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Lao American writer included at Poetry Foundation


This week, regular Little Laos on the Prairie writer Bryan Thao Worra became the very first Lao American poet to be featured on the Poetry Foundation website. On his blog at On the Other Side of the Eye, he wrote,  “I hope my fellow Lao Americans see this not just as a personal victory, but a community victory, and that we recognize the value of our words and the things we can change from sharing our voices. That comes with responsibilities, but also infinite potential worth fighting for.”

Established in 2003 by a major gift from philanthropist Ruth Lilly, the Poetry Foundation evolved from the Modern Poetry Association. The Modern Poetry Association was initially founded in 1941 to support the publication of Poetry magazine. The Poetry Foundation works today to “expand and enhance the presence of poetry in America.” Over 3,261 American poets are currently featured at the Poetry Foundation, including many Asian American poets, but Bryan Thao Worra sets precedent for the community as a Lao American writer.

photo by Boon Vong

photo by Boon Vong

It’s been week of big news for Bryan Thao Worra. In Chicago, the Poetry Foundation is exhibiting the handwritten versions of the poems from the Poetry Parnassus of the 2012 Olympics. Among the pieces on display  there is his handwritten version of his poem “On A Stairway in Luang Prabang” that was part of the Olympics, read on BBC Scotland during the festivities.
A little closer to home, the Smithsonian’s traveling exhibit, “I Want the Wide American Earth” is coming to the Minnesota History Center Museum until June 1st. The exhibit is  the first of its kind, celebrating Asian Pacific American history. It explores how “Asian Pacific Americans have shaped and been shaped by the course of our nation’s history.” The exhibit features several familiar faces to Little Laos on the Prairie readers, and includes an excerpt from Bryan Thao Worra’s poem “Evolve,” which first appeared in the anthology Outsiders Within from South End Press.

To get in the spirit of National Poetry Month, here’s a poem from his collection Tanon Sai Jai:

April Reflection

April begins as a joke in a house of children:
A surprise, a word, a laugh if we‟re lucky.
There are still bills and taxes and poems ahead, at least in America.

With a “sabaidee” we say hello to a new year,
“La kawn” to yesterday and the many mornings before.
The flowers begin to bloom, the rain and wind are welcome.

There are so many places to go these days,
But only one body and never enough money

To journey to every city where a Lao song, a wise word,
A festival of dreamers wants to greet you with a smile,
A nop

Between friends and strangers who might become family
Or a nation ready to create a better tomorrow
With the same ease as a wonderful today.


~Ketmani Kouanchao, Ed.D.

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