Lao Horror Poetry at H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival

It’s been a big month for fans of Lao American horror. Film director Mattie Do had the US premiere of her ghost story Chanthaly at Fantastic Fest in Texas to rave reviews. Playwright Saymoukda Vongsay is days away from the world premiere of her play Kung Fu Zombies vs. Cannibals at the Southern Theater. And Little Laos on the Prairie’s Bryan Thao Worra was a featured guest at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Los Angeles.

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At the famous Whale and Ale restaurant, he gave a stunning presentation from his new book DEMONSTRA, which is entering the final stages of editing with Innsmouth Free Press.  He gave the audience in attendance a reading of three of his poems, “To an Old Tune,” “The Deep Ones,” and “The Terror in Teak,” an experimental poem that combines the tropes of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft with Lao culture. The reading was organized by Cody Goodfellow, author of books such as All-Out Monster Action.

This is the fourth year the festival has been convened in Los Angeles, but it is part of an 18-year old tradition that began in Portland, Oregon, to celebrate the writing and legacy of early 20th century horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. Over 400 participants came this year from as far away as Australia, and across the United States, including Ohio.

Almost a century since his writing first appeared, H.P. Lovecraft has had a distinct influence on Thao Worra’s poetry, as well as the writing of many international figures including Stephen King, Brian Lumley, Neil Gaiman, Douglas Adams and Jorge Luis Borges. It has been argued that you will miss a lot within Thao Worra’s poetry without a familiarity with the work of Lovecraft.

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Thao Worra’s three favorite Lovecraft stories are “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” “The Whisperer in the Darkness,” and “Dagon.” He was first introduced to Lovecraft’s writing as a teenager on a bus in Michigan by a classmate.

“Many of Lovecraft’s themes focus on the experience of the alien, an understanding of one’s remote place in the cosmos,” Thao Worra said. “I think there’s a great deal we can learn from the best of his writing.  Should his work speak louder to Lao Americans than the words of more mainstream writers? Well, there’s a whole book I could write about that.”

“I was really honored when Nancy Holder came up to me about my reading,” Thao Worra said. “She was really very positive and encouraging.” Holder was a Stoker Award-winning writer who has written many original novels as well as books for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Highlander, and even Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. In the weeks leading up to the festival, Thao Worra conducted over 20 interviews with the authors and artists attending, including Rick Kitigawa, Cody Goodfellow, Joe MacDonald, Necro-Sapien Press and the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society.

Thao Worra was one of two poets participating in the reading, the other being Denise Dumars, who read from her latest book “Paranormal Romance.” Both are members of the Science Fiction Poetry Association who first met at last year’s H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival.

One of other the highlights of the festival for Thao Worra was watching the film Dagon with its creators, Brian Yuzna and Stuart Gordon. Thao Worra grew up with their movies in the 1980s which include the Re-Animator series, and From Beyond. Yuzna was even a creator of the film Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

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This year, Thao Worra spent much of the festival with Ross E. Lockhart, who recently completed the anthology Tales of Jack the Ripper. Lockhart also edited two well-regarded anthologies of stories by contemporary writers responding to H.P. Lovecraft. “I’m looking forward to his next projects,” Thao Worra said.

The short film “Reset,” by Fredrik Åkerström and Marcus Kryler won both the audience choice and the judge’s award for best short film of 2013. Thao Worra’s personal favorites among the short films was a tie between James Bentley’s “Miskatonic University” and Scott Milder’s short “Vanya.” He also gave high marks to the comedy short “The Unusual Case of Henry David Pierce” by Michael Bach. “The Trench” by Zac Sutherland won the screenplay competition.

-Chanida

editor@littlelaosontheprairie.com

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On Poetry and Sci-Fi: Lao American writer Bryan Thao Worra at San Diego’s Comic-Con

“Not a lot of folks expected a Lao American poet on stage,” said Lao American award-winning writer, Bryan Thao Worra, who sat on a panel among some sci-fi greats at San Diego Comic-Con this past weekend.

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Second from left: Bryan Thao Worra

The panel was on “H.P. Lovecraft and the Necronomicon: 75 years of mingling fact and fiction”, marks the 75th anniversary of the “History of the Necronomicon,” a short essay written by iconic horror author H.P. Lovecraft and published a year after his death.

Since then, the dread book written by the mad poet Abdul Alhazred has appeared in movies, books, comics, cartoons, art, music, and games. Although originally a literary hoax, there are hundreds of products that bear its name today. Audience members were invited to come explore the truth and legend behind the greatest creation of the 20th century’s greatest weird fiction writer, and “learn how and why the book and its creator continue to influence all aspects of culture”.

The other panelists included Brian Yuzna (director/producer of Re-Animator, From Beyond, Dagon, Necronomicon, and more), Mark Kinsey Stephenson (actor, “The Unnamable”), artist Mike Dubisch, editor Leslie Klinger (upcoming “Annotated H.P. Lovecraft”), author Cody Goodfellow (“Radiant Dawn” “Ravenous Dusk”, others) and Arkham Bazaar owner Brian Callahan, who also founded and organized the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, Oregon. Aaron Vanek, the chair of the Los Angeles edition of the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival served as the moderator.

We asked Thao Worra a few questions about the event.

What was your favorite moment during the panel discussion? 

It was great meeting Brian Yuzna. His films were a very formative part of my childhood, cementing much of my love for the work of H.P. Lovecraft. I had a chance to briefly discuss my work as a writer with him, and how science fiction is a more interesting way to examine the journey of Lao refugees, compared to the way most mainstream narratives have shown our journey so far.

