Waiting in Phnom Penh By Luke Young

On March 1st of 2022, Laughing Ronin Press is releasing a collection of my poetry titled Waiting in Phnom Penh. Many of the poems in that collection are about the unique ways life hits you, sometimes with brutal and unpleasant force and at other times with joyous surprise or at least chaotic fascination. Hindsight can show us where the warnings might have been but often times the events happen with shock and terror and we’re left to pick up the pieces.

I like to think much of my poetry it is self-explanatory, but if you get a copy you’ll realize that some of the pieces are location-specific: Nevada, Minnesota, Cambodia, Germany, and this ties in my personal experiences into a broader one without borders. We often confine ourselves to a very limited series of connections whereas I like to see those things which have wide and incredible reach. It’s not always good how far that reach goes but it can be interesting or insightful nonetheless.

For a bit of brief background for context: I grew up around Cambodian refugees in the states of California and Washington from zero to five and then my family relocated to the still war-torn and violent nation of Cambodia to work in missions and aid. My family moved back and forth between Cambodia and the United States but I left home at seventeen years old and spent a while traveling before returning to Cambodia. Once I returned to Cambodia I married my wife Loralie who also grew up around Cambodian refugees, but in Minnesota and also spent the majority of her childhood and youth in Cambodia. We have four children together and three of them were born there and one in Thailand. In 2017 we decided to move back to the United States and have been in Minnesota since then. The icy winters, lack of fresh mangoes, and bland food have been very difficult to adjust to.

The title of the book comes from a poem of the same name. It’s a poem of longing, heartbreak, ancestry, mindfulness, anger, and ultimately solitude. My wife was visiting New Zealand and it was a particularly stormy and rough winter there, meanwhile, the dry season was in full effect where I was in Cambodia. The routine work week, child care, and lonely nights began to get to me and I channeled all of those feelings, including my ever present anger at the lack of planning or preservation which summarizes life in Cambodia, into a poem based out of loneliness and reconnection to my ancestral traditions. The piece contains many elements of my own dissonant world views as a non-Cambodian heavily influenced by Cambodian culture, zen philosophy, Marxian dialectics, and indigenous heritage. When I re-read the poem Waiting in Phnom Penh I feel a melancholy which encompasses much of how I still feel about that city and the love I shared with my wife there. It was painful much of the time, and yet the moments of beauty, adventure, and discovery gave it a lot of meaning.

One thing I’d like to make sure is clearly stated for my own posterity and because it amuses me greatly is that when I wrote the poem Hiropon I had no idea there was a famous sculpture from artist Takashi Murakami’s bodily fluids series with the same name. When I looked it up I was delightedly shocked and spent a good few minutes laughing to myself. I love the strange similarities and possible inferences one could make between my piece of writing and the sculpture. Murakami’s sculpture and title predate my poem by many years and in no way do I want to steal from the incredible artistic creativity and brilliance of his creations. I have definitely become a fan although very much by accident. The uses of the word Hiropon which Japanese acquaintances of mine introduced me to are the reason why I titled the poem that and I think with a little bit of discretionary reading it’s fairly obvious, although maybe only ethereally so, what I’m getting at. Maybe that’s vague but sometimes vagueness is necessary.

I hope with this book of poems that at the very least the reader can say, “Well that wasn’t entirely a waste of time.” If you are a stranger to me and ever show me a copy of my book I’ll buy you a drink of mezcal or if you’re not a drinker then something else and we can talk about birds, Sleep Token, sand, Bulgakov, pangolins or whatever comes to mind.

Bio: Luke Young is a writer, bibliophile, proletarian, bartender, amateur bird enthusiast and factotum. He is of mixed Indigenous and old colonial European American heritage. He grew up among Southeast Asian war refugees in the states of Washington and California before moving to Cambodia where he lived for the majority of the next seventeen years. He moved back to the United States in the autumn of 2017 with his wife and four children. He is awful at keeping in touch with people.

*Photo Credit Luke Young

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