Friday, January 30, 2015

Thursday, January 29, 2015

[Poem] The Hanumandroid

art by S.R. Bhanja

Friend to his makers,
Drawn to righteous causes, stars.
Aids legends, loves, wars

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Phi Busters: How would a Ghostbusters franchise operate in Laos and Southeast Asia?

So, a significant buzz has been made about the casting decisions and the format of the new Ghostbusters film, which will be the first one in over 26 years. As a child of the 80s who grew up on a steady diet of horror comedies, this is something I'm approaching with an open mind.

There's a potential to do some really interesting things exploring an all-woman ghostbusting team as long as it can pass the Bechtel Test and doesn't become merely a gender-swap shot-for-shot remake with 2010s comedic timing. Well, there are tons of ways to do it wrong. But I hope fans of both horror and comedy can get something interesting and as iconic as the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man and Slimer.

I admit, I approach it all with a particular deal of goodwill because the Real Ghostbusters cartoon was also one of my first exposures to the work of H.P. Lovecraft with its episode, "The Collect Call of Cathulhu" and it also braced me for seeing some very different takes on the characters and the stories that could be connected to the Ghostbusters over the years in other mediums.

One of the interesting ideas that came up on the road to getting Ghostbusters out of development hell was the idea that the Ghostbusters might eventually set up worldwide franchises to deal with paranormal activity around the globe, rather than keep it yet another "New York is the Center of the Cosmos" franchise.

So, what would the Lao branch of the Ghostbusters look like, and what might be the opportunities and challenges they would face in the modern age? My thoughts are hardly the last word on the matter, but here are some things we'd be considering.

As a country, Laos is technically 722 miles long, from its northernmost to southernmost point. If people were driving 60 miles per hour, that means it takes about "half a day" to drive anywhere. This of course, doesn't really apply because it's not taking into account the lack of a highway system and non-uniform road conditions once you get outside of the cities. (And even inside of some cities.) There's also altitude issues, and many of the places where you might see a supernatural flare-up are in remote villages where you just have to walk it. Transit can also get a little touch and go because of UXO from previous conflicts, unfavorable weather, and other road hazards.

These are all things to consider as we identify the Lao equivalent of Ecto-1. There likely wouldn't be a Western-style hearse available to be repurposed for this endeavor. There's not much evidence to suggest 1959 Cadillacs made it to Laos in great numbers, if it all. While some might think a tuk-tuk would be the go-to vehicle, it doesn't really have the stability or reliability that a franchise would get the green-light to use.

As a nation, modern Laos has over 160 different ethnicities spread out within her borders, each with their own traditions, language and dialects and other customs regarding the supernatural. That's not even including the various foreign and colonial powers who have spent time there, such as the French, the Japanese during World War 2, Americans, Russians, Chinese, Thai, Burmese, Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Australians, to name a few.

Many died on battlefields such as the Plain of Jars, Phou Pha Thi, near Dien Bien Phu, and other locations. There are certainly many reports of tourist deaths over the years in Vang Vieng on the rapids or near the caves there.

So, among humans alone, there are plenty of candidates for upset spirits who might necessitate a Ghostbusters franchise operating there. There are also numerous non-human entities whose presence might well necessitate a call, ranging from Nak upset at the rivers and streams being polluted or destroyed by construction to hungry phi like the Phi Kongkoi, the Phi Kasue, or weretigers.

There will be a number of interesting challenges to address because the spiritual traditions of Laos include a medley of Hindu, Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist traditions, as well as folk religions that sometimes overlap or contradict one another. Also, efforts to operate efficiently may be hampered because resolving a phi encounter is not something that typically has a consistent solution.

This would directly inform the team composition for a Lao Ghostbusters franchise. Because you have so many diverse spiritual traditions, and many entities are also shapeshifters, you're going to need a variety of specialists. This might include shamans or mor phi, but also scientists and cultural anthropologists, or people with that kind of background. They'll also need to be fluent in many of the languages there to be fully successful. 

One interesting question that might emerge is whether or not an all-woman Phi Buster team would be fielded, similar to all-woman demining teams employed by the Mines Advisory Group to address UXO in Laos, which currently has over 30% of the region contaminated with cluster bombs and other ordnance that failed to detonate during the Southeast Asian conflicts of the 20th century.

At the moment, it's unlikely the Lao franchise of the Ghostbusters would be as robustly funded as those in Europe or other continents. They would most likely enter Laos as an NGO rather than as a standard corporation, and would have to operate with a Memorandum of Understanding with at least one, if not multiple ministries there. 

There is a strong possibility that the Phi Busters would face considerable pushback from the government, which would take a dim view of them encouraging superstition or suggesting that the government is incapable of taking care of its citizens or adequately assessing their needs. Resolving this conflict would most likely involve a regular non-standard expense or else extraordinary services rendered to key decision makers.

