With Respect To Sherman Alexie, The Best (Or Almost Possibly Best) American Poetry 2015, And Yi-Fen Chou (AKA M.D.H)

Friday, September 11, 2015

I read through Sherman Alexie's response to the Yi-Fen Chou/Michael Derrick Hudson controversy surrounding the The Best American Poetry 2015 (where Michael Derrick Hudson used a pen-name alluding to the fact that he was Asian American - because this is the best American poetry) and I can't help but have some thoughts:

1. I hope this can be used as a learning experience for everyone involved even if it is at the expense of the Asian American community (in a general sense). The speaks to the fact that even though as communities of color we share inequities, there are still differences - and that lateral oppression, prejudice, and consequences born out of misplaced POV's brought about by misunderstandings or misinformation, can and still do occur.

2. The response from Sherman Alexie I believe on a whole was genuine and truthful and I respect that.

3. At the same time, it felt a little ambiguous for the sake of ambiguity, and at moments in CYA mode.

4. While 1/2 - 3/4's of the response was dedicated to what Sherman Alexie has done and how he had chosen poems and the general writer community, the details and time spent on anything pertaining specifically to the Asian American community and the effect of his decision wasn't addressed, and I think that's important because even though the issue is about a White writer impersonating an Asian American writer, we're still not even truly addressed in the response.

5. Out of everything said in the response, I noticed that there wasn't an "I'm sorry" or "I may need to apologize" or any other statement like that even though Sherman Alexie is aware that he is "committing an injustice against poets of color, and against Chinese and Asian poets in particular".

And to be even more particular - Asian American poets.

6. "I chose a strange and funny and rueful poem written by Yi-Fen Chou, which turns out to be a Chinese pseudonym used by a white male poet named Michael Derrick Hudson as a means of subverting what he believes to be a politically correct poetry business".

When people use "politically correct" it basically means that they tire of hearing how others have been oppressed and don't want to update their own language to reflect equality - because they're lazy and feel their own entitlement slipping away into a fair and equitable playing field which does not coddle or placate to their specific needs - in this case a White Man.

In that way alone, the premise by the writer is inherently prejudiced and I don't feel, armed with that knowledge, it should have been selected.

7. While I understand the ideas behind blind readings or not wanting to know anything about a writer before you read a book because it may influence the interpretation of that text - in this context those are purely analytical and data-driven because we aren't talking about just the text. You can't argue just data and analytics because everything has a context and even Sherman Alexie himself says "Bluntly stated, I was more amenable to the poem because I thought the author was Chinese American."

The two are, and were, intertwined.

8. Here's a longer quote from the response:

"If I'd pulled the poem then I would have been denying that I gave the poem special attention because of the poet's Chinese pseudonym. If I'd pulled the poem then I would have been denying that I was consciously and deliberately seeking to address past racial, cultural, social, and aesthetic injustices in the poetry world. And, yes, in keeping the poem, I am quite aware that I am also committing an injustice against poets of color, and against Chinese and Asian poets in particular. But I believe I would have committed a larger injustice by dumping the poem. I think I would have cast doubt on every poem I have chosen for BAP. It would have implied that I chose poems based only on identity."

When I read that passage I couldn't help but think #3 above and that at the end of the day, part of the decision was about ego and vanity (which we all have), possibly economics (for himself and others) - and how those overrode the cultural and racial implications of the decision.

9. If the tables were turned, I just wonder how Sherman Alexie would feel and what he would want to hear from - well in this case himself - and I have to think he would have wanted more.

10. While I'm fine with pen-names and pseudonyms (as I too have used them) what I'm not fine with are those that are created and used for the sake of misleading others. If my pseudonym was anything other than Slanty/Slant-Eye as I've used in the past, and connoted that I was *not* an Asian American, but rather someone from the African American, or Latino communities - it would be misleading because it brings a false context to what I'm writing about - anything I'm writing about - because on face value it says I have one POV when in reality I do not.

11. Check out the poem response from Franny Choi down at Angry Asian Man to "m.d.h" because no matter what book or who selected the poems, or the legacy of the series - this will always be better than the one by "Yi-Fen Chou". See her site @ http://frannychoi.com.