is universally recognized as one of the leading video artists from Southeast Asia. For the past 25 years, her video, installation, and graphic works have been regularly shown in institutions in her native Thailand and throughout the world."

Her approach creates many interesting questions for Lao artists in diaspora, considering the emerging passion for photography and videography. In addition to questions of culture, I think issues of class and gender will rise forward in our community discussions. Who is privileged to engage our communities and introduce them to what aspects of the arts, and who is not.

What would have happened if this was approached from a social justice angle of Thai farmers looking at books of art and bringing it to the Thai artists and asking them to give an honest opinion and filming those responses? Or would that risk too much cultural depantsing and risk too many scandals? What would happen if some artists were revealed to value art only from a mercenary sense of cash value than an appreciation of its history and the way its previous owners lives are intertwined with it now?

[Poem] Everything Belongs to the Spider

have book lungs for your knives
        I circle on the thinnest trap line
Gaze eight times before brunch
                          Upon the desiccated casts I left behind

                          Awaiting meals like
An antsy kid for a campfire ghost

Regrettably, this silky web
                   I wish would lasso  a rose-haired sunset

dried shades
and pests

                        But it will be mine,

Originally appeared in BARROW, 2009.

Lao Cryptid: Sinopoda Scurion

Some time back I wrote a short science fiction story about scientists discovering a giant salamander in Laos. And they did in real life. Before I got the story published. So that always made me a little sad.

In the meantime, a new pack of scientists have discovered an eyeless Huntsman spider in the remote caves of Laos. Or what I'd like to call Lovecraftian Southeast Asian nightmare fuel. At some point in their history so little light entered their domain that their tiny eyes just fell off and ow they simply scuttle about happy as eyeless Huntsman spiders can be in the lightless caverns of Laos. Apparently this new spider was named after a corporation who was a major benefactor of the scientific team. It was found near the Xe Bang Fai cave.

No discoveries of Nak or spawn of Cthulhu reported at this time, however.

Lao Minnesotan Artist Heritage Month in the Star Tribune!

In the recent article "Cultures & immigration beat: Lao artists renaissance has roots in the metro" the Star Tribune highlights Lao Minnesotan Artist Heritage Month and several of the local Minnesotan artists who made this possible.  Be sure to check it out!

And thankfully, as Saymoukda Vongsay has pointed out, they even spelled all of our names right this time!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Internship Opportunity: Legacies of War

One of my favorite non-profits, Legacies of War, is working on issues addressing unexploded ordnance in Laos is now looking for interns in the Washington D.C. area. And volunteers.

You can apply for internships or volunteer in the Legacies of War Washington, DC office. The deadline is Sept 5th, see details here: Tell them I sent you!

[Poem] Recovering From War

There is a deficit of contact.

To touch is to risk.

To trust contradicts wisdom,
So ignorance prevails.
Absent truths (memories)
Elicit abundant lusts
With gold, rose and incense
To reform states we fear
May rebuild to rewind time
But not remember:

How we failed the first time
That we now have fewer
To remember with

As we rebuild to recover
Some things terrible

Some, less so.

-Originally appeared in On The Other Side Of The Eye, 2007

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Picture of the day: Ajahn Anan

[Poem] On A Stairway In Luang Prabang, Thai Translation

Recently, Joy Panigabutra-Roberts translated my poem, "On A Stairway In Luang Prabang" into Thai.

This is something of a daunting task, and I'm deeply appreciative of her efforts. This is perhaps one of my most frequently translated poems. Several Lao translations have been made, and Edouard Dupas has a version in French at his blog well worth examining. My sincere thanks to everyone!






วันหนึ่ง สุดยอดของมหาพูสี
แต่เรา… เหลือเพียงแค่ความทรงจำ



For convenience, here is the original in English.

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 Phu 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?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Haiku Movie Review: The Bourne Legacy

More Super-Soldiers?
Not absolutely awful,
But this won't go far.

[Poem] Moon Crossing Bone

Moon Crossing Bone

Lover of change, of delta,
Of poetry stuffed with raw porcelain
And craters of saddened basalt,

Glide your light across my beams of pale,
They gleam beneath silver and bolts of sinh,
Beneath my currents and soft bridges
Erected to span my humble limbs like chains.