Maintaining a consistent funding stream will also be an interesting question. Will it have to rely primarily on expatriate donors, or would domestic benefactors see the usefulness of having the franchise around. 

If we've hit a point where a Lao branch of the Ghostbusters is needed, might we see an informal volunteer network emerge such as the Thai volunteer ambulance drivers of the Ruam Kayanyu Foundation in Bangkok. You might also see an unfortunate rise in unqualified con men and women who attempt to pass off "equivalent" services that instead infuriate the various phi even more. Would the Lao Ghostbusters franchise charge extra to resolve the crisis. 

There are also questions of how the Lao Phi Busters would deal with staff members providing services or using equipment off the books or after-hours, particularly if they're accepting irregular payments, such as villagers offering prize chickens and eggs, or trying to marry off eligible children.  

It seems highly unlikely that the Lao Ghostbusters franchise would have access to the same level of equipment that franchises in the US and elsewhere would have. Especially a man-portable, unlicensed nuclear accelerator. But not strictly impossible. A P.K.E. Meter to measure psycho-kinetic energy may be available to the team, but they may experience a problem of unscrupulous individuals taking off with it and trying to peddle it on the black market, in addition to calibration issues appropriate to the region. The same goes for Muon Traps.

On the other hand, the Lao Ghostbusters franchise may also come into possession of a variety of esoteric and arcane objects particular to the region such as split buffalo horns for divination, spirit masks, shaman rattles, and palm leaf manuscripts of various levels of accuracy and effectiveness in dispelling malign entities.

In Laos, it might not be considered prudent to store ghosts collectively in one central location as in the New York branch. There would be some interesting questions about how they would ensure the necessary and consistent access to electricity to maintain the containment unit, and what the emergency protocols would be for a breach.

But these are just some of the things that would come into play, I imagine. What other issues or things would the Lao Ghostbusters have to deal with?

[Poem] Legacies

Knowledge helps, almost magical,
Hours arrive, mist-like voyagers.
A modern view observes
Multitudes, visions, opportunities nexal.
Vientiane, opulent now grows.
One nurtures genuine success.
Novices greet "Sabaidee, Ajahn"
Generations seeking altruistically
Smile, aware,

Terror, wonder and the Lao Gothic?

Prospect Magazine had an article recently on Terror and the Wonder: The Gothic Imagination addressing the recent exhibition at the British Library. This in part reminded me of my disappointment in not having something to turn in to Innsmouth Free Press some time ago for their gothic anthology, and part of a larger set of questions I'd been wondering regarding the composition of a Lao or Lao American Gothic.

In a brief nutshell, the formal Gothic genre is at the moment mostly horror, fiction that incorporates tropes and elements of Romanticism. It's primarily connected to the 19th century and includes the work of Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, and in some surveys, Bram Stoker's Dracula. The stories are often set in abstracted medieval trappings, particularly castles with moody, atmospheric descriptions. Its modern iterations include Southern Gothic and Steampunk Gothic, among other forms. The Shining and The Wicker Man are also often included in discussions of the genre. And of course, the famous painting American Gothic by Grant Wood with all of its imitators and homages.

There's a lot to take away from David Anderson's summation of the exhibit that could be of inspiration to Lao writers. There are certainly more than enough legends that abound to fuel the sense of the brooding dark, the lost heritage entangled among the jungle vines and swamps of the old country, crumbling, mouldering colonial estates, etc.

If we look at the Gothic's ties to Romanticism, we understand that a focus was the sense of authentically experience emotions such as horror and awe while confronting the ancient and the primeval. It was enchanted with the folk arts, medievalism and ancient rites, but also was enamored with spontaneity. In general, it was an aesthetic response to the mechanization and industrialization of society and growth of urban culture. These are things that we can certainly see brought forward in Lao art and literature.

We don't have many examples of Lao art at the present that are really singing the praises of the ban nok lifestyle, getting back to nature and so on. The drive is for modernization and sophistication. We do see significant examples of Lao artists pining wistfully for the old days of the Royal Lao Family or at least, an abstracted idea of Laos as a unified kingdom.

If we take our hint for Lao Gothic from the ways Southern Gothic developed, it would mean developing eccentric characters grappling with a variety of flaws and Lao folk magic, superstition or shamanism. There are plenty of decayed or decrepit settings that have been abandoned that could set the stage.  The Southern Gothic is often focused on sordid poverty and crime, alienation, and what hardscrabble folks do to try and get out of that, even resorting to the sinister and underhanded. We might look to Thavisouk Phrasavath's Nerakhoon for a good model of how that works.

With the vast majority of Lao palm leaf manuscripts and other texts crumbling away, and with it, much of our scant history, and questions of unreliable historians and hagiographers as it is, the Lao literary scene could certainly be open to a gothic treatment. I would hope that writers refrain from casting the Lao hill tribes and other ethnicities in cliched, stereotypical roles that unduly romanticize, villainize or infantilize them, which is absolutely a significant risk in the genre.