It was also wonderful to see almost 300 people show up late at night for a talk like this. Everyone added in some great points to the discussion. Cody Goodfellow got the panel off to a great start, putting it all in context for newcomers. Mark Kinsey Stephenson’s personal experiences as an actor working with Lovecraftian material also stood out to many of the participants. I’ve been a fan of Mike Duisch’ work, and he brought in great points about what it meant for an artist to try and depict the indescribable horrors Lovecraft hinted at. I’m looking forward to seeing Leslie Klinger’s new book, which has great notes about what inspired Lovecraft and the fears that drove him. Much of Brian Callahan’s experience with the Necronomicon mirrored my own growing up, and I was left wishing it was easier for me to make it up to Portland more often.

While some may have been irked by it, I found the technical difficulties we had getting some of the videos and slides we had planned for the presentation entirely appropriate for a legendary book that supposedly brings doom to anyone who even dares to look at a page of its cursed text.

What did the audience ask from a Lao American poet? 

At the heart of my remarks, I hope I opened a lot of eyes about the connection of poetry to one of the classics of modern horror literature. I also hoped to demonstrate how the Necronomicon played a role in broadening our sense of modern intellectual horror, and the influence it had on figures such as Jorge Luis Borges and other international writers.
As a poet, I consider poetry to historically be the effort to find words for the things for which there are no words. This falls right in line with the cosmic themes of horror Lovecraft was working with. Many writers, though, present the Necronomicon as a book of spells or the Encyclopedia Britannica of demons, and while that’s certainly allowed, I think it gets away from Lovecraft’s original sense of his creation.
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How did you feel about being able to speak to an international audience about your work?
It was, in many ways, an indescribable experience, and it was wonderful to have a chance to meet both great old fans and new ones.
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What did you learn about comic-con that Lao American artists should also know?
I’ve learned now that much of the Comic-Con experience is one where you have to reconcile with the fact that you’re not going to be able to experience it “all.” There were so many amazing things going on, from an entire building converted into a Godzilla-themed building to a walking 9′ robot, or the entire cast of the X-men showing up on stage to talk about the new movies coming out. You see some spectacular costumes and get to talk one-on-one with so many professionals. As an artist, if you get a chance to go, you’ll walk away energized and excited to create even more work.
There are so many Asian American artists who were creating work there. That was really inspiring. And I was glad to see so many Minnesotans who made the journey, such as the crew from The Source Comics and Games who set up their annual Cthulhiana Corner for fans of all things Lovecraft. I hope it won’t be too long before we get a chance to see a panel on Lao American science fiction, fantasy and horror.
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For his latest project, Bryan re-visits Lao horrors, ghosts, and mythical creatures in his speculative book of poetry, called DEMONSTRA, due to be published later this year.
He is also currently encouraging fans of H.P. Lovecraft to consider supporting the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival-Los Angeles kickstarter, which runs until August 16th:
-Chanida P. Potter
littlelaosontheprairie@gmail.com

 

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Trayvon and Anousone, beyond an (un)reasonable (in)justice

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Shrine of Anousone Phanthavong at True Thai Restuarant, where he was a celebrated chef.

Hearing the words, “not guilty” can be the most joyous or frightening day of anyone’s life. But so is the person who is dead. Unable to speak for oneself. The world is angry, no, they are pissed off. Not at Zimmerman, but at the fact that a man can kill a boy and walk free, unpunished for his actions. History tells us this is the plight of the Black man. It is also the plight of many people of color funneling through a legal system that has its version of justice: sometimes it delivers, sometimes it doesn’t; and that typically depends on those in power and who are privileged.

The whole nation followed Trayvon’s case. I can barely remember anyone in Minnesota who even knew Anousone’s name, but we all knew who killed him. People are in fear of talking about race. The sensationalized media dishes what they can bank on, but the best freedom of expression is with the people on the streets, witnessing injustice day in and day out. I can’t help but make the comparison, not between the victims involved, but of the limits and failures of a system intended to protect and serve its people, the lack of acknowledging a racialized society, and the power of community organizing when we speak up. As Bryan Thao Worra points out, “It’s time we call things as we see them, because things only get worse, not better, from our silence. Whether it’s politically correct can no longer matter”.

Some will say, well, it’s because one is Black and the other is Asian. We can’t undermine each other’s struggles. Let’s move beyond pitting disadvantaged communities against one another. Is this really justice? Are these kinds of laws flawed? Are we not doing enough to hold these systems accountable? These are very real and relevant questions that America is trying to process and seek answers for, post-Trayvon verdict. Let the families and communities impacted by it define what justice should mean for us.

The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates said it best in his article “Trayvon Martin and the Irony of American Justice”:

“When you have a society that takes at its founding the hatred and degradation of a people, when that society inscribes that degradation in its most hallowed document, and continues to inscribe hatred in its laws and policies, it is fantastic to believe that its citizens will derive no ill messaging.”

Anousone and Trayvon. They were sons and they were loved. We must remember them and fight for the thousands of Anousones and Trayvons who aren’t alive to fight for themselves. They represent the people in our communities who continue to fall through the cracks, against systems that plague their livelihoods and stagnate their freedom to live with dignity and true justice. Democracy is being thrown around and reshaped to reflect the times. People have the choice to do so.

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Tonight at 6:00 pm, there is a #HoodiesUpMN rally for Trayvon at the Minneapolis People’s Plaza in downtown. If you want to see the faces of hundreds of people impacted by what injustice does, drop by and be an ally. Details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/205300609626208/.

-Chanida P. Potter

littlelaosontheprairie@gmail.com

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