Oh, kiss them, for the sake of memory,
For the sake of secrets as intangible as dreams
As meaningful as the dark hair tangling

My darling’s hands as she struggles
To become clean, to break free of mud
And to sing for the true naks sleeping beneath

Black stupas your candelabra face always forgets
Are there.

Asian American Press covers Lao Minnestoan Artist Heritage Month

 Midway into the month, Asian American Press has an expanded write-up Lao Minnesotan Artist Heritage Month. It's a great opportunity for Minnesotans and our community across the US to recognize the contributions and legacy Lao American artists are adding to the American tapestry. 

Of course, as the old joke goes, it would be nice if every day could be Lao American Artist Day, but in the meantime, a month is still a great start.Thanks, everyone, for all of your support in our journey so far!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Celebrating 5 years of On The Other Side Of The Eye

Celebrating the 5th anniversary of On The Other Side Of The Eye's publication today. It took a lot of very careful timing to celebrate a fifth anniversary in the fifth month of the Year of the Nak, 2555! (And on the fifth business day too. 555!) But was it worth it? Absolutely.

 A big thank you to everyone who was there along the way! You made a difference, and I'm grateful for all of the amazing stories we've made between us. A very special thanks goes to Tyree Campbell of Sam's Dot Publishing, who took a big chance on the first book of Lao American speculative poetry, and to the organizers of Diversicon, who first introduced us!

Keep reaching for the infinite potential within you and all living beings. And now, I'm going to go off and celebrate!

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

[Poem] Babylon Gallery

Celebrating the 5th anniversary of On The Other Side Of The Eye this month, I'm highlighting a number of my favorite poems from that collection.

Today it's "Babylon Gallery." Originally written in 2002, but not published until it was featured in On The Other Side Of The Eye in 2007, "Babylon Gallery" was one of the more complex speculative poems for me to write from the early 2000s.

In this poem, I was taking a particular risk employing romanized Lao, Hmong, Christian, Buddhist, European mythological motifs to address the issue of Lao unexploded ordnance. The poem is based on a true story regarding a spoon from Laos that an emerging Hmong writer had brought from her recent journey in Xieng Khouang province.

Amid an exhibit featuring the work of artists such as Mali Kouanchao, Vongduane Manivong, Thep Thavonsouk, and others, we placed the spoon on display, with many visitors asking, naturally, if it was really art. The Babylon Gallery was located on 1625 E. Lake Street in Minneapolis until it burned down a few weeks later.

This particular exhibit was the Five Senses Show, which ran from April 12th to May 2nd, 2002, 10 years ago. We learned a lot from that effort. I think we can easily say it set the stage for how we organized our community for the Legacies of War: Refugee Nation Twin Cities exhibit in 2010.

This is probably one the first poem I'd written addressing UXO in Laos. It was also an effort to examine how we might use poetry to confront the subject truthfully, but artfully, especially using elements of speculative poetry.

 Today, approximately 26 to 78 million cluster bomblets are still believed to be in Laos, and there is still a thriving market for scrap metal from these and other war materials to create different objects, ranging from spoons to jewelry.

Babylon Gallery 

She brought the gray spoon
We hung upon the gallery wall
From the talaat stalls in downtown Phonsavan.
She was supposed to be collecting dab neeg—folktales

And we were showing off art we were so certain
Would change the way the world sees

That stumbled elephant we rode in on.

She was an indelicate work, this buang.
A light cockatrice feather
Crude malice her center
Her bowl an echo of bomb craters
Whispering mad as Gorgon.

"They dine with spoons like this all over there,"
We’re informed.

Hammered from war scraps the dogs
Find indigestible. They sold me this one
Certain it’s American bullets at the core.

"It was time, they said, we took them back."

I pondered how many startled people
This carnivorous spoon passed through
in her previous incarnations,

Karma denying her a role in a finer flatware set for the saints.

Lao Botany: The Dok Setthi or Euphorbia

In earlier posts, we examined the Fantome du Laos, a Lao tomato that traditional folklore says indicates the presence of spirits nearby by glowing at night. The Euphorbia or Dok Setthi is a popular Lao plant also called the "Rich person's plant" because those who successfully grow this thorny specimen are prone to attracting money to them. 