But what else might we look for or expect from excellent examples of the Lao Gothic? And what might be the implications for Southeast Asian Gothic as a genre, by extension?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

[Poem] Contracting

One morning over coffee
We were discussing terms.
Negotiating with a bit of levity
The hue of a French postcard
And an American biscotti.

I mentioned casually
"We say in the industry,
You can get it good, fast, or cheap,
But you can't have all three.
Pick two."

With a wry smile,
He takes a sip of his hot macchiato,
"That's a good one. In my family,
We say you can get people who are
Obedient, smart, or loyal. Pick two."

I suppose we all know
What that got everyone.

We shake hands,
And I return to a world of ink
With all of her uncertainties.

[Poem] Four Niece-Sitting Haikus

One sheet of paper,
An open box of crayons.
Cleaning walls, all day.

Snacking, then a nap.
Speak of life without limits.
See how much pants fill.

Lunchtime with my niece
Revolting against puree.
Oh, who can blame her?

Who will remember?
Monsters, Laos, journeys, grand dreams.
Maps, doors opened.

[Poem] The Kinnaly and The Apple

Pondering our memories,
Our next exploration,
Many eternities, many opportunities unfold, rousing you.

One begins seeking everything, recovering voices, enchantment.
Uniting nations in questioning ultimate expression,
There is myth, escapades, survival
Among myriad oddities notably growing.
Maybe awakening near you
A reason to inspire something truly special.

Kinnaly navigating our worlds investigating, nobly greet
Heroic endeavors, arrange riddles teaching
A purpose profound, reasons orchestrating a change, hope,
Mysterious elegance leads our dance youthfully.
Performances reveal our fortune of unique nascent destinies.
Rising, every ajahn's lessons inspire zestful energy
Among children, homes inviting, excellent villages embracing
Dreams, a nocturnal chance encounter.
Inquiring novices seek perspective involving reality's enigmas.
Truth rewards us through hearing:
Home exists, really, everywhere.

Call for music-themed speculative poetry: Eye to the Telescope

Issue 16 of Eye to the Telescope will be edited by Diane Severson. They pay 3 cents a word if your poem is accepted.

“I'm looking for speculative poetry about music and song, musical forms or in which music plays an integral role. Take inspiration from Pythagoras’ or Kepler's “Music of the Spheres” (Musica universalis) or from Dr. Who’s version. Think “The Weary Blues” by Langston Hughes, “Hymn to the Night” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Bruce Boston's Rhysling-placing poem (2014) “Music of the Stars.” Or even poems inspired by actual music/songs. The poems may be in any form, but I will give formal poetry special consideration.”

Eye to the Telescope, a quarterly online journal, began publishing science-fiction, fantasy, horror, and other speculative poetry in 2011, under the auspices of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. Its editors are selected by the current SFPA president and change with each issue; as a result, editorial policies change with each issue as well.

Monday, January 26, 2015

[Poem] Laopocalypse Haikus: 1/26/2557

A fish beneath ice.
For millions of years, fine.
Soon to be extinct.

The Doomsday Clock ticks.
Now, three minutes to midnight.
Human time, finite.

Ajahn Anan laughs.
A life is joy, tears and changing.
What is a true end?

Dig for ancient bones,
Fuel, water, food and truth.
Broken modern ground.

Australia Day.
Down under, they remember.
Mad Max would be proud!

Barter and augment,
US cyborgs so boring.
Sex and war collide.

Giant mosquitos.
Gene tinkering and release.
Oh, what could go wrong?

Bigger than you think,
Your sad maps will not help you.
Look: An acacia.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

[Poem] Secrets of Lao Super Science

It's a badly kept secret Ajahn Dao's equation
Rivals E=mc2, relatively speaking, at least in Vientiane.

It's marginally less frustrating than Fermat's last theorem
But certainly goes beyond that mathematical python a2 + b2 = c2

It won't upset economies like Dr. Li's Gaussian copula function
Of  Pr[TA < 1,TB< 1] = Φ2 (Φ-1(FA (1)), Φ-1(FB(1)),γ) (1)
And it's more useful than C33H36N4O6, depending on the occasion.

They don't call him mad, but they don't talk of Nobels
Or other august nominations for his innovation. 

It's uncertain if we'll remember him with Heisenberg,
Or poor Wolfgang Pauli, but science is so rarely
A song of right or wrong, or Feynman poetry

Where our cosmos is a saga in a cistern of lao lao
More than my glass of red wine by a primal corner
Of the Mekong, dreaming of you,

A stem on an ancient Bodhi tree that might grow
Into a beam for a house, a toothpick for a sage,
A castle for a beauty from another star

Who will never appreciate the mysteries of AI,
The circuits we connected, the lives we launched

One strange question, one long laugh,
One lucky cat in a dangerous box
At a time

When no one was looking. 

