Writer vs. Writer Interview: Bryan Thao Worra

Well, today, I have an interview with yet another amazing poet, Bryan Thao Worra. He is the Lao Minnesotan Poet Laureate and the President of the International Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association. The author of several amazing books of poetry and his work has been translated into Spanish, French, German, Korean, Thai, Tagalog, Bengali, and Lao. Not to forget to mention that he holds over 20 awards for his work and represented the nation of Laos as a Cultural Olympian during the 2012 London Summer Games. His poetry themes are widely on the role of memory and the imagination in refugee resettlement, social justice, and adaptation. His influences range from ancient Southeast Asian epics to punk rock, pulp fiction, horror, and the US Secret War for Laos. I can say, in this interview, you will get to know the coolest poet of our century.

Ok, finally, here you are Brian. Let us start with when did you decide to become a writer and as a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?

I don’t think there was ever one single moment, but many moments where I found myself considering and ultimately understanding that writing would be a fundamental element of my journey. At one point as a youth, I was so cognizant that I was going to be a writer that I made an effort not to be a writer, looking at a possible career in the US State Department and foreign service, philosophy, possibly the Marines, truck driving, or public relations, among other fields.

But in the end, I realized it didn’t matter whether I was slinging pizzas in Ohio or working on policy suggestions in Washington D.C. I was still taking unscheduled breaks to write down poems or ideas for stories I’d finish as soon as I got home. I didn’t see writing as a hobby or a job, but as a fundamental element of my being, even more than my culture, nationality, or family. All of those could change or be taken away from me, but I’d still be trying to write at any opportunity, anyway, that’s possible, and it was no burden.

Me too. Writing is part of our existence I guess. When your first book was published and what was it about?

There are several books that could be considered my first book, depending on whether we also include chapbooks or zines. But for most purposes, my 2007 Lao American science fiction poetry collection On The Other Side Of The Eye from Sam’s Dot Publishing is regarded as my first full-length book. It largely explored the Lao diaspora 32 years after the end of Southeast Asian wars of the 20th century and where we fit in the bigger picture of the cosmos. Could we rebuild, remember, and yet still wonder deeply?

What about poetry attracts you?

Even after 30+ years, there are poems that still surprise me. I enjoy it because they demonstrate that despite so many people writing and creating around the world, there are still ideas and perspectives that have not been heard. The prose often tries to present itself with great clarity and to hem in our world with precise language, definitions, facts, and an authoritative, definitive way of expressing particular ideas. And there is certainly a time and a place for that.

Poetry, however, leaves us openings to become comfortable with ambiguities and uncertainties, and to embrace subjects requiring us to read between the lines, to accept there are questions we can ask even if they might never have an answer. Poetry plays with any culture’s language and reminds us of the power of “what if”?

When done well, poetry will shake us out of taking any word, any sentence for granted and reward us for looking deeper into something another person Is trying to tell us. It is a form robot and artificial intelligence will struggle with.

I'm in love with sci-fi and mostly my stories have sci-fi inclusion but what amazes me is how you integrate this genre into poetry. That's inspiring. You’re also the president of Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association. Can you tell us a bit more about it?

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association was founded over 42 years ago in 1978 and has grown to almost 400 members in over 19 nations. The association brings together readers and writers of poetry influenced by science fiction, fantasy, and horror.