Interestingly, Chinese traditional medicine, it is believed to be one of the 50 fundamental herbs. Western herbalists have long considered it a powerful laxative. Today, the sap is considered very dangerous to handle and in extreme cases can cause inflammation and even permanent eye damage including blindness. 

To grow them requires loose, well-drained soil and bright light, but be sure that there is sufficient protection of their roots. Water weekly, and use 5-10-10 fertilizer with low nitrogen.

Good luck!

Review of This Is All I Choose To Tell

My review of "This Is All I Choose To Tell" by Isabelle Thuy Palaud is up at the Journal of Southeast Asian American Education and Advancement.

The back-text goes like: "In the first book-length study of Vietnamese American literature, Isabelle Thuy Pelaud probes the complexities of Vietnamese American identity and politics. She provides an analytical introduction to the literature, showing how generational differences play out in genre and text. In addition, she asks, can the term Vietnamese American be disassociated from representations of the war without erasing its legacy?"

Does it live up to the pitch? Read the review and find out.

I would say there are some issues that have parallels for Lao Americans to consider in our literature but that there will also be some significant differences that other scholars may want to examine in the coming years ahead.

Carl Brandon Awards Announced

The Carl Brandon Society has announced that Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord and Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor are the 2010 Carl Brandon Awards winners. Redemption in Indigo won the Carl Brandon Parallax Award, given to works of speculative fiction created by a self-identified person of color, and Who Fears Death was awarded the Carl Brandon Kindred Award, given to any work of speculative fiction dealing with issues of race and ethnicity. Each award winner will receive a $1000 cash prize.

The awards will be presented at Worldcon in Chicago, August 30 – September 3, 2012. Carl Brandon Awards nominations are open through September 5, 2012 for works written in 2011.

A big congratulations to the winners!

Featured in Angry Asian Man!

My poem, "What Is The Southeast Asian American Poem Of Tomorrow?" was featured in the new Angry Poetry Corner on the popular blog Angry Asian Man. It's a great blog that I've read for years, so I'm delighted to be a part of the series. A big thanks to Cara Van Le for taking on the task of curating the many different entries for what I'm sure will be an awesome series over time!

Previous entries include:

Narinda Heng's "Perfect English

Audrey Kuo's "I Want to Take You Home With Me Tonight"

Margaret Rhee's "A Dream In A - Z"

Franny Choi's "Wire Woman" 

Edren T. Sumagaysay's "Difficult" 

Allan G. Aquino's "Dreamlog of a Needful Heart"

Monday, August 06, 2012

E-book collections of my work online

In addition to Lao Minnesotan Artist Heritage Month, this week we're celebrating 5 years of On The Other Side Of The Eye. For those of you who are just becoming familiar with my work, there are a number of collections of my poetic work that can be found for free online. 

For convenience sake, I recently posted some up at although those versions are not the most authoritative versions available due to the site's inability to handle special formatting that's typical of much of my work lately.

This is my most recent short collection of poems connected to the Lao experience around the world, along with a bibliography and some biographical information.

Tanon Sai Jai: is a full-length, 2009 collection of poems including a photopoetic essay on Laomerica. It is also available in a signed printed edition.

On The Other Side Of The Eye: was my first full-length collection in 2007, with a foreword by Barbara Jane Reyes. As I mentioned, it is now celebrating its 5th year. This is a book of speculative poetry from a Laotian American experience, drawing on both the history of Laos and the themes and techniques of science fiction, horror and fantasy. Currently out of print, this e-book version was a pre-publication version stored at for scholarly purposes. There are a few differences between this version and the print edition.

Touching Detonations: was the first e-book to emerge from my first trip to Laos in 30 years in 2003. It also collects many of my initial poems written in response to the continuing challenge of UXO still leftover in Laos after nearly 40 years.

They should be compatible with any e-reader that can read pdfs.

Later, in 2012, I hope to upload my short collection Japonisme, Laoisme, connected to the influence of Japanese culture and particularly zen buddhism, iaido and ukiyo-e art on my writing and what lessons the Lao might learn as we begin sharing our work more widely with the world on our own terms.

The Soryu Ham: Document Box collection and Monstro are also planned for later release in 2012. Monstro will most likely include the rare The Kaiju and I in a new edition, along with a revised edition of my first chapbook from my college years in the 1990s, The Leaves.