Asian American Literary Review new issue out

The winter 2014 issue of the Asian American Literary Review has been released, with the theme of "Speak No Evil."

Among the pieces they're highlighting is a forum on Junot Diaz's New Yorker piece, "MFA vs. POC", which explores what creative writing education for POC, and attuned to racial and social justice, might look like. Responses include essays by Janine Joseph, Rigoberto González, Afaa Michael Weaver, and Craig Santos Perez. I'd be looking at the new poetry folios in this issue from Rajiv Mohabir, Ouyang Jianghe, Jenny Wu, Annie Kim, Jane Lin, and especially Mai Der Vang and Kenji Liu.

In light of recent events unfolding, you might want to check out this issue's Dispatches From Hong Kong, or the responses to the Occupy Hong Kong movement by Nicholas Wong, Collier Nogues, Tammy Ho Lai-Ming, Lucas Klein, Henry W. Leung and Adriel Luis. You can get a copy here for $18.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Creative Inquiry and opportunities for the Lao communtiy

Since the beginning of this year, I've been questioning things from many different points of my experience. Going back to the essential questions, older ideas, and in some cases considering some new theories and concepts. I've often been concerned growing older that I would fall into habits I disliked the most among some elders and contemporaries of mine, perhaps most acutely realized as an ossification. An ossification of inquiry, curiosity, opinion and soul.

I've counseled younger students of mine to appreciate that the work they create in their youth is often drawn from great leaps of imagination, while our later work tends to draw upon a well of experience and memories. If we're not careful, our thirties become the prime point our creative capacity for expression has its closest semblance to a balance. So we have to cultivate a constant appreciation for discovery and experience. As we age we develop habits and preferences, but without a regular regimen of inquiry and reassessment, they can become a crutch and an impediment to fully experiencing life and evolving within it.

So, now I've spent a good deal of time looking for ideas and perspectives that might be useful in my own process. Over the years, I've often employed a blend of systems of thought, most often preferring a syncretic, interdisciplinary model where I can look at ideas within diverse practices and extract the best techniques that transfer over into other practices.

At the moment I'm taking a closer look at integral learning, and particularly the theory of Creative Inquiry as an effective approach to discovering knowledge in a way that can work for me and the way I process the world. 

Perhaps, if we are successful we can also find methods that are effective at a wider scale for members of the Lao community in diaspora that will serve us better than conventional education is at the moment. When 90% of us don't complete college, I think we need to raise red flags and find models of education that can lead to knowledge in ways that meet our strengths.

Creative Inquiry is intended to help us discover new information by finding ways for us to ask new questions in new ways. Which sounds obvious, but isn't quite as easy as you might imagine. I'm starting the process thanks to the essay by Alfonso Montuori, "The Quest for a New Education: From Oppositional Identities to Creative Inquiry." It helps in part that he frames much of this article from the perspective of a jazz musician as well as a scholar. I connect with this as a poet. To be creative is not a call to be less rigorous. But it is a call to pierce through the veils and strive for discerning deeper truths we may not yet have a language for.

Montuori suggests that the best of academic process is being stifled by the worst of academic process, an inclination to impose oppressive tedium, constriction and "Objectivism" over rigor, vigor, quality and objectivity. 

I'm inclined to look at this with an interest in also applying the ideas of Paolo Freire and a modified sense of the Chickering Vectors, and the ability of all of these theories to be integrated meaningfully within a Lao American context. In this case, it's one that seeks not only bicultural fluency, but polycultural fluency. I would want a system that allows our youth, elders and adults to position ourselves ahead of the curve, which would be no easy task.

If this approach is going to work for me, and for other members of the Lao community, it requires being able to identify and challenge basic assumptions that limit the methodologies I would use otherwise. It would also require building an understanding of different styles of knowing and a sense of the knowledge we can discover. Epistemology questions.

Among those who've found the approach of Creative Inquiry useful, it seems fairly consistent that they use techniques that are interactive and experiential. It tends to be a cooperative process that requires everyone being engaged. This isn't incompatible with Lao methods, but I can see some concerns that it can get very chaotic. But that's just a pitfall of trying to build a community.

How might we build effective communities who are eager to explore the questions that move us most? This might get problematic because there are times Lao values seem centered on accepting the present situation without much question or ambition. How do we expand our personal and collective horizons to go beyond what we previously imagined, and to see ourselves as free beings imbued with knowledge? How do we create an ideal balance of experience where the mind, body, and soul are engaged in harmony?

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Naga Kanya from Stone Telling!

The acclaimed poet Shweta Narayan is collaborating with Rose Lemberg to produce Stone Telling, a journal of speculative poetry I admire. I'm a backer of their Patreon, which is also just $60 away from reaching their next funding milestone, FYI. I hope some of you consider becoming a regular supporter of their efforts.

