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William Haskins
09-08-2015, 09:57 PM
If You're a White Man Who Can't Get Published Under Your Own Name, Take the Hint

Let’s raise a big glass of curdled identity politics to Michael Derrick Hudson, whose poem “The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve” has made it into 2015’s Best American Poetry after only 40 rejections under his real name (Michael Derrick Hudson) and 9 under the assumed name to which it is attached in the anthology, which is the adorable “Yi-Fen Chou.”

Published by the University of Nebraska-affiliated literary journal Prairie Schooner, “The Bees…” made it into BAP 2015 under the authority of this year’s guest editor, the fluidly-genred Native American writer Sherman Alexie. Alexie is beloved for his sharp, raggedly good-humored treatments of minority identity in America, and for BAP he adopted an editorial stance of affirmative action, choosing a lineup of writers that ended up 40 percent non-white. He also picked the poem before knowing Yi-Fen Chou was a Rachel Dolezal-at-AWP situation, but we’ll get back to that later.

http://jezebel.com/if-youre-a-white-man-who-cant-get-published-under-your-1729280567

CassandraW
09-08-2015, 10:13 PM
Either it is a good poem or it isn't. I do not give a damn who wrote it.

ETA:

...but it appears that many do care, alas. I often wonder whether and how my sex and (ethnic) last name would play into publication decisions.

Kylabelle
09-08-2015, 10:14 PM
Interesting take on it from Jezebel.

Whether Alexie was right or wrong, he sure did his best to be even-handed. I agree his blog post in the BAP blog is a really good commentary on identity politics.

The behavior of Hudson strikes me as just icky.

I bought the anthology just now, ordered it that is, because I read about all this and one thing I learned is that Alexie managed to include a majority of female poets. I'm buying the book for that reason alone. Well, that, and I can be sure it will have good poetry in it.

I also started a thread about this here but maybe it should be deleted (I also linked the BAP post in Roundtable; different crew will have different takes I expect.)

CassandraW
09-08-2015, 10:26 PM
The bits of the poem quoted in Jezebel leads me to think it is not a good poem. I'm with those who rejected Hudson.

ETA:

If one is going to take identity politics into consideration in choosing poems for an anthology, at least pick better ones.

kuwisdelu
09-08-2015, 10:32 PM
We've a thread on this is the Roundtable, too.

CassandraW
09-08-2015, 10:36 PM
I'm struck by the fact that Sherman Alexie decided to keep this sub-par poem in the anthology after it turned out the author was not a person of color (the reason the poem was selected). Did Alexie truly think the poem was so meritorious? Or, to paraphrase Jane Austin, did he think that the arbitrariness of his initial selection was atoned by his obstinacy in adhering to it?

ElaineA
09-08-2015, 10:45 PM
I'm struck by the fact that Sherman Alexie decided to keep this sub-par poem in the anthology after it turned out the author was not a person of color (the reason the poem was selected). Did Alexie truly think the poem was so meritorious? Or, to paraphrase Jane Austin, did he think that the arbitrariness of his initial selection was atoned by his obstinacy in adhering to it?

He did address this in terms both broad and narrow his post here (http://blog.bestamericanpoetry.com/the_best_american_poetry/2015/09/like-most-every-poet-i-have-viewed-the-publication-of-each-years-best-american-poetry-with-happiness-i-love-that-poem-je-1.html), but the bottom line, I think, is this quote: "But that's not what happened. In the end, I chose each poem in the anthology because I love it. And to deny my love for any of them is to deny my love for all of them."

I really find myself scrambling in all directions on this thing. I can see Alexie's point, and I can see the counter-points...an intellectual challenge, to be sure.

CassandraW
09-08-2015, 10:49 PM
Then I question his taste.

Seriously. The bits quoted are not good. I see no craft at all, no music, no profound metaphors, no evocative imagery. I suppose perhaps the rest of it might contain something worthwhile, but the parts quoted here lead me to doubt it. Certainly, with bits like that, the poem was not among the year's "best" -- we have much better right here on the AW poetry forum.

ETA:

Oh boy! I just realized there's a link to more of it (http://ak-hdl.buzzfed.com/static/2015-09/7/21/enhanced/webdr03/enhanced-8146-1441675328-2.jpg)! I'll report back on whether I'm at all inclined to change my view.

ETA:

No. No, it's worse than I thought. And now I'm depressed.

I'm smashing my keyboard and giving up on this poetry thing.

Kylabelle
09-08-2015, 11:26 PM
Yes, let's be clear on that: he did not choose it, nor leave it in, because of his belief about the race of its author.

I think the images are evocative, but I don't much like how they are handled, and I don't have any sense of why his line breaks are as they are....

Seems almost like a poem written while bored on vacation, trying real hard to get interested in something but failing. Now, that's a first world problem if ever was.

I also know that seeing the poem in this context is not at all helping ME have any kind of objective opinion. There is no such thing as one of those but we all try to approach them I think. Anyway, Cass, you realize that now there will be more attention paid to this poem than ever it deserved, and because of the flap it may even end up being anthologized again and taught in schools....

CassandraW
09-08-2015, 11:28 PM
I asked this in roundtable -- I'll also pose the question here.

What the fuck is this poem about? What is it trying to do? Seriously. Can anyone tell me, based on the page or so we have of it? I am not accustomed to seeing a full page of a poem -- much less a poem labeled one of the "best" -- that I cannot get any kind of a toehold on.

Failing that, would anyone care to point out an arresting image, penetrating metaphor, or beautiful bit of language? Shame me. Show me what I am missing. Perhaps I am simply blinded by prejudice.

Is it just me, or are most of the poems right here on AW better than this one?


because of the flap it may even end up being anthologized again and taught in schools....

...thus turning another generation off on poetry.

How utterly depressing.

ETA:

Mind you, I don't in the least object to a bit of obscurity in a poem. But I demand that my musing and pondering will bring me to some kind of aha moment where I see what the poet is trying to do, or at least feel something. Here -- nothing. At least for me.

