Earlier this year, my good friend, fellow blogger, and north Minneapolis transplant Bryan Thao Worra put out a Facebook request for names of sea gods he could use in writing his new book of speculative Lao poetry. And Aquaman was already disqualified. Immediately I fired off a suggestion of Iku Turso, a Finnish sea monster sometimes called the Ox of Death, or "thousand-horned," but who is more often depicted as part man and either part octopus or walrus, and bears a striking resemblance to H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu. Iku Turso has been called the father of disease and the Finnish god of war and pestilence.
"And lutefisk?" I was asked.
"No. Lutefisk is Norwegian, and even a god of war, pestilence and disease has his limits."
Out of that exchange, the following poem was born...
Iku Turso Came to NoMi
Regular readers of this blog, friends, and fellow community members may catch the plethora of private jokes interspersed with double meanings. Since I look at poetry as a way to express as many ideas as possible with as few words as possible, I have not put hyperlinks to blog posts that would tip off readers about such commentary. People should search for their own meaning in these works.
Slugging it out with the Hawkman of Hawthorne
Among ghost peppers and the Mississippi,
See a saga of lutefisk and light rails,
Oxen of death, a thousand horns on the brink,
Lost on Broadway.
Witness: A hula hoop for a soul.
See: Lives foreclosed.
A crow finds her perch,
Vikings shudder, taking a seat to bargained destiny.
Even with my own poem, of sorts, I was still left wondering: What is speculative poetry anyway? And what is a kickstarter? In reverse order, Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative projects, from books and art to film and games. Fans, friends, and other supporters of such works pledge support, often with rewards for varying levels of giving. If the goal is met, the pledged funds are given to the project. If not, the money remains with the donors.
Speculative poetry is a genre of poetry that focuses on the fantastic, mythology, and science fiction themes. Demonstra focuses that writing to Laos, including Lao ghosts, creatures of mystery, references to its "secret war," and the imaginings of Thao Worra. Those less familiar with such themes (often myself included) are advised to read his poems with an appendix by your side or a Wikipedia tab open on your browser. His works are richly worded and deep, making the reward worth the extra effort.
Demonstra includes drawings from acclaimed Lao artist Vongduane Manivong, as shown above.
It's been said that if you want to truly understand another culture, learn what it dreams about. With that in mind, this poem, along with an entreaty to support the "Demonstra" Kickstarter project, seems an appropriate way to close out the blog post.
There is a famous account of Jiang Yan, an official of the Southern Dynasty. One night, he dreamt a god presented him a wondrous writing brush. From that day forward, his literary talents were beyond compare. When he grew old, the god appeared again as a dream and retrieved the brush. Jiang Yan’s writing was never as brilliant again.
Given a thousand nights,
Can you master even a single word?
Or a dream, a tool, a brain?
Open roads, discover ways,
Flow down a stream, slash at ignorance
With ink and a scrap of paper from a poet’s bag.
Do you ever recall that demons are easy,
But dogs are difficult, even if you have the knack?
Rummage among icons and avatars
Of old gods and vibrant titans too long
And in another life you might be little more
Than a short brushstroke of a tale half-remembered,
An object lesson for a daydreamer on a distant world,
Caught somewhere between a shadow of Sisyphus
And the chuckling gods of young Jiang Yan
Or a sandwich for hobos
On a lonely night far, far from Antares.