Bryan Thao Worra is an award-winning Lao-American writer. An NEA Fellow in literature, he is a member of the Horror Writer Association and the Science Fiction Poetry Association. His work appears internationally, including in Innsmouth Free Press, Tales of the Unanticipated, Illumen, Astropoetica, Outsiders Within, Dark Wisdom, and Mad Poets of Terra. He is the author of several books of speculative poetry including the recently released Demonstra from Innsmouth Free Press. Visit him online at: http://thaoworra.blogspot.com.
Nathaniel Katz recently had a chance to interview him about his writing and next directions:
IFP: What drew you to writing speculative poetry?
BTW: There’s probably no one single incident or poem I can cite. I grew up on Greek myths, science fiction, horror, and fantasy. Classics by Tolkien, Lovecraft, Kafka, Poe, and Borges. Since I came from Laos, there weren’t a lot of books or media I encountered that could connect me to my culture and our collective experience. Apocalypse Now and Brando quoting T.S. Eliot left an impression on me, certainly. So did Rutger Hauer paraphrasing William Blake in Blade Runner, or any number of stories mentioning Shelly’s “Ozymandia” or Yeats’ “The Second Coming.”
I was exposed to a lot of classics in school, but, for someone who came to the U.S. as a refugee from the Secret War for Laos (1953-1975), a film like Alien Nation felt more like what we experienced. Reading an issue of Wolverine or “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” about hidden identities made more sense than “The Great Gatsby.” And all of that crept into my poetry almost right from the start.
IFP: Can you tell us a little about what’s coming in Demonstra?
BTW: Demonstra will be moving in several different directions at once. From one direction, we’ll be reclaiming traditional Lao mythology and folklore, such as the epic Phra Lak Phra Lam, the old ghost stories, and legends such as the “Frog Who Eats the Moon.” But to me, the point of poetry is also to present things with a twist, to see things from an angle (non-Euclidian and otherwise) we’ve never seen before. So, I’m taking a look at them through a Mythos lens.
In my poem “The Terror in Teak,” for example, I question how the story, “The Call of Cthulhu,” might have been presented incorporating Lao culture and history in the early 20th century. You’ll even see how Cthulhu would be written in pre-1970s Lao script. That’s never been done before.
Another big item is the long poem, “The Dream Highway of Miss Mannivongsa,” which I think most will agree just has to be experienced for the best effect.
For most of the 20th century, ideas of Karma trumped ideas of psychology and questions of sanity in Laos. So, these poems will wrestle with those values, all in a constant state of flux. Monks who are familiar with the Lotus Sutra and famous monsters of America. Weretigers and zombies. Old demons, secret wars, nightmares, and simian bioweapons in the Year 555,555, inspired by the ancient myths of Laos. Laos is a tropical, landlocked country, so the legends of Deep Ones, oceanic Great Old Ones, shoggoths, and elder things of Antarctica are a little more abstract to us, although things are changing.
Finally, I think readers will be interested because we don’t often see Buddhist perspectives reflected in the Mythos or speculative horror poetry. When we do, it tends to be discussed from an Americanized Zen approach, or, even more rarely, the Tibetan forms. However, there are millions who follow the Theravada forms in Southeast Asia, and I wanted to see what happened when we brought that forward. I think readers will be able to get into it quickly.
IFP: The last line of “Fragment of a Dream in Atlantean Yellows” has refused to leave my mind since I read it. Part of that, I think, is that I keep conjuring up new possibilities for how eyes alone could taint or fail to do so. Could you share some of what you were thinking with that line or with the poem as a whole?
With any poem of mine, there are always multiple lines of thought going on. In the case of “Fragment of a Dream in Atlantean Yellows,” that began as a snippet of a line that came to me at the beginning of autumn. I had been researching a number of stories that influenced and were informed by “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” For some reason, Hastur and the Yellow Sign, as well as Atlantis, had been coming up a lot. I’d also had some discussions with some fellow writers about going back to the roots of Lovecraftian horror.
To me, that includes the sense of the cosmic, and the long, long games of ‘history’ and ‘time.’ Lovecraft felt humans are not the center of things. Like the old Chinese landscapes, where the artists show how vast nature is and how minor we are in comparison. It occurred to me, then, that in such a cosmic view, many entities would surely consider Humanity not just cosmic accidents but vile aberrations. But what could a human do to the Great Old Ones that was utterly repellent?
That particular key occurred to me when I remembered the double-slit experiment that light could appear as a particle or a wave, depending on the intention of the viewer, and certain theories in atomic physics that suggest that the very act of observation changes the observed. If that were the case, what if that act of observation agitated greater, darker cosmic forces?
Of course, there were other things, but that may be a discussion for another time, when the stars are right.
Nathaniel Katz is working towards a handsome pair of degrees in English and History at Kenyon College. In all the free time he’s allowed, he reads, writes and reviews Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror. His stories have appeared in, among other places, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Fantastic Frontiers Magazine, and Innsmouth Free Press’s Historical Lovecraft anthology. His reviews have wound up in Strange Horizons, as well as on the Innsmouth site, and his review blog and internet abode, The Hat Rack: evilhat.blogspot.com.
Frequent Innsmouth Free Press contributor Bryan Thao Worra’s new book of Weird verse, Demonstra, slithered out in December, in time for the holiday season, and he had a launch in Minneapolis in the middle of a snowstorm straight from Ithaqua. Born in 1973, Bryan Thao Worra has been a prolific writer, with work appearing globally in Hong Kong, Singapore, Pakistan, England, France, Switzerland, Australia, and Canada, just to name a few. In 2012, he represented the nation of Laos at the Poetry Parnassus in London during the 2012 Olympics. A frequent guest of the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Los Angeles, his work is also currently on display as part of the touring Smithsonian exhibit, “I Want the Wide American Earth.” His poem “Full Metal Hanuman,” which appears in Demonstra received a Reader’s Choice Award in Strange Horizons Magazine. His writing has appeared in Future Lovecraft and Historical Lovecraft by Innsmouth Free Press, and you can follow his additional exploits at: http://thaoworra.blogspot.com.
Nathaniel Katz caught up with him to discuss Demonstra and his next directions.