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POETIC JUSTICE

Great poets who are actually Asian, not white guys pretending to be Asian

By Thu-Huong Ha

Last month, a small uproar ensued when a white writer from Indiana was selected for inclusion in Simon & Schuster’s Best American Poetry 2015 anthology. The problem? Poet Michael Derrick Hudson had written the poem under the pen name Yi-Fen Chou.

Calling Hudson’s action ”yellow face,” the Asian-American literary community widely condemned his deceit.

Now a few poets have taken the issue as an opportunity to focus attention on real Asian authors, who have often been excluded from the US contemporary canon. On Oct 8, website Literary Hub released a list of notable Asian and Asian-American poets nominated by 35 contemporary poets. Each entry includes a personal, heart-felt, and sometimes lyrical explanation of why they were named. Below, a heartening selection of quotes:

Ocean Vuong, on Garrett Hongo:

“For me, Asianess was, in a way, the antithesis to literature, to books, to words. But not stories. My family always had stories—and so did Garrett Hongo. Hongo’s poems were the welding of story and words and writing all at once. His very existence permissioned me into the possibility of my own writing. He wrote of his kin’s immigrant lineage in Hawaii with careful, ecstatic, and painful celebration.”

Danez Smith, on Franny Choi:

“Franny Choi’s Floating, Brilliant, Gone teaches me constantly about grief as a dangerous and beautiful beast, about the power of moving into and out of it and allowing yourself to be transformed. I am always amazed how Franny makes alchemy and new technologies out of language without losing the heart of her poetry.”

Evie Shockley, on Sawako Nakayasu:

“Her poems—short chunks of prose, dated like entries from a surrealist diary, and full of lists—delighted me as only language at the intersection of the Weird and the True can.”

Dodie Bellamy, on Divya Victor:

“Though gagged and silenced, they will not be contained. Their cagey bodies urinate and defecate and vomit, they exude pus tears bile milk blood earwax phlegm hair and dead skin cells that find their way into the salads of the proper. To privilege or display the female body is always an aggressive act in the English language. Divya Victor’s writing slams itself into your face, yet risks vulnerability.”

Veronica Golos, on Arthur Sze:

“Like a delicate necklace of glass beads, held together by tiny steel hooks, the poem’s semi-colons link together what seem disparate, full of distance, idle joys, and consciousness. The second section of the second sentence of the couplet-ed ‘The Gift,’ reads, ‘no one restores papyrus // once it has erupted into flame; // but before agapanthus blooms, // before the body scorches, razes / consciousness, you have time //…'”

Jason Koo, on Patrick Rosal

“Perhaps the saddest thing about the invisibility of Asian American male poets is how invisible we are even to each other. Here’s Patrick, this incredibly vital, dynamic, lyrical poet with so much swagger, who has such physical presence and charisma at his readings, who writes so well about urban experience and family and culture and love and sex and sports and music, terrain I have been trying to cover in my own work, and I didn’t know him. This was a failure on my part, and America’s.”

We recommend the whole list.

Image by Charlie Nguyen on Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0.