Perks
09-08-2015, 11:35 PM
I read what there was of it. I don't get it either. All this fuss for something that shit.

Perks
09-08-2015, 11:41 PM
And if that's what's included, there will be some poembabies thrown out with that bathwater. If Sherman Alexie read up to 3,000 poems to compile the collection and that was one of the best, I don't want to know what else is in that book.

Kylabelle
09-08-2015, 11:42 PM
I'll be finding out; I bought the anthology.

ETA: GREAT cover, by the way, Jamie. Love it!

CassandraW
09-08-2015, 11:44 PM
And if that's what's included, there will be some poembabies thrown out with that bathwater. If Sherman Alexie read up to 3,000 poems to compile the collection and that was one of the best, I don't want to know what else is in that book.

yes, that's where I am.


I'll be finding out; I bought the anthology.

please report back to us.

Perks
09-08-2015, 11:45 PM
ETA: GREAT cover, by the way, Jamie. Love it!Thank you! I love it, too.

Kylabelle
09-08-2015, 11:48 PM
yes, that's where I am.



please report back to us.

You just said you don't want to know.

One of those statements is from your reptilian brain. But, which?

CassandraW
09-08-2015, 11:56 PM
You just said you don't want to know.

One of those statements is from your reptilian brain. But, which?

I am all reptilian brain, Kyla. Surely you know this by now.

I think it amounts to this. I don't want to know the way I don't want to see a horrible accident -- and yet cannot help looking.

Seriously, though -- the selection of this poem erodes any faith I might have that the others in it are any good. Therefore, I would not buy the book, and if I were to pick it up, it would be without any real expectation of pleasure (though of course I might be delightfully surprised). But I do rather want to know whether my dire predictions are accurate.

The ideal solution is to have you be the guinea pig and report back.

Kylabelle
09-09-2015, 12:00 AM
*is a happy little guinea pig who can read*

One thing I have observed about anthos is, there are going to be items I detest and items I adore and everything else. So then I have to wonder, do I really even know anything? But in any case, I would bet you personally a chunk of change that there will be at least one poem in this anthology that YOU will love.

Sadly, I am always too broke to actually make good on that.

William Haskins
09-09-2015, 12:06 AM
i'm sorry, kylabelle, for not seeing your prior thread. this one could certainly be merged into yours.

i was posting quickly during my lunch break and didn't take the time to make sure it hadn't been posted before.

Kylabelle
09-09-2015, 12:12 AM
No problem, doesn't bother me a bit. The thread in Roundtable has some life to it; my link here doesn't and can die a natural death.

As well, you posted the Jezebel link which is a different angle.

CassandraW
09-09-2015, 12:26 AM
Sorry, Kyla -- William's thread title caught my attention, and I missed yours here. But I do think the separate threads here and in roundtable will likely develop differently, and it is worth keeping both.

I, of course, will be delighted to bash the poem in both of them. If only it were filled with sweets to make it worth cracking open.

Kylabelle
09-09-2015, 12:40 AM
I was very grateful for Robert Dawson's post in the other thread. Like you, I'd like to see some of our poets take a crack at it too.

I am not about to. I already said I think it is about a bored vacationer looking for existential meaning and value wherever his glance falls, and rather desperately at that.

kborsden
09-09-2015, 12:42 AM
That poem is pure tripe! But there are those that can make it work for them. Could Michael Derrick Hudson be a modern day William McGonogall (http://www.mcgonagall-online.org.uk/) in the making?

Kylabelle
09-09-2015, 12:45 AM
You made me choke on my beverage, with "pure trip".

Either way, trip or tripe.

And I'd really love to learn Alexie's reasons for choosing it as good enough for his "Best".

CassandraW
09-09-2015, 12:45 AM
It was a good try. Alas, though, I think it is a bad poem, and any attempts at close analysis are bound to disintegrate like wet toilet paper. If Robert is right about what the poet is trying to do, I think the poem fails, at least the part we've seen (and if that much of it fails, I don't see how the thing as a whole could be good). I'd love to see more poets take a crack at it.

While traveling, I will make an attempt to write a poem about being a tourist looking for existential meaning and value in everything I see. (Certainly that is what I do -- might as well write a poem about it.) Perhaps someone will stick it in an anthology, if I can make it clumsy and rambling enough.

Kylabelle
09-09-2015, 12:47 AM
You'll have to get it published first. Published, then anthologized.

CassandraW
09-09-2015, 12:49 AM
Damn. Then I'll have to make it pretentious as well.

(Just kidding, of course. Of course I do not think that only pretentious poetry gets published. I just couldn't resist the joke. I'm horrible that way.

I do, however, find this particular piece of tripe/trip pretentious as all fuck.)

kborsden
09-09-2015, 01:11 AM
I meant tripe... I get sloppy when I'm typing in multiple threads at once.

But, yes, the poem is tripe with a vengeance.

Kylabelle
09-09-2015, 01:19 AM
I meant tripe... I get sloppy when I'm typing in multiple threads at once.

But, yes, the poem is tripe with a vengeance.

That's not so bad; I typed "synonym" for "pseudonym" in the other thread.

William Haskins
09-09-2015, 01:42 AM
snippets of alexie's rationale:


I did exactly what that pseudonym-user feared other editors had done to him in the past: I paid more initial attention to his poem because of my perception and misperception of the poet’s identity. Bluntly stated, I was more amenable to the poem because I thought the author was Chinese American.


Hey, guess what? In paying more initial attention to Yi-Fen Chou’s poem, I was also practicing a form of nepotism. I am a brown-skinned poet who gave a better chance to another supposed brown-skinned poet because of our brownness.


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.

Kylabelle
09-09-2015, 01:50 AM
Yes, but there is nothing in there about why he thought it was a good poem. And that's what I'm curious about.

Perks
09-09-2015, 01:53 AM
What a mess. I think AW has the right tactic for contests - separate the poem from its byline during the judging.

Kylabelle
09-09-2015, 02:15 AM
Well, yes, but the process is very different for the BAP choices. Basically the guest editor is on his or her own, and spends a year reading published poetry, some of which I grant is recommended, in order to choose those which will be anthologized. It's pretty impossible to conceal identities under those circumstances.