A big thanks goes to the Minnesota State Arts Board and their Artist Initiative Grant, for their support in making the availability of these collections possible.

Kouanchao Corner debuts at Twin Cities Daily Planet

Dr. Ketmani Kouanchao recently launched an all-new blog at the Twin Cities Daily Planet, Kouanchao Corner. There she'll be addressing questions on education, women's issues and the Lao community. Her opening blog has been about "Educating ourselves, our community." I'm looking forward to seeing future posts from her.

At the Twin Cities Daily Planet you can also find blogs by Little Laos On The Prairie and many other perspectives. The Twin Cities Daily Planet is an online publication connecting citizens in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul with one another and with the global community. The Daily Planet is a project of the Twin Cities Media Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to closing the digital divide and helping citizens empower themselves with media.

Friday, August 03, 2012

In American Librarians Magazine

This month my work featured at the Poetry Parnassus in London during the Olympics was highlighted in the American Librarians Magazine in the article "APALA Member Represents at the London Olympics—through Poetry" by Anchalee (Joy) Panigabutra-Roberts and Jade Alburo.

I became involved with the Asian Pacific American Librarian Association around 2006, just shortly after I had finished my duties as the Interim Executive Director of the Hmong American Institute for Learning, where I had been assisting Hmong refugees in innovating a new literary tradition for their community.

I was deeply impressed by the work of APALA, and had worked with many of their members and other librarians across the country in building an understanding of the role libraries have in Southeast Asian refugee resettlement. Would the resources be there for the community to discover and preserve their stories, or would they languish in obscure corners of campus libraries far beyond the realistic reach of those who need their histories most? As the technology changes and evolves, I always hoped APALA would continue to bring together our diverse interests and ensure that our communities needs are reflected in larger discussions ahead.

As mentioned before, "No Regrets" was informed both by the work Asian Pacific American Librarians and the work of Lao Minnesotan writer Saymoukda Vongsay's debut chapbook of the same title. Hopefully, she'll reissue an expanded edition of it in the future. Thanks for your support everyone!

TalkingImageConnection: Hedge Magic

This weekend the Soap Factory in Minneapolis is closing its show, Hedge Magic. On Saturday, the acclaimed TalkingImageConnection Series is presenting their response to the works found in this group exhibition. The exhibition was drawn from their annual artist submissions, with artists examining issues of transformation, interpretation, reclamation and the super-natural.

Lao American poet Saymoukda Vongsay will be reading poems about "schizophrenics, raging weather, and dusty corpses." 

TalkingImageConnection, or TIC, is an organization that connects emerging poets and writers with adventurous visual artists and new audiences. Participating artists include Chris Lawrence, David Hamlow, Jess Hirsch, Amy Reckley, Meredith Foster, Peter Goché, Keith Lemley. The poets from TalkingImageConnection involved this month are Saymoukda Vongsay, Dennis Cass, Heid Erdrich, Jean Marie Larson, Matt Mauch, R. Vincent Moniz Jr., and the lead organizer, Alison Morse. 

In their note on the exhibition, the Soap Factory notes that it "has always been a nexus of transformation between the various states of matter. The ancient woodlands of pre-Columbian Minnesota were felled to provide the columns that support our building; clay was dug from the banks of the Mississippi to make the bricks that provide our walls; the National Purity Soap Company rendered animal fat in vast cauldrons to make the soap that gives our building and organization its name. Whereas the factory changed states of matter, artists working in our building work their transformations on both matter and states of being." 

They explain the theme of Hedge Magic came from a long tradition. "In old Europe, the hedge priest was an itinerant preacher, a free agent regarded with suspicion by authority and reverence by his flock. Hedge Magic is a practice without a regard for the mediation of a higher power, a non-hermetic magic based on intuition rather than dogma. It is inspired by found materials: the refuse, rubbish and discarded ingredients of the hedgerows and the waste grounds. It is a belief system both smaller and more intimate, as well as wider and more encompassing, recognizing the importance of the chaotic detail that creates the whole. Selected as part of The Soap Factory’s annual submissions program, the artists in Hedge Magic all look at the processes of transformation and interpretation through the super-natural lens of art; the artist as the interrogator of the secret process of nature and culture."

