Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Hundreds and Hundreds: Best American Poetry, and the Name of the Poet--

Sherman Alexie talks about selecting poems for the Best American Poetry.
It's actually pretty interesting.  When he says
"I had no idea that I would spend the next six or eight or ten months reading hundreds and hundreds of poems. Hell, it's quite probable that I read over 1,000 poems last year. I might have read over 2,000 poems. It could have been 3,000."
I think, hundreds and hundreds? That's all? There must be at least 5,000 zines that publish poetry in the US. Even if his top figure is right--  he read less than one poem, on the average, from each magazine.

But nobody (well, nobody but me) is talking about how he selected the poems. Everybody is talking about just one poem-- or rather, just one poet-- the poem by "Yi-Fen Chou," which (after he selected it) Alexie discovered is a pseudonym of a poet named Michael Derrick Hudson.  In his bio for the volume, Hudson gave his real name, and says that he used the pseudonym because the poem "was rejected under my real name forty (40) times before I sent it out as Yi-Fen Chou," and says "as a strategy for 'placing' poems, this has been quite successful for me." He didn't ever actually claim to be Chinese: just used a Chinese name and let the editors make assumptions about his background.
Hmm. Should we be outraged?
Angry Asian Man thinks we should.  LA Times says "Best American Poetry Under Fire".
What do you think? Is it cheating? Cultural appropriation? Proof of reverse discrimination?
Poetry is a tough business, or at least, it is if you think the only poetry that's not worth spitting on is poetry published in literary journals that gets picked up in Best American Poetry. Alexie said that, of the poets he picked, "Approximately 99% of the poets are professors." Since he only printed 75 poems, that means that just one poem in the volume was not written by a professor. Hudson is a librarian, not a professor: so when Alexie says he only selected one poem that isn't by a professor-- that was the one.

--On the other hand, in The New Republic, Theodore Ross says "Cheat! It's the Only Way to Get Published." Maybe that's the secret.


The poet doesn't invent. He listens. ~Jean Cocteau