She recently sent over a sketch of the Asian mythical entity the Naga Kanya (Lao would consider her a Nakanya or Nakini) or daughter of the Dragon King, as a thank you for my support. I'm absolutely delighted by it, and I share it with all of you with a wish for good fortune this season.

As a recap, the Naga Kanya traditionally protect Lao Buddhist temples around the world. Legends go back thousands of years to Hindu and Buddhist traditions. The Naga Kanya are typically presented as half-woman, half-cobra. They are capable of shapeshifting, magic and in Lao tradition, at least, most have connection to water or underground.

They are considered bringers of treasures, notably wisdom, symbolized by gems or diamond patterns on the back of their hood or a third-eye jewel in their forehead. Most are considered benevolent but despise those who pollute waters, caverns or sacred spots.

Be sure to check out Stone Telling, when you get a chance!

New poem to appear in Uncanny Magazine

In some good news to start the week, I've been informed that I successfully sold my poem "Slices of Failure In Super-Science" to Uncanny Magazine. It will appear later this year.

Uncanny Magazine is an online Science Fiction and Fantasy magazine featuring passionate SF/F fiction and poetry, gorgeous prose, provocative nonfiction, and a deep investment in the diverse SF/F culture. Each issue contains intricate, experimental stories and poems with verve and imagination that elicit strong emotions and challenge beliefs from writers from every conceivable background. Uncanny believes there’s still plenty of room in the genre for tales that make you feel.

I'm delighted because the magazine is co-edited by Hugo Award-winner Lynne M. Thomas and Hugo Award-nominee Michael Damian Thomas, who've really been exceptional about creating spaces where writers from diverse perspectives can share speculative literary work, even, *gasp!* poets!

"Slices of Failure in Super-Science" was inspired by many of the horror and science fiction classics I grew up with over the years, and I think many of my regular readers will enjoy it when it comes out.

I'll say with confidence that Uncanny Magazine now gets the distinction of picking up the first Lao American speculative poem of 2015. All the more significant because it's the 40th anniversary of the Lao Diaspora. I hope this also provides ample encouragement to other Lao American poets that there IS an interest in our work. Khop jai lai, all!

[Poem] Phaeng Mae

I could tell you stories, brief,
Short as the time it takes a raindrop to reach the earth and oceans.

In this life, I won’t be able to say
Everything that could be said, should be said

About the jars near Xieng Khouang, the bombs of old
With their dreams of flame and scars.

There are eternal pairs of birds, friends of our fathers,
Great beauties of flesh and stone, voices longing
Among the sharing, the generous, the witnesses who remain.

A whole cosmos awaits.

In this life, I won’t be able to say
Everything that could be said, should be said

But I’ll say as much as I can.

If you won’t spare twelve words for your family,
Your people, not even enough to compete with a soup can label,
How can you expect strangers to tell your children
Of your yesterdays and all our future tomorrows?

I will tell you stories, brief,
Short as the time it takes the sun to set one last time on a nation,
A life,

Hoping, always hoping, I will hear a story from you, too.

Refuge of the InvisibLao closes on Saturday, January 24th

This is the last week to come celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Lao Diaspora this January by attending the storytelling art and photography exhibit at the Vine Gallery entitled: “Refuge of the InvisibLao: A Visual Essay.”

This is one of the first events of its kind in the country to examine the 40th anniversary of the Lao American diaspora in our own words, on our own terms. It's been strongly recommended to see this exhibition which challenges our expectations of what can and should be said by our community as we examine the diaspora after four decades.

Several of my poems are on exhibit there, as well as photos from my personal collections. These include my poems "Jaew," "Commodities," "Leuk Lao," and "At Home."The exhibit has already been seen by hundreds of community members, public officials, advocates, scholars, and those interested in immigrant stories from Laos and Southeast Asia. Minnesota is home to the third largest Lao American refugee community in the United States, with over 12,000 Laotians and 60,000 Hmong.

The exhibit features the work of acclaimed neo-expressionist Chicago-based artist Chanthala Kommanivanh and past and present portraits of Lao American journeys that were collected by LLOTP Founding Editor, Chanida Phaengdara Potter, sculpture by Christopher Khounbanam, poetry by Saymoukda Vongsay and other artists.

They're asking many profound questions during this exhibit:
What is your dream after a tumultuous past? After the Laotian Civil War during the Vietnam War era, thousands of Southeast Asians emigrated to the United States, Australia, France and other countries. Thousands more followed as students, merchants, and to simply start new lives. How have the years changed our sense of who we are, who we have been, and who we can be?
Stories of displacement, isolation, identity crisis, reflection, hope and happiness are some of the themes that encompass the depth of the path to an American Dream for the Lao Diaspora. Originals and prints of artwork will be available for sale. Many have already been claimed by avid collectors.

