Friday, May 30, 2008

Bryan Thao Worra: Laotian-American Speculative Fiction Writer

Bryan Thao Worra is a Laotian-American Writer of speculative poetry. He is a member of the Carl Brandon Society and an advisor to AsianAmericanPoetry.Com . Bryan Thao Worra is an internationally known poet, playwright, and short story writer. His work appears in many acclaimed Asian poetry anthologies. He is the author of The Tuk-Tuk Diaries: My Dinner With Cluster Bombs and Touching Detonations.

His book of speculative fiction, On the other side of the eye, has been recommended by the Carl Brandon Society for Asian Pacific Islander month. Here is my mini-review (I'll be adding more stuff to it later and will submit the final version of this blog to the carnival around May 15th.)

Rodan, Ghidrah, Mothra. Porky’s, American Idol. Herodotus, Cerberus. Jack the Ripper, Hanibal Lecter. In Monstro, one of the poems in On the Other side of the Eye, Bryan Thao Worra has created a poetic world of cosmopolitan allusions. From Pop culture to ancient texts, from the east to the west, from Scripture to pop sound bytes, all are used to question his world, to face fears ancient, modern, near, far and multicultural.

In addition to roaming mental, spiritual and cultural lands, Worra also roams historical and geographical lands. From Laos to St. Paul.

The title is On the other side of the eye. But, one may ask, "What eye? Does it refer to the physical or the cultural human eye? Or does it refer to the eye of a cultural and emotional hurricane?" Probably all of the above. His poems invite you into many worlds as he questions and explores them.

Consider, New Myths of The Northern Land

“Dream,” I said,
“Aren’t you tired of making new legends
That no one but I ever hears?”
“Bones,” she said,
“Aren’t you ever tired of asking questions
That only I can answer?”
I went back to bed,
Waiting for the new king to arrive,
His talking mirror filled
With dire pronouncements of flame.

You can learn more about Bryan at his blog and check out the blog carnival for Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

What kind of eye, one is tempted to ask, sees with equality and clarity concepts and symbols from art, religion, and history? An eye that is aware of what it sees but judges it with the eye of a skeptical mind?

In the first stanza of his poem, The Big G., Worra states,
We don't say his name aloud in serious poetry.
We close our eyes and say he doesn't exist.
I am a modern eastern Peter with a mouth of denials
While the cocks crow at the rising sun.

In this one stanza he brings together several of his contradictions, he is a skeptical believer in the face of an evident challenge to his own denials. He is aware of the requirements. In order to be considered a serious and important poet, one must close the eye -- a self-blinding-- but one must also consciously lie. As I began reading I wasn't sure if the rising sun of the St Peter story is supposed to also echo the rising sun of the east. Worra might be saying he is an eastern believer of a western religion and that also requires a kind of complicated "hiding" of himself. I didn't want to analyze. But the joy of Worra's poetry is how honest it is, and how transparent the poet attempts to be -- even through the allusions. The allusions to external mythic things only brings us closer to what's behind the author's eye.

The critical and intellectual problem that accompanies a work full of allusions is that many of the allusions are not accessible to the reader. Hey, I'm smart enough. Those days of watching Discovery TV, perusing Sci-fi channel, indulging in Pop Culture, reading the Bible and going to church have helped me understand much of the poems. But I am still at a loss with some of the allusions in these poems. And Worra doesn't help me out either. The poems are rich enough without me understand why a particular eastern God, writer, or politician is important. But there is no doubt I would have understood the poems even more if I had gone googling. On the other hand, Eastern readers who have not dived into American culture might not understand aspects of the poem that I readily understood. And, if culture doesn't block the reader's understanding, other things might. It is not only ethnicity that makes the poems comprehesive or incomprehensive. Someone who doesn't understand popular speculative movies won't understand the references to Rodan, Mothrah and Godzilla. Heck, (she smiles to herself) my soul has always understood that there IS a spiritual, cultural, and gender difference between Mothrah and Godzilla.

The experience of the immigrant is vast and it is always difficult to put all that one is into a work of art. Worra puts all that he is -- American, Lutheran-raised, Easterner, child of the media generation, intellectual-- into his works. In a world of expedience and easy generalizations, that is a brave thing to do. The poems in this volume challenge his first estimation of himself: No St Peter he.

Here's the link to an earlier draft of On The Other Side Of The Eye. Right-click on the link and choose Save target as. An earlier e-chapbook prepared for Diversicon in 2006 is located here Again, because it's a pdf, right-click then choose the save-target-as option.
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