CassandraW
09-09-2015, 02:37 AM
"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."

No, he'd be admitting it -- he'd be saying that in his view the poem wasn't good enough to be one of the best unless it had a Chinese name attached.



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."


No, he would have been admitting it. See above.


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.



I think by keeping it he's doing an injustice to poets everywhere, of every race and color.


I'm with Kyla -- what I'd really like to see is his analysis of this poem, telling us what he thought was so masterful that it rose above thousands of others. It's fine for your average Joe reading a poem to say "I don't know, I just liked it." But if you're in charge of choosing the alleged "best" for an anthology, surely you must have more reasons than that, and I'd love to hear them.

I'd also love to hear the poet explain what it is he's trying to do in this poem. If anyone finds a link where he does that, please post it.

robeiae
09-09-2015, 02:48 AM
Am I the only one who reads poems and books with absolutely no concern over the skin color, ethnicity, sex, or sexual orientation of the author? And does no one remember what happens when one assumes? Still trite, still true.

CassandraW
09-09-2015, 02:51 AM
You must all check out his Taxonomy of My Fossil Megafaunal Heart (http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/prairie_schooner/v088/88.3.chou.html) . A snippet:


Oh that fat whale with the flatulent spout! Musclehead marbled
to the bone. How many times must this cold fish

get gaffed, flensed, and rendered? Avast! At only fourteen,
sweet Lisa Rodenbeck sat on my lap

for a sweaty bus trip home and to this day I’m pincushioned
by fragments of those hand-whittled harpoons
from that antediluvian event


He's fond of exclamation points, isn't he?

This, my friends, is why so many people say they "don't get" poetry and won't go near it with a barge pole. This right here.

CassandraW
09-09-2015, 02:53 AM
Am I the only one who reads poems and books with absolutely no concern over the skin color, ethnicity, sex, or sexual orientation of the author?

No, there'd be me, right there with you.

Kylabelle
09-09-2015, 02:57 AM
Yeah, but I kinda like this:


Patched at the knees, stripped
of all rank & privilege, I’m vodka-soaked & etched all over with busted capillaries. Tonight, the neighborhood zombies
& lipstick princesses flit by, children gone feral

on the incomprehensible 21st century. Insensitive leaf-kickers!

Reluctant moon-gazers! Apparently, the moon
wasn’t worth the effort, comrades, I tell them in a villainous

Russki accent, pointing out a spectacular waxing
gibbous emerging from a tatter of clouds. They note my pinhole

leaks, the futility of my zero-gravity shoes. They set me straight,

informing me that Star Wars has a two-moon minimum, super
giant moons at that, with blue-green atmospheres

crisscrossed by glabrous heroes shooting down...



(It's about Halloween.)

CassandraW
09-09-2015, 03:00 AM
Damn, the guy is fond of exclamation points. All of his poems seem to use them.

To think I've written dozens of poems, and not a damn one of them includes an exclamation point.

As Hudson would say, "Huh!"

robeiae
09-09-2015, 03:05 AM
You must all check out his Taxonomy of My Fossil Megafaunal Heart (http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/prairie_schooner/v088/88.3.chou.html) . A snippet:



He's fond of exclamation points, isn't he?

This, my friends, is why so many people say they "don't get" poetry and won't go near it with a barge pole. This right here.
His use of "antediluvian" has wounded me so gravely, I may never recover. Mayhap perchance I shall compose a sonnet to this epiphany from the interregnum.

Kylabelle
09-09-2015, 03:15 AM
Okay, Robo, come on, then, show us your stuff.

You are allowed exactly one exclamation point. Use it well.

CassandraW
09-09-2015, 03:16 AM
His use of "antediluvian" has wounded me so gravely, I may never recover. Mayhap perchance I shall compose a sonnet to this epiphany from the interregnum.

Avast! My present elumbated state is solely attributable to your divine logolepsy!

Chrissy
09-09-2015, 03:19 AM
Oh boy! I just realized there's a link to more of it (http://ak-hdl.buzzfed.com/static/2015-09/7/21/enhanced/webdr03/enhanced-8146-1441675328-2.jpg)! Okay... I now understand why the title, so I guess that's something.


This, my friends, is why so many people say they "don't get" poetry and won't go near it with a barge pole. This right here.Dear Cassandra,

Thank you. Just.... thank you.

Sincerely,

The Newb


Yeah, but I kinda like this:



(It's about Halloween.)That ampersand offends me.

Kylabelle
09-09-2015, 03:23 AM
That ampersand offends me.

You are now One Of Us. You will never escape.

:greenie

robeiae
09-09-2015, 03:29 AM
Okay, Robo, come on, then, show us your stuff.

You are allowed exactly one exclamation point. Use it well.Hey, I love exclamation points. And that's part of my problem. Know thyself... ;)

Chrissy
09-09-2015, 03:29 AM
You are now One Of Us. You will never escape.

:greenie:yessmiley

I aspire to be worthy. This place is the shit.*





*metaphors need work

rugcat
09-09-2015, 03:32 AM
Well, I don't want to start a squabble, but from the excerpt I read I don't think it's a bad poem at all. Maybe not wonderful and amazing, but certainly not worth keeping scorn upon.

As far as analyzing it, I think that at some level poetry is not particularly susceptible to cold analysis. The heart, soul, and the beauty of a poetic work is what's important. Sometimes, like Emily Dickinson, the meaning is clear and crisp and cuts like a knife.

Sometimes, like the poems of Wallace Stevens (whose work I am very fond of) the meaning is often ambiguous and even obscure.

If you had never heard of Wallace Stevens, and came across the emperor of ice cream, you might well say "what's that about?" And if you took the time to understand it, you'd still have questions about exactly what it meant. The line between necessary ambiguity in a great work and ambiguity that is the result of not knowing what you're trying to say is not always immediately apparent.

When we look at the work of recognized poets we are willing to take the time to look more deeply, figuring there must be something there. If it's an unknown poet, we are much less likely to spend that kind of time, because to be honest much of it is not worth that type of examination – often there's no there there.

