A Conversation with Bryan Thao Worra

Bryan Thao Worra

An award-winning Laotian American writer, Bryan Thao Worra works actively to support Laotian, Hmong and Southeast Asian American artists. His writing is recognized by the Loft Literary Center, the Minnesota State Arts Board and the National Endowment for the Arts. He has served as a consultant to the Minnesota History Center, the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans and the Minnesota Humanities Commission. He is also an active professional member of the Horror Writer Association and the Science Fiction Poetry Association, and represented Laos as a Cultural Olympian during the Poetry Parnassus of the London 2012 Summer Games. You can visit him online at http://thaoworra.blogspot.com.

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LR: How did you discover poetry and what led you to poetry as a vocation?


It wasn’t quite Pablo Neruda’s storied hymn
Of how poetry arrived in search of him. No.
I began at an age some consider very young,
Just a scribble of a soul undrawn to poetry
Until my senior year in Saline High.

One night, like a stroke of spring lightning,
I began to comprehend what verse could do,
What straight narrative could not,
For knot lives of flux best writ with pencil.

My first poem was for a pretty girl in Michigan, a mask.
Something about Batman’s Joker quoting Pagliacci.
Probing unexpected intersections,
I didn’t end up with the girl, naturally.
Still, it was an early lesson.

LR: Your work has achieved much critical success, with an NEA grant among your many honors, but your path to publication wasn’t traditional, in that you were neither an English major nor an MFA student, and your two full-length collections, On the Other Side of the Eye and Barrow, were published by Sam’s Dot Publishing, a science fiction and fantasy publisher, rather than a poetry press. What do you think your non-traditional poetic pedigree has lent to your perspective as a poet?


It’s liberating.
I read what I want to read.
I write what I want to write.
That’s a great freedom not everyone has.

I’m humbled to have that opportunity in life.
As a Lao American writer, without naming names,
I didn’t always, sometimes still don’t, get invited to
“Join in any reindeer games.”

Over time, that gave me strength.
“Get my work out there anyway. Any way.”

I push myself to be rigorous, but not hidebound
To one leathery school or dogma.

My writing doesn’t have to be
Safe or conventional as a faithful hound by some sad fire.
I fret not for tenure tracks or professional posts to be happy,
Nor grand accolades or book deals the envy of fading fool Midas.

One dragon summer, I was a cultural Olympian,
The sole writer representing all Lao
During the London games.

Between that and other laurels of yore,
I’m obliged to think
“I’m doing something right, surely.”

But that and a cup of coffee will get you a cup of coffee.

Continue reading “A Conversation with Bryan Thao Worra”

Review: How Do I Begin?

How Do I Begin? A Hmong American Literary Anthology | Heyday 2011 | $16.95

The NY Times began the new year with a piece about the Hmong American Writers’ Circle and the cultural context in which it operates. And our most recent issue of the Lantern Review put a spotlight on HAWC in Community Voices. This is only the beginning of much-deserved attention for this unique generation of new writers.

How Do I Begin is an apt title for an anthology of writers whose ethnic identity is doubly marginalized: though the Hmong roots are in southwest China, most emigrated/fled to the US from places like Laos or Vietnam after the Vietnam-American War. Burlee Vang, in his introduction to the book, describes himself as “born into a people whose written language has long been substituted by an oral tradition.” The written language of the Hmong was lost after assimilation in Imperial China long ago; this is not to mention assimilation into Thai and Lao culture, where most Hmong are provided an education only in their host countries’ official languages. The Hmong language has remnants in traditional embroidery but they have become indecipherable. Writers identifying as Hmong American today, therefore, have the tremendous task not only of writing themselves into history and literature, but also of gathering their names and identities from the pieces available. English is their adopted language, and so these writers must weave a warp and woof through multiple traditions.

Continue reading “Review: How Do I Begin?”

Friends & Neighbors: The 500 Project

We are a little behind on our news updates, but in case you have not already heard of this amazing project,  here’s a little plug for “The 500 Project,” which is being co-sponsored by Bryan Thao Worra and our friends at Kartika Review.

From their web page:

“Can’t we find, among all of those thousands, 10 individuals who are passionate about Asian American literature, writer activists who will express without equivocation that Asian American literature matters?

For each of the 50 states, there must be at least 10 Asian / Pacific Islander Americans that answer yes. And thus Thao Worra, joined by Kartika Review seek out those 500. Why should it be so hard to identify them and build a vibrant, amazing network of readers and writers? How can a canon of contemporary Asian American literature be built if we cannot even find these 500?”

The 500 Project, accordingly, “seeks to profile 10 APIA individuals from each of the 50 States who answer YES.”

To submit your profile, respond to the items in their short questionnaire, and email your answers to 500project [at] kartikareview (dot) com.  Include the name of your state, and your own name, in the subject line.

We at LR, of course, heartily encourage you to submit a profile.  Take a stand for the importance of APIA lit, and represent your state!

More on the  history and inspiration behind The 500 Project can be found here, at Kartika Review‘s web site.