Our team at Lao American Review saw many exciting new books released throughout the year that caught our attention. A big thanks to everyone who helped us read through all of the books we received. Obviously there were way too many to do all of them justice, but here are some key books of poetry that lingered with us throughout 2015:
The Acolyte, Nancy Hightower, Port Yonder Press.
Presently more widely known for her prose and fiction reviews, The Acolyte is a wonderful speculative poetry collection from Nancy Hightower. Her book explores myth and ritual, faith and survival, frequently reimagining biblical figures, particularly women, in ways that consistently speak more fully to modern times and eras yet ahead. Thought-provoking and engaging, her poems often come at you from very unexpected angles, and we’re richer for it. Her collection includes the 2014 Rhysling-nominated poem, “A Virtuous Woman.” It’s a short read, but she manages to pack a lot into each poem.
Solar Maximum, Sueyeun Juliette Lee, Futurepoem.
We’ve been watching Sueyuen Juliette Lee’s work for several years now. In her new book, Solar Maximum, we get to take a trippy ride that’s laced with speculative poetry and a wholly Asian American voice, giving us a front row seat to a strange future of calamity and the spirit. There will be many moments you scratch your head wondering what you’re looking at, which is as it should be. But take your time to work with this gorgeous book and what she’s trying to say. It will leave you changed.
My Proud Sacrifice, Kevin Minh Allen, Goldfish Press.
Released in 2014, the anticipated first book of Vietnamese transcultural adoptee Kevin Minh Allen recently overcame some initial distribution problems and is now more readily available in the US. In this book, he examines the role of history, memory, policy and art in the wanderings of the human soul. At times profound and stirring, intimate and playful, My Proud Sacrifice is a powerful, unflinching debut that we definitely hope finds its audience in the coming years ahead.
Dance Among Elephants, Krysada Panusith Phounsiri, Sahtu Press.
As a debut collection of poetry, Krysada Panusith Phounsiri’s Dance Among Elephants mark an important turn for Lao American literature as the next generation in diaspora finds its voice. Blending hip-hop sensibilities with intense literary rigor, Dance Among Elephants comes in time for the 40th anniversary of the Lao American diaspora, told from a distinctive Lao Southern Californian perspective. Until recently, we’ve heard primarily from artists from Luang Prabang, Vientiane, and Savannakhet. Krysada Panusith Phounsiri’s family traces their roots to Huay Xai province. Dance Among Elephants gives readers much to consider and marks a promising start for the multitalented artist.
To Love As Aswang, Barbara Jane Reyes, PAWA.
The highly-anticipated book by Barbara Jane Reyes sees her returning once more to Philippine history, myth, and feminism that stretches from the Bay Area to Manila and beyond. The Aswang is a fearsome mythic creature in their folklore and serves as a metaphor for her greater poetic concerns of violence and relationships. While it would have been nice to see a full text of verse that plumbs the concept of monsters in the culture of the Philippines, To Love As Aswang leaves the reader with plenty to consider about the human journey. This is a fierce book, not for the faint of heart.
The Offspring of the Moon, John W. Sexton, Salmon Publishing.
Released in 2013, it’s included on this list because we’ve found it that outstanding, and feel that it will resonate with many of our readers. Sexton covers many global topics in this delightful collection of his speculative poetry. He has a fine sense of phrase and form as he takes us on a journey through folklore and myth, the works of Bram Stoker and M.P. Shiel, the mysteries of the cosmos, the inner dreams and demons we face, and so much more. This is an excellent introduction to his work that keeps us excited to see what he has in store for his readers next.
Light, Souvankham Thammavongsa, Pedlar Press.
Although released in 2014, Souvankham Thammavongsa’s third collection, Light, earned a mention on this year’s list for its exquisite verse and elegant, evocative imagery. It has already received a 2015 CBC Bookie Award and the prestigious Trillium Award for Book of the Year and as one peruses Thammavongsa’s sparse but precise language, it’s easy to see why. This one is not to be missed.
To Live Here, Soul Vang, Imaginary Friend Press.
To Live Here marks the first full-length book of poetry by Soul Vang, a long-time figure in the emerging Hmong literary arts scene. Vang was recently recognized by the Fresno Arts Council with a Horizon Award, one of many more sure to follow in the years ahead. To Live Here includes many of the poems he’s rightly known for, and many wonderful new pieces for readers to discover. This will be held as a benchmark for other Hmong American poetry collections in the years ahead, particularly as a voice from the Central Valley of California.