But to return to the point of the the OP it seems pretty clear this poem was included because it was ostensibly from a person of color. Selective publishing has been around for as long as books have been published. I don't think I have to remind anyone of how difficult it was for a woman writer in any field to get published. Or a person of color. In an ideal world, the work means everything and the race, gender, or sexual orientation of the author means nothing. But it's not an ideal world, and if previously discriminated against writers now get a slight advantage in the tide of material, I could care less.

CassandraW
09-09-2015, 04:11 AM
If it were a poem up here for critique, I'd be much more gentle in my criticism (or I'd pass it by altogether). If it were simply published, I'd shrug. But it's been selected as one of the "best" from among thousands of others. As such, I feel no compunction to hold back on my opinions. I suppose I've seen worse, but I genuinely see nothing to admire. It doesn't move me. It doesn't amuse me. It doesn't give me any word pictures or music. I don't see that bee or those blue flowers, and I don't hear that tour guide. When I turn away, the only phrase I remember from it is "Huh!" (Mostly because that's my reaction to the poem. Also, that exclamation point irritates the heck out of me.)

I don't mind obscurity, if there is something underneath it. Indeed, I can rather enjoy it if it's done well. I'm happy to ponder, to look things up if need be.* Sometimes, a poem will move me and it will take me a bit to tunnel under it and decide exactly why. But to me, there's no there there with this poem. And it rambles without reason, includes lines that add nothing.

I also don't mind taking race, gender, etc. into consideration in an anthology of this kind, if what we're talking is weighing poems of great merit, and choosing which of many admirable ones will make the cut. But I simply can't believe this one didn't make the cut over many far better-crafted poems and poems that hit with a far more visceral punch.

It sucks that writers of color might face prejudice against their work, and that it therefore might not get the inclusion and readership it deserves. But do we really need to elevate sub-par work to amend this injustice? I don't think so. Plenty of minority writers are putting out much better stuff than this -- my guess is they got shafted as well by this (to me) inexplicable pick.


* ETA:

That said, I have a strong preference for poems that give me some kind of reward on first read -- a story, music, imagery, a metaphor -- and then reward me with additional layers on further reads. I'd prefer that it not be just one big mass of obscurity and nothing else on first read.

I also maintain that more people might not run and shriek at poetry if they had not had obscure ones forced down their throat before they were ready.

Chrissy
09-09-2015, 04:44 AM
^^It's true. I started lurking about this forum after reading a certain Gift to AW poem, from which point since I've been craving more. The poetry contest, as well as many of the poems posted in the forum, have kept me hooked.

If I'd started out with the OP poem (labeled one of "the best," no less) I would personally have run screaming.

Not that anyone needs me to read their poetry, obviously. If it's supposed to be an elite club of elitist elites who all understand themselves while I can't possibly, if all they want is to congratulate themselves on their obscurity and inaccessibility to me, a commoner, okay fine. I can deal with it.

But please don't dangle Thorn Forest and hospice and Of Unknown Origin (and more whose titles I'm not recalling at the moment) in front of my nose and then leave me hanging. Mkay? :greenie

ETA: That sounded kind of angry? I'm not angry. Though the idea of a curious reader writing off poetry because the "best" was something she couldn't parse (or, didn't even care to parse)--thereby missing so many poems--is really sad to me.

I have a prologue in my WIP that's written in such a way that I've had a couple of people tell me, "I thought it was just a poem, so I skipped it." Just. A. Poem.

Poetry seems to have a bad rap and damnit, it shouldn't.

CassandraW
09-09-2015, 04:49 AM
This, to me, is the beauty of poems like Thorn Forest and Of Unknown Origin. (Thank you for the compliment on hospice, too.) On the very first read, you are rewarded. You get images, beauty of language, metaphor, emotion, a story. And at least some of it washes over you immediately. On further reads, you see the craft. You see additional meanings and allusions you might have missed the first time around.

Those are the kind of poems that hook people into poetry.

ETA:

I am not saying there's no merit to more obscure stuff. There often is, though it may appeal to a smaller group. Though, IMO, not so much with the poem in the OP.


ETA:

Chrissy, it is a pleasure to me to see someone getting passionate -- and yes, even angry! -- about poetry (opinionated little horror that I am).

Chrissy
09-09-2015, 05:25 AM
Okay then. *straightens rant-rumpled pajamas* I feel better now, thank you. :)

William Haskins
09-09-2015, 06:37 AM
so my (brief) take on the poem...

with full acknowledgment that this is coming from the perspective of an outlaw poet (which is not to say i'm some psycho badass... which i am, though... but rather that i deliberately work outside of academia and commercial publishing and cannot imagine groveling for publication, never mind masking my identity).

so my (brief) take on the poem:

it seems insistent on a sort of practiced world-weariness, akin to dressing like pessimism for an upscale halloween party.

conceptually it's interesting, but the execution is uneven, apparent even in an excerpt.

i don't see any particularly inventive turns of phrase.

i admire the use of everyday language (pooped seems rather juvenile, but it's really just one of several affectations in the piece) but he even manages to wield that into an aloofness that i find somewhat repelling.

even the 42-word title, which alexie found so charming, comes off as overwrought and self-satisfied (nothing wrong with a long title, in and of itself)...

all in all, it failed to draw me in.

your mileage may vary.

and before you say it:



yes, interpretation and appreciation of poetry is highly subjective.
yes, academia and commercial mags probably wouldn't want me anyway.
yes, my work could be ripped apart just as easily.


still...

CassandraW
09-09-2015, 06:42 AM
No, your work could not be ripped apart just as easily. Yours hangs together and is not pretentious, affected slop.

Other than that, I agree.

CassandraW
09-09-2015, 05:04 PM
That link I posted with those 20 lines of the poem? I assumed from a vague heading at the top of the page (which included several poems from an issue of a journal called the Prairie Schooner) that it was only an excerpt from a longer poem. (well, that and the fact that the damn thing feels like an incomplete fragment.) But I've seen a few articles now saying the entire poem is 20 lines long.

