Using Art to Explore Culture

We are delighted to have award-winning Lao American poet and COMPAS artist, Saymoukda Vongsay, be our guest blogger this week…

This past weekend I posed for a portrait with a photographer who asked me the question:

What does your art say about your identity that cannot be expressed with rhetoric alone?

I sat with her question for over an hour, thinking deeply about the purpose of my art-making. When I first started writing poems (age 12), I was prolific. I could churn out 5-8 poems a day. Free form poetry has always been the most accessible kind of writing for me. I didn’t have to worry about rhyming or rhyme schemes. Were those poems remarkable or meaningful? Not especially, but it was compulsory to write. Poems just HAD to be written and they were never forced.

I felt inspired every.single.minute.

I wrote poems because poems about little Asian girls didn’t exist in my childhood. I wrote poems about my refugee experiences because those poems did not exist in my textbooks. I wrote short poems and long poems about my mother’s rice cooker and the aunties that came over for mok-naw-mai (steamed bamboo) making parties. I have written six poems about the smell of Jean Nate’s Afterbath Splash.

As I’ve gotten older, I approached poetry differently. It wasn’t because I was becoming less inspired – no, I saw magic in just about everything – but I was pacing (and maybe even pacifying) myself. It’s almost as if I’m waiting for certain words or phrases to ripen before plucking them from their vines to use in my poems.

What does my art say about my identity that cannot be expressed with rhetoric alone?

My artist and refugee identities are confluent with one another. It’s been almost ten years of self interrogation but I’ve come to realize: Making art for the sake of presenting something surface-beautiful is not enough - it has to be interrogative - of yourself, of your audience. As someone whose elders were killed and silenced by the oppressive communists for speaking their minds, every time I take up space, I am pushing back and being my elders' radical dream.

~ by COMPAS artist, Saymoukda Vongsay

Create poetry or write a play with Saymoukda through COMPAS' Creative Classroom or Creative Community programs.

Come hear Saymoukda read her poetry during a free and open to the public event:

When Everything Was Everything: A Poetry Reading by Saymoukda Vongsay

Sunday, March 12th, 2017. 2pm-4pm
Golden's Lowertown, 275 4th St. E #102, Saint Paul, MN 55101

Awarding winning Lao American poet Saymoukda Vongsay will present a reading from her poetry manuscript as partial fulfillment for her Master of Liberal Studies Final Project. Six years in the making, her poems explore refugee identity formations, trauma from the Secret War in Laos, mental health, and relationships. Music by DJ Kool Akiem. This event is made possible through generous support from Golden's Lowertown, Master of Liberal Studies Program (U of MN), and the Lao American refugees who inspired the poems.
Free and Open to the Public

Mok Nor Mai. Photo credit