During this time, Little Laos on the Prairie will launch its 2015 #BeLaod campaign to promote historically invisible stories of Lao American journeys in the United States.

All proceeds goes to The Lao Diaspora Project and their collaborators to continue their work. The exhibition ends January 24, 2015. The Vine Arts Center is located at 2637 27th Avenue South, Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

[Poem] In the Beginning

Depending on the tradition, you hear:
There was nothing, or there was chaos.
No time, no space, not even a single atom

Not a ray of light, a whisper,
No scent of papaya or rivers.

     Not a body, not a soul.
     Not a ghost of a dok champa

     Or even a memory

Of a touch in the darkness,
Or a taste of a home-cooked meal from

   A tiny garden in the window
   Of a dreaming woman

Asleep amid her books and clothes,
Her brushes and tools.

    In the beginning, though, there
   Was no hate, no war, no anger,

   No constant return to life after life
   Because of our ignorance and lusts.

Still, I look back with no regrets
At our world of fires and love, of ice and hope.

   My mouth opens in song
   In the brief time upon Earth I have,

Creating amid destruction.
Growing against silence.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Lao American poetry collection Dance Among Elephants pre-orders now open!

Sahtu Press officially announced that pre-sale orders for Krysada Panusith Phounsiri's debut Lao American poetry collection, Dance Among Elephants have now opened. 

Featuring 75 pages of original poetry and photography, Dance Among Elephants is a stunning debut from the next generation of Lao American poets as the community approaches the 40th year since the beginning of the Lao Diaspora.

Krysada Panusith Phounsiri is a Lao American who was born in Houay Xai, Laos. He immigrated to the U.S. at age two where he lived in Southeast San Diego. He began writing poetry at age 11, but fell in love with poetry when he attended UC Berkeley. He was a Physics/Astrophysics double major, with a minor in Creative Writing, and a professional dancer who has performed internationally. He is also an avid photographer. His work has appeared previously in publications such as the Journal of Southeast Asian American Education and Advancement, Little Laos on the Prairie, Asian American Press, and the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s national photo project “A Day In the Life of Asian America”.

 Lao American author Nor Sanavongsay said “It's an exciting text from a rarely heard perspective that will change the way many people see the Lao journey and more importantly, the Lao future.”

Sahtu Press was established in 2013. Their mission is to publish and promote enduring contemporary Lao American literature and to create academic and grassroots learning opportunities. Sahtu Press acquires, publishes, and markets high quality, imaginative work from emerging and established Lao American writers or those working on issues of interest to the Lao American community.

Dance Among Elephants is normally available for $19.99, but during the pre-sale will be available for $15 plus shipping. You can order here:

Cthulhu Wars arrived

So, some time back, Cthulhu Wars came about in the aftermath of the attempt to bring the Cthulhu World Combat video game to fruition. Thanks to all of the kickstarter backers, the base game got expanded from its original four factions with 64 miniatures to include 13 other expansions including at least 9 other Great Old Ones and their respective minions and cultists. 

It finally arrived this week, and the base game is definitely an impressive package. I haven't had the heart or tentacles to punch out all of playing pieces from the card sprue yet, but the maps and miniatures themselves are definitely distinctive and engaging, as my niece can testify.

Here we have Hastur the Unspeakable, also known as the King in Yellow, looming over Europe. A big thumbs (or tentacle) up goes to Richard Luong who did the concept art for this set. I recently commissioned him to do a piece re-imagining one of the entities from Lao mythology, and he did a fabulous job with it.

I became acquainted with the works of H.P. Lovecraft over 30 years ago thanks to a variety of ads in the now defunct Dragon Magazine for Sandy Petersen's Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game that he designed, as well as the Del Rey collections of H.P. Lovecraft's work featuring the art of Michael Whelan.

Seeing Cthulhu Wars come together makes me immensely happy for Sandy as a validation of his life's work and his tremendous influence on my generation. It's also set a new bar for our expectations of what a Lovecraftian miniature game should look like. I'll be charitable and say it's not the last word, but it's going to take a very long while for to beat this one. Also the pieces are nicely scaled that they can be used for many other games easily. Personally, I'm waiting for the Chaugnar Faughn miniature that will arrive later. I'm in the process of finishing a poem about Sandy's original Great Old One he's contributing to the mythos that we'll hopefully see later this year.

Overall, this has been a fascinating experience. With Sandy Petersen's Call of Cthulhu having been a part of my life for well over three decades, seeing something like this absolutely feels like the game of a lifetime. Something that you didn't think you'd ever see, much less own. It's a way of saying thanks to him and everyone who contributed so much to the imagination of my childhood, while also getting ready to share those fantastic visions with the next generation in my life. So a big congratulations to everyone involved with the production of Cthulhu Wars, and I wish them much continued success. If you're interested in a copy of the game for yourself, visit:

Closing this post,  here we have the crawling chaos, and Nyarlathotep!