So, assuming those articles are right, that's it. No additional genius to be had. No stroke of genius at the end tying the thing together.


ETA:

oh! and according to the Washington Post, the poem is about "the absurdity of desire"! Well! who knew?!

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/09/08/a-white-guy-named-michael-couldnt-get-his-poem-published-then-he-became-yi-fen-chou/

or as Yi Fen Chou would say, "huh!"

kuwisdelu
09-09-2015, 05:40 PM
Am I the only one who reads poems and books with absolutely no concern over the skin color, ethnicity, sex, or sexual orientation of the author? And does no one remember what happens when one assumes? Still trite, still true.

Clearly not. But I do read with such concern.


In an ideal world, the work means everything and the race, gender, or sexual orientation of the author means nothing.

I disagree that race, gender, and sexual orientation would mean nothing in an ideal world.

In the same way that, say, formalism versus free verse still means something.

Maybe not something about the quality of the poetry, but something nonetheless.


I am not saying there's no merit to more obscure stuff. There often is, though it may appeal to a smaller group. Though, IMO, not so much with the poem in the OP.

I am certainly guilty of obscurity in poetry. Some of my stuff is written with a Zuni audience in mind, and employ references that are obscure to non-Zunis. I include endnotes to explain some of this, but I can't explain all of it.

kuwisdelu
09-09-2015, 05:46 PM
That link I posted with those 20 lines of the poem? I assumed from a vague heading at the top of the page (which included several poems from an issue of a journal called the Prairie Schooner) that it was only an excerpt from a longer poem. (well, that and the fact that the damn thing feels like an incomplete fragment.) But I've seen a few articles now saying the entire poem is 20 lines long.

So, assuming those articles are right, that's it. No additional genius to be had. No stroke of genius at the end tying the thing together.

Hmm. Well, I still don't dislike it, but I don't love it either. But loving is rare for me anyway.

It certainly seems more accessible to me than many of the "great" poems we read in school.

The lines "My life's spent / running an inept tour for my own sad swindle of a vacation" is where it starts to feel clumsy and starts to lose me.

I don't find it any more objectionable than many of the other poems in these kinds of anthologies that I don't like either.

CassandraW
09-09-2015, 05:49 PM
I am certainly guilty of obscurity in poetry. Some of my stuff is written with a Zuni audience in mind, and employ references that are obscure to non-Zunis. I include endnotes to explain some of this, but I can't explain all of it.

I have not read all of your poetry; I have read some. What I've read offers something besides obscurity, even to a non-Zuni. I don't mind some obscure references, as I've said, nor do I think every poem need be directed at every person in the universe. I do ask that the poem hang together for what it is, and that the obscure references, once understood, give me an "aha!" rather than a "huh?" (or even a "huh!)



OK, poets. We have the full text (http://ak-hdl.buzzfed.com/static/2015-09/7/21/enhanced/webdr03/enhanced-8146-1441675328-2.jpg). We now know that the poem is supposed to be about "the absurdity of desire."

I've made my opinion pretty clear that on those terms (or for that matter, on any other), I think the poem is a failure. Robert Dawson's attempt at an explanation over in the Roundtable thread made much more sense, frankly (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?310849-Sherman-Alexie-Apologizes-and-Agonizes) (even though I didn't think the poem held together on those terms either).

What do you all think? How does this poem convey "the absurdity of desire", and does it do so in an effective way? Show me what I'm missing.


ETA:

I must admit that I not only feel that the poem fails to effectively get across "the absurdity of desire," but find the theme to be tiresome and artificial in the first place. We're humans. We desire. We can be a bit absurd about it at times, sure. Downright ugly, even. But desire can also be beautiful. And taking all that aside, what else is there for us? Eternal ennui? How very sophisticated. Fifteen-year-olds all over the world strike a similar pose.

If you want to play out that theme, despair and sorrow are equally absurd. Anger is absurd. Joy, love, hate -- absurd. All of our basic drives and emotions are absurd, if you want to look at it from that particular viewpoint. So why write poetry at all?


Am I supposed to say something, add a soundtrack and voiceover?

Why bother?

robeiae
09-09-2015, 06:00 PM
I am certainly guilty of obscurity in poetry. Some of my stuff is written with a Zuni audience in mind, and employ references that are obscure to non-Zunis. I include endnotes to explain some of this, but I can't explain all of it.
Personally, I like obscure references of this sort. Of course, one might argue that obscure references to Milton, Coleridge, and the like in a poem today is an elitist thing, right? I mean, if I do that, one could easily attribute it to me exercising my privilege.

But I think there's a difference between obscure references and obscurity in general.

Perks
09-09-2015, 06:06 PM
What do you all think? How does this poem convey "the absurdity of desire", and does it do so in an effective way? Show me what I'm missing.



Well, it's certainly absurd. I've only ever been that absurd coming out of anesthesia.

robeiae
09-09-2015, 06:11 PM
What do you all think? How does this poem convey "the absurdity of desire", and does it do so in an effective way? Show me what I'm missing.
I have no idea.

To me, the "poem" is unmoving. I feel nothing while reading it, silently or out loud. And I'm not getting the Philomela/Poseidon reference at all. Am I forgetting something?

kuwisdelu
09-09-2015, 06:13 PM
OK, poets. We have the full text (http://ak-hdl.buzzfed.com/static/2015-09/7/21/enhanced/webdr03/enhanced-8146-1441675328-2.jpg). We now know that the poem is supposed to be about "the absurdity of desire."

I've made my opinion pretty clear that on those terms (or for that matter, on any other), I think the poem is a failure. Robert Dawson's attempt at an explanation over in the Roundtable thread made much more sense, frankly (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?310849-Sherman-Alexie-Apologizes-and-Agonizes) (even though I didn't think the poem held together on those terms either).

What do you all think? How does this poem convey "the absurdity of desire", and does it do so in an effective way? Show me what I'm missing.

I would've said it was more about the absurdity of significance.