Join them on Saturday night if you can!

[Poem] Bangkok Arrival at Toe Good

I'm the poet of the week over at Toe Good, which previously published my poem "Metropolis." This time, I'm presenting "Bangkok Arrival" drawn from my first trip to Southeast Asia in 30 years back in 2003. There's a bit of myth, pop culture and aquatic cryptozoology in "Bangkok Arrival," along with a live reading of it.

Toe Good Poetry’s main goal is to publish poets who have shown dedication to their craft.They also seek to "spotlight poets who hope to publish (or have just published) their first collection of poetry." They're strong supporters of the unknown and small-press poets, so if you get a chance, send some work in to them.

Look at their archives as well. There are some nice gems they've presented so far, including the work of speculative poets like Kristine Ong Muslim.

Haiku Movie Review: Total Recall

Must we relive this.
No ideas updated
For good memories.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

The Traditional Arts & Ethnology Centre

Recently in Minnesota I had a chance to meet with the founder of TAEC, The Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre,  while they were visiting different organizations across the US.

Founded in 2006, The Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre is "a museum in the UNESCO World Heritage town of Luang Prabang, Lao PDR. It is the only independent non-profit museum and resource centre in Laos dedicated to the collection, preservation, and interpretation of the traditional arts and lifestyles of the country’s many and diverse ethnic groups."

While the time spent with them was relatively short, I walked away with a sense that they will play an important role in the future. Their work could help us all to build a diverse sense of Lao history, as seen through the eyes of nearly 160 different ethnic groups present in Laos. Only time will tell, of course, but you can see more of their work at:

OTOSOTE: 5 Years Later

Most of On The Other Side Of The Eye was written and revised at this coffee shop formerly known as the J&S Bean Factory. Today, it's called Groundswell Coffee and is found on 1342 Thomas Ave Saint Paul, MN. I stopped in for a quick cup of joe recently for old time's sake. I wonder what other books will be written here in the future.

The editing process was one filled with many questions. How do you create a unified text, but one where each poem could be read independently? Do you kitchen sink it, or keep a tight focus? Should you include a glossary and footnotes? How much original material should you include? These all nagged at me at different points, but that's part of the writer's journey.

Bamboo Among the Oaks: 10 Years!

This October 1st, the landmark Hmong anthology, Bamboo Among the Oaks will be celebrating 10 years since its first publication by the Minnesota Historical Society's press.

As a side note, in addition to my poems and short horror story, "The True Tale of Yer," featured in this collection, I also provided the cover photograph, which had been taken in Washington DC in 1997 during the dedication of the Hmong Veterans Memorial in Arlington Cemetery. 

Hopefully, we'll see some celebrations from the community in October to mark the occasion.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

[Poem] No Regrets, Thai Translation

"No Regrets," from my 2009 book, Tanon Sai Jai has recently been translated by Joy Panigabutra-Roberts:



กวีกับศิลปิน วิจิตรและงดงามเหมือนทุ่งข้าวใหม่



หัวใจดวงหนึ่งจะได้รำลึกถึงพี่ชาย พี่สาว อาชญากรรม เสี้ยวเวลาหนึ่งของความรัก
พงศาวดารเมือง ไฮกุจากญี่ปุ่น

ตราบจะถึงวันนั้น มีอะไรที่แน่นอน?
กลางคืนมาเยือน เลื่อนเป็นกลางวัน พระจันทร์ พระอาทิตย์ สายฝน เส้นคลื่น
และอื่นๆ บางสิ่งอาจจะถูกจารึกไว้
หรือไม่… ก็ได้

No Regrets

Maybe one day,
A page will be found,
A song will be heard,
A stroke will be drawn
Filled with explanations.

Maybe one day,
The nuckawi and silapin, beautiful as a field of khao mai
Will be vindicated.

A family will start.

A child will learn the names of a stranger who believed in them
Before they even met.

Maybe one day,
A heart will remember a brother, a sister, a crime, a moment of love,
A chronicle of a city, a haiku from Japan.
A teacher.
A friend on the other side of your eye.

Until then, what is certain?
Night arrives, then day.
The moon, the sun, the rain and waves.
A few other things, maybe something someone will write down.
Maybe not.