What it's like to write science fiction in China and implications for Lao science fiction

On Io9, novelist Cixin Liu, author of The Three Body Problem discussed through the history, present, and the possible future of science fiction in China. There were some issues we discussed previously here, but it also framed the context and impact of those policies in practical application.

One of the interesting take-aways was Liu's discussion regarding the reading habits and preferences of many Chinese at the moment:
"The Western convention of opening a science fiction novel by grabbing the reader by the hair and tossing her into the future or space right away is not something Chinese readers are used to. They are more used to starting with familiar reality and then gradually progressing to the future or space. Another way of putting it is that they prefer to tether the kite of imagination to the ground. Of course, such reading habits have been changing recently."
I wouldn't say that you should alter your writing style to meet this approach in the Chinese and Asian markets because reader tastes definitely change. Also, I think news still tends to be about two to three years behind things that are becoming actual trends or shifts, especially regarding literature, even more so regarding genre literature. Of course, I could discuss at length why that IS a big mistake, but for now it's just something interesting to note how authors perceive their readership and the work that has come before them.

For Lao science fiction there are still a good many questions we have to ask for ourselves even as admittedly, we're waiting for enough examples to be written and published for us to say there are trends, successes and failures.

We don't often see Lao speaking in their writing of ambitiously reaching the stars. At best it's often heavily tinged by space opera elements thanks to the prevalence of Star Trek and Star Wars. Which isn't to say that's not a great influence, but when we have a dearth of well-written Lao literature that incorporates plausible applied future science, it won't achieve the original aims of Chinese and other Asian science fiction: To create a popular interest in science and mathematics, or future-management that can address serious issues of ecological and social importance.

How might Laos deal with overpopulation, or in the vein of the classic disaster movies, a volcanic eruption, a flood, major earthquakes or sinkholes, a nuclear or biological disaster, or something implausible as giant atomic monsters.

Back in the old days in Minnesota I proposed a program that unfortunately didn't get implemented in its fullest iteration: Giant Lizard Theater. The idea being a weekend-long kaiju film festival showcasing the better examples of the genre such as the latter day Godzilla and Gamera films from the 1990s. But it was also tied to community outreach and engagement with emergency response teams, colleges, and after-school science enrichment programs or projects that were examining why so many mutant frogs were being discovered in Minnesota lakes at the time. Oh, and a giant inflatable lizard on the campus, but that's just a given. Would it have turned around our dismal math and science scores in our community a decade later? Who can say, but I suspect it might have.

As Lao students continue to make forays into robotics, computer science, architecture, and other fields, how can they explain what they do to their parents and what improvements or dangers it could bring to society?

How do we show that in trying to solve big problems, we often learn how to solve many smaller problems along the way? These were some of the things I was trying to address in my Rhysling-nominated poem "The Robo Sutra," but there are still many other directions we can take our questions.

When we're presented with a lycanthrope outbreak, unfortunately popular media has not encouraged us to address it through a rational scientific lens, other than "break out the guns and use applied ballistic science." We don't see the lycanthropy condition as something to try and find a cure for using a methodical process of inquiry.

More often, it's not even something people are trying to cure now. They just find "treatments" and substitutes that reduce the likelihood they'll rampage on some poor innocent person.

In other cases, writers will encourage mysticism, superstition or new age sensibilities to approach lycanthropy. Which can be done interestingly, but often kicks the legs out from science education if we just resort to handwavium and "Mr. Khounbanam became a weretiger because of magic, and that's all you need to know."

You rarely see a case now where someone writes a weretiger or a phi pob story from the perspective that it may be a case of psychosis and how does one sanely treat those conditions, especially in a zone that doesn't have a lot of resources to cure people in the conventional sense.

Now the remaining question must be: How do we create opportunities for Lao writers both in Laos and beyond her traditional borders? While I've been fortunate, I also appreciate that many editors of otherwise fine science fiction journals don't have the resources or the ability to give emerging Lao science fiction writers a start, especially pieces that aren't framed for a more mainstream Euro-American audience.

While I can certainly advocate from one end of the field, I think the solution must also include the rise of semi-pro Lao science fiction zines and publications that can get good outreach into our communities. There has to be enough profit and acclaim, or at least marginal respectability to encourage our emerging writers to write more of it.

A part of me says this actually shouldn't be too difficult. It's not like Lao writers working in non-genre subjects are making hand over fist that writing speculative literature is a ridiculous proposition. The second-most expensive movie in Laos is about to be a ghost story from Mattie Do. So, where do we go from there?

But what are your thoughts?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

[Poem] Digging for Corpse Oil

We know
Rabbit’s feet aren’t lucky for rabbits.

The position on corpse oil seems vague
For those beyond this realm of mortal cares.