We have all of these images that are supposed to mean something, such as the bee and the flower. The fact that a bee shouldn't be able to fly, and its symbiotic relationship with the flower: these things are supposed to mean something, but what? I think that's what the soundtrack and voiceover are supposed to convey. Soundtracks and voiceover carry significance and meaning, and without them we are often left with a pretty but underwhelming picture. Likewise, with the tourism analogy: a tour guide tells the history of a place and thereby tries to establish a significance that would otherwise be lost. But is that history really significant? Is it enough to make the place significant?

You could say — from a certain perspective — that the poem succeeds brilliantly in being a perfect example of what (I think) it's trying to convey: the feeling of being underwhelmed by supposedly significant things, and the absurdity therein. But is that enough to make it significant nonetheless?

Ah, there's the rub.

CassandraW
09-09-2015, 06:16 PM
I have no idea.

To me, the "poem" is unmoving. I feel nothing while reading it, silently or out loud. And I'm not getting the Philomela/Poseidon reference at all. Am I forgetting something?

Well, see, Philomela was raped and mutilated by her sister's husband. Poseidon is the god of the sea. All clear now?

robeiae
09-09-2015, 06:19 PM
But what color were the jellyfish?

CassandraW
09-09-2015, 06:24 PM
blue.

no, wait, that was those flowers. you know, the ones in the first stanza. whatever they're called.

Kylabelle
09-09-2015, 06:28 PM
But what color were the jellyfish?

Clearly, the jellyfish are clear.

robeiae
09-09-2015, 06:32 PM
Clearly, the jellyfish are clear.
The only things in the poem that are...

:ROFL:

I slay myself.

dolores haze
09-09-2015, 06:33 PM
He liked that bland and pretentious poem? I don't believe him. Or maybe his tastes run to bland and pretentious?

Kylabelle
09-09-2015, 06:37 PM
The only things in the poem that are...

:ROFL:

I slay myself.

Do a good job, will ya?

:greenie


He liked that bland and pretentious poem? I don't believe him. Or maybe his tastes run to bland and pretentious?

It is a mystery I suppose. I am waiting to see what all else he liked enough to include. Alexie's own work appeals to me, so I'm curious about the whole anthology.

CassandraW
09-09-2015, 06:38 PM
The only things in the poem that are...

:ROFL:

I slay myself.

May I help?

robeiae
09-09-2015, 06:46 PM
May I help?
Line forms to the right...

Kylabelle
09-09-2015, 06:46 PM
Line forms to the right...

No, I'm on the left.

Stew21
09-09-2015, 06:50 PM
Line forms to the right...
Crucifixion?
Good.

CassandraW
09-09-2015, 06:54 PM
Perhaps it would be best if we each stood on opposite sides, and both clocked robo at once. Then we could crucify him.


Taking aside my desire to hit the poet with a cast iron frying pan (both for his misrepresentation and for his pretentious poetry), this controversy does have me wondering what would happen if I attempted to submit any of my own poems for publication.

On the one hand, if crap like this is being published and anthologized....

But on the other, if this is indicative of what is considered good poetry these days, I'm pretty far off the mark.

robeiae
09-09-2015, 06:55 PM
Well, you're not a lit professor. The standards are different.

CassandraW
09-09-2015, 07:00 PM
Well, you're not a lit professor. The standards are different.

I'm a woman with an Hispanic last name. Still, any way you look at it, I'm going to have to obscure it up a bit. Excuse me while I go dig up some random mythological references to toss into my most recent poem. Does Hephaestus have anything to do with traveling? No? Perfect. I'll throw him in. And maybe a kraken.

Perks
09-09-2015, 07:03 PM
Completely an aside, I knew a women named Rosita Maria Rivera and she wasn't a drop Hispanic.

Kylabelle
09-09-2015, 07:05 PM
Completely an aside, I knew a women named Rosita Maria Rivera and she wasn't a drop Hispanic.

Bet she got into all the good anthologies, with a name like that.

CassandraW
09-09-2015, 07:11 PM
Anyone else seized with the desire to write a parody of this controversy and this poem? I've got one underway.

Kylabelle
09-09-2015, 07:12 PM
Not me, but I look forward to yours.

ETA: We'll get it published and recommend it for BAP 2016.

Perks
09-09-2015, 07:15 PM
Bet she got into all the good anthologies, with a name like that.Knowing what I know of her smarts and heart, I'd have some hope that she'd make a good poet.

_city_
09-09-2015, 07:29 PM
spoiler: salty mini-rant to follow

well i personally thought it was terrible. it reads like the work of an average-to-reasonably intelligent person that believes himself a genius, with a combination of abused thesaurus and lack of rhythm. an egocentric, self-pitying, and clunkily shoved collection of superfluous and poorly spun locutions of little artistry.

normally i'd just be supportive, 'cause, well, poets need to stick together, and i'm guilty of my share of egoistic musings, and certainly not publishable, but like Cass said, putting this tripe into a "best of" is basically him sweeping off the front porch and saying "comments welcome."

as for the controversy, if you can't get in under your own name, it's probably because you suck; if you have to change your name to something ethnic-sounding to try and get into anthologies, then you definitely suck. i guess it's good that he helped prove that editors are more lenient with ethnicities? i don't know. he definitely proved that his writing isn't quality.

CassandraW
09-09-2015, 07:34 PM
spoiler: salty mini-rant to follow

well i personally thought it was terrible. it reads like the work of an average-to-reasonably intelligent person that believes himself a genius, with a combination of abused thesaurus and lack of rhythm. an egocentric, self-pitying, and clunkily shoved collection of superfluous and poorly spun locutions of little artistry.

normally i'd just be supportive, 'cause, well, poets need to stick together, and i'm guilty of my share of egoistic musings, and certainly not publishable, but like Cass said, putting this tripe into a "best of" is basically him sweeping off the front porch and saying "comments welcome."

as for the controversy, if you can't get in under your own name, it's probably because you suck; if you have to change your name to something ethnic-sounding to try and get into anthologies, then you definitely suck. i guess it's good that he helped prove that editors are more lenient with ethnicities? i don't know. he definitely proved that his writing isn't quality.


actually, it reads a lot like the poem I mentioned here a few days ago -- the one a 19-year-old guy stuck in my mailbox back in college in a failed attempt to get laid. Except it's much more forgivable in a 19-year-old guy trying to get laid.