In certain lands they’re a treasure for rites
Most find too hideous to mention.
Modern medicine considers it unsanitary,
While soulless corporations have not yet found
A monetary percentage to profit by,
So it remains a cottage industry, dying off,
Dripping away little by little every day.

If you must know,
Not just any old body in the dirt will do.
And there’s an art to desecration if you’re serious.
The ‘experts’ claim the body is quite multipurpose
If you’re not attached to it the way some societies are.

Certain bodies for certain things.
Extract in silence,

Until you get to your prize.

Fresh is easier to work with.
The right candle is essential, beneath the chin
On the right night amid proper conditions.

You don’t collect much from a single body but enough
If you’ve been brought to this poor point in the first place.
It’s not for amateurs and the penalties are stiff if caught.

Predictably, most want the oil for luck in lust.
A few want protection from their own karma
For hanging around with the wrong crowd.
Reasons vary.

I feel sympathy for the ones who hit all of the branches
On their way down the thorny Trees of Fate:
Poor, pregnant with their first baby and murdered,
Now wandering the afterlife with a burnt chin
While care-free high-rollers dig themselves deeper
Into dippy drama thanks to amulets made from those
They think

Bless it all you want.
Believe in blind judges.
Behave as you will.

Perhaps the body is a stairway
More than a revolving door,

Where young children might ask
“What’s monstrous in the world, after all?”
Watching foreign refineries on the Mekong
Dig for liquid dinosaur bones
Fuelling fancy cars for finite lives
Speeding to their next destination.

It almost sounds like a scream.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Lao American Indiegogo Campaign: Kohk and Sahk, Authentic Lao American cuisine

Something new this month: Kohk and Sahk wants to bring authentic Lao American cuisine to the community and needs your help to raise $12K to take their emerging business to the next level!

I was very impressed talking to Thip Soulisak, the vision behind the company, who understands the need for Lao-owned small businesses and the benefits to our economy nationwide if he succeeds. Of course, they could use a lot more than $12K, but this is enough to help them scale up and make their dreams a reality in this phase.

As with any crowdfunding effort there is some risk involved, but Thip Soulisak is pretty savvy and has been involved with the community for many years, and is approaching this professionally and responsibly.

But take a look, and if you can throw in $20 or $100 or just help spread the word, it would really make a difference for them!

Here's a haiku, just for them:

Kohk and Sahk, saep lai
An ocean away from Laos,
 Dreams brought together.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

[Poem] Jaew

Goes in hot. Comes out hot.
But this may be more than the casual student
Will want to know.

Mom’s grinding chilies for me in Modesto.
Red, green, a dash of fresh cilantro,
Fermented shrimp sauce and a pinch of salt
Between her mortar and pestle.

Dabbing a sticky ball of khao nhio
Into the tiny ceramic saucer, I know

She’s a sorceress
In her kitchen

Trying to find a way to say
She loves me, hoping my prodigal tongue
Is still Lao enough
To understand what her broken English cannot convey.

My eyes are cisterns of tears after 30 years.
I should say “mak phet” and grab some cold milk
But with a smile through the pain I stammer
“Saep lai, Mae, delicious, Mom.
Saep lai, hak Mae lai lai.”

“Don’t talk, just eat,” she says between her tears

Friday, January 09, 2015

[Poem] Commodity

Yesterday, mother
Became a hunter.

There were no words
For what she was

Looking for.

Even her children were
Just strangers here,

Eating away their
Foreignness by forgetting

Memories meant to be alien and true

Amid aisles of stores
Who don't buy the change her family can bring.

She holds a pomegranate
                     and cries,
                                        so close.

Lao Americans in the St. Paul Pioneer Press: Refuge of the Invisiblao

The Pioneer Press in Minnesota doesn't often cover Lao Americans even though there are at least 12,000 Lao Minnesotans according to the Census 2010, enough to make up a city the size of Monticello or Worthington. If the Lao Assistance Center estimates of nearly 24,000 is correct, that would be a city the size of Crystal.

So, it's exciting to see that the "Refuge of the InvisibLao" exhibit was covered this weekend by Debra O'Connor in "Minneapolis exhibit showcases Laotian-American art" with a focus on St. Paul resident and Lao American playwright Saymoukda Vongsay and Little Laos on the Prairie founding editor Chanida Phaengdara Potter. Vongsay is best known lately for her play Kung Fu Zombies vs. Cannibals, and contributed her poem "Letter to My Unborn Self" to the exhibit.

I contributed my poems "Jaew," "Leuk Lao," "Commodity" and "At Home" to the exhibit which will be on display for two weeks at the Vine Art Center in South Minneapolis. This is the first exhibit and event of the year to celebrate and reflect on the 40 years of the Lao diaspora since the end of the conflict in 1975. Be sure to stop by the exhibit if you get a chance.

The exhibit will also include art by Chantala Kommanivanh who is braving the Midwestern snowstorms to participate this weekend. The event is free and open to the public.