Not me, but I look forward to yours.

ETA: We'll get it published and recommend it for BAP 2016.

I shall call it "The Blue Flowers, the Engineers, Poop, Thigh-Pouches, Jellyfish and Philomel"

_city_
09-09-2015, 07:49 PM
We definitely need more poems about poop and thigh-pouches

Kylabelle
09-09-2015, 07:50 PM
Great title, Cass.

_city_ ,you should rant here more often. IMO.

lianna williamson
09-09-2015, 07:52 PM
Completely an aside, I knew a women named Rosita Maria Rivera and she wasn't a drop Hispanic.

Continuing the aside, I know a woman with a Hawaiian first name, and a hyphenated last name that is one Spanish/Hispanic name and one Korean. And she's 100% English/Scottish ancestry. She was born in Hawaii, so her parents gave her a Hawaiian name. Story goes that some ancestor of hers changed the family surname to honor the Spaniard who saved his life in the Crusades. And her husband is Korean.

She told me that when people meet her, having heard her name first, she finds them kind of squinting at her, searching her features for some hint of the "exotic" background her name suggests.

More on topic, here are my thoughts on this kerfuffle:

I thought the poem was terrible. It sounds very college poet.

I don't have a problem with Alexie's selection rules. I do not believe that every other year it's been a meritocracy, and just purely coincidentally most good poets are white men.

I do think Alexie picked the poem largely because he wanted to include an East Asian poet. I do think that he can't back out now without looking like a tool. I also think he is thoughtful enough to learn from this experience.

I don't approve of what the poet did, but it does raise interesting questions for me. As a white person, I have no problem saying I think the poem sucks now that I know the author is white. If the author was truly a PoC, I'd doubt myself more, wonder if I was just failing to understand the perspective or poetical/narrative tradition of the author's culture. Is this a good thing, making me more open to work that challenges my predominantly white and Western experience of literature? Can I say I think a poem sucks if the author isn't white, or is that me being racist?

I don't mean this in a hand-wringy way; I'm just surprised by how much this story has made me examine my own thoughts beyond my knee-jerk "Diversity! Awesome!" attitude.

CassandraW
09-09-2015, 07:53 PM
_city_ ,you should rant here more often. IMO.

Absolutely. I need more people to be horrible with me.

Kylabelle
09-09-2015, 07:54 PM
*activates RECRUIT_BOT*

Kylabelle
09-09-2015, 08:01 PM
Continuing the aside, I know a woman with a Hawaiian first name, and a hyphenated last name that is one Spanish/Hispanic name and one Korean. And she's 100% English/Scottish ancestry. She was born in Hawaii, so her parents gave her a Hawaiian name. Story goes that some ancestor of hers changed the family surname to honor the Spaniard who saved his life in the Crusades. And her husband is Korean.

She told me that when people meet her, having heard her name first, she finds them kind of squinting at her, searching her features for some hint of the "exotic" background her name suggests.

More on topic, here are my thoughts on this kerfuffle:

I thought the poem was terrible. It sounds very college poet.

I don't have a problem with Alexie's selection rules. I do not believe that every other year it's been a meritocracy, and just purely coincidentally most good poets are white men.

I do think Alexie picked the poem largely because he wanted to include an East Asian poet. I do think that he can't back out now without looking like a tool. I also think he is thoughtful enough to learn from this experience.

I don't approve of what the poet did, but it does raise interesting questions for me. As a white person, I have no problem saying I think the poem sucks now that I know the author is white. If the author was truly a PoC, I'd doubt myself more, wonder if I was just failing to understand the perspective or poetical/narrative tradition of the author's culture. Is this a good thing, making me more open to work that challenges my predominantly white and Western experience of literature? Can I say I think a poem sucks if the author isn't white, or is that me being racist?

I don't mean this in a hand-wringy way; I'm just surprised by how much this story has made me examine my own thoughts beyond my knee-jerk "Diversity! Awesome!" attitude.

Great post.

One comment I read (of Alexie's) had to do with his wondering, if the poet was Chinese-American, why was the poem so focused on Western classical myth etc.? Or it may be he acknowledged failing to wonder about that.... I can't recall exactly and am less of scholar than probably most anyone else in this thread.

I do believe it is worthwhile to consider various narrative and poetic traditions and the fact that most of us are largely ignorant outside our own unless we make intentional explorations elsewhere.

Looking into non-Western and also non-English language traditions is complicated also by the challenges of translation, of course. So, yeah, I think it's a good idea to keep all this in mind. It's easy for the educated in one stream to get high and mighty and snooty about things outside their stream. Happens all the time.

Present company excepted, of course. :greenie

Lillith1991
09-09-2015, 08:13 PM
I'm sort of baffled how this would prove that since editors at mags or for anthologies are looking for more diversity, that means that people who are percieved as POC don't have to work twice as hard to get recognised? If you really think about it, a poem by someone with an ethnic sounding name is less likely to be published even when it appeals to the intended audience of other (insert minority group here) because it also has to appeal to a mainly White audience as well if being sold in American markets. Writing a poem with POC narrator or characters whether it has a percieved contemp setting or is Speculative in nature is hard, very hard. The writer has to walk a tightrope between calling attention to things such as a racialized subject matter or non-typical setting/ethnic backround for SF stuff and not alienating readers who may not live with it at all let alone every day. I'm still finding my stride as a poet for doing that, and it isn't quite there yet in my mind.

This poem didn't do those things, nor was the shitty bate and switch anything but. But I don't think the problem is with him selecting the poem based on wanting to include more Asian writers, it lies imo, with the fact he could've picked something else by another Chinese, Thai, Korean, Loas, Khmer etc writer that was better. Focusing on the race issue itself seems like a form of bate and switch to me.

CassandraW
09-09-2015, 08:24 PM
The Blue Flowers, the Engineers, Poop,
Thigh-Pouches, Jellyfish
and Philomel


Yo! That poem is ridiculous staggering its way

through ill-chosen mythological figures, the ones I can never
remember from high school. Do you know that old Robert Frost
quote that “poetry is what gets lost in translation?” Well! If this poem were a

translation from some alien race, that might explain why
it seems to be Incomprehensible Ramblings incarnate – an asshole misrepresenting himself
plus a lot of obscure references equals about a billion

people ranting and bitching. Which leads me to wonder why

I’m wasting my fucking time pondering over the thigh pouches,
poop, jellyfish and baffling half-assed metaphors

in this piece of shit. Am I really going to accomplish something, add
anything by my inane stream of consciousness satire? My life’s spent

making fun of inept bullshit like this for my own sad swindle of entertainment

until every goddamn thing’s reduced to botched mockery
with occasional dabs of wit in fractured,

not-very-nice English. Here, sir, is where I insert a random mention of Buddha

clipping his toenails. The Parthenon reeks of pigeon droppings and leftover food
dropped by obese tourists. Hephaestus diddled

oh, I don’t know, let’s say Leda or maybe the swan. I wasn’t there. But probably,

no, certainly, Abel should have watched his back around Cain.

robeiae
09-09-2015, 08:33 PM
That will make an anthology somewhere, just for the Robert Frost reference.

CassandraW
09-09-2015, 08:44 PM
don't forget about my stealth Yeats reference.

Xelebes
09-09-2015, 09:04 PM
I read the bits of the (original, linked) poem. I had to laugh. It's just missing a little bit of cheese.

Norman D Gutter
09-09-2015, 11:08 PM
My limited poetic faculties (of late) make it impossible for me to enjoy the unquestioned excellence of this poem.

Dawnstorm
09-10-2015, 04:12 AM
This was what was going through my head some time after reading the poem:

Bored poet resents boredom, attempts to share resentment, shares boredom. Bored reader: I know how you feel.

Isn't that what poetry is (partly) about? Sharing feelings? Let's all bore each other. There are a thousand flavours of boredom, but nobody will care if you get them wrong.

Kylabelle
09-10-2015, 04:21 AM
Pretty much.

But if there are truly a thousand flavors of boredom, I think it might be an interesting poem just to list them. It could actually be deadly, you know, as in "died of boredom" but, really, after reading some number of that thousand, experiencing them vicariously through the artistry of the poet, anyone would expire, I would think.

the poem would become a weapon of assassination. It would be banned. It would be secretly copied, though, by hand, but only in segments because of course to copy the whole thing would be lethal. Especially by hand. However, assassins have their ways and, trust me, it would get around.

But it would never, never make it into BAP.

William Haskins
09-10-2015, 04:30 AM
honest question: what, for you guys, is the attraction of "best of" anthologies in the digital age? i mean this whole episode illustrates what a nepotistic and insular circle jerk the ruse of poetic "gatekeepers" can potentially be, and quite often is.

the dogged pursuit of some stamp of approval between the writer and the reader seems tedious and unnecessary to me.

CassandraW
09-10-2015, 04:36 AM
honest question: what, for you guys, is the attraction of "best of" anthologies in the digital age? i mean this whole episode illustrates what a nepotistic and insular circle jerk the ruse of poetic "gatekeepers" can potentially be, and quite often is.

the dogged pursuit of some stamp of approval between the writer and the reader seems tedious and unnecessary to me.

However will we determine what is good if no one pronounces it so from on high?

Kylabelle
09-10-2015, 04:40 AM
This one I am interested in because I want to see what Sherman Alexie picked. In general I think a "best of" offers someone's pick of worthy poems, and usually that interests me in the same way as well as promising a lot of good poetry to read. (Though it may not actually deliver on that promise.)

For instance, I would love to read an anthology of "best of" some kind of poems that you chose, William, because I know it would be good, interesting, all that.

CassandraW
09-10-2015, 04:44 AM
I was thinking of letting William load my ipod, but I'm damn sure not letting him push any poetry at me.

kuwisdelu
09-10-2015, 04:47 AM
honest question: what, for you guys, is the attraction of "best of" anthologies in the digital age?.

None for me. I usually ignore them. I bought this one only to see what one of my favorite poets thought were the "best" poems this year.

This controversy was only useful to me because otherwise I probably would never have known Alexie edited this year's anthology.

I generally only like anthologies built around particular unifying subjects or themes. "Best of" is too vague and subjective to me.

Perks
09-10-2015, 04:49 AM
honest question: what, for you guys, is the attraction of "best of" anthologies in the digital age? i mean this whole episode illustrates what a nepotistic and insular circle jerk the ruse of poetic "gatekeepers" can potentially be, and quite often is.

the dogged pursuit of some stamp of approval between the writer and the reader seems tedious and unnecessary to me.

I'd be happy if someone with at least reasonably similar sensibilities, but far wider read, compiled a 'best of' so that I could enjoy a sampling of really great work without getting irritated or morose. But that's lazy, I know. I am unfortunately easily discouraged by what I estimate to be "bad" poetry. Although I love what I love.

AW Admin
09-10-2015, 04:50 AM
honest question: what, for you guys, is the attraction of "best of" anthologies in the digital age? i mean this whole episode illustrates what a nepotistic and insular circle jerk the ruse of poetic "gatekeepers" can potentially be, and quite often is.

the dogged pursuit of some stamp of approval between the writer and the reader seems tedious and unnecessary to me.

Yep.

I keep thinking about how the poems of Shakespeare, Sidney and Donne, absolutely, positively and for sure circulated in ms. during the poets' lifetimes, carefully copied and passed from one reader to another.

Not sure what that really suggests, but something about the personal nature of it, and the labor, is meaningful.

CassandraW
09-10-2015, 04:58 AM
I generally only like anthologies built around particular unifying subjects or themes. "Best of" is too vague and subjective to me.

that would also be more interesting to me.

kuwisdelu
09-10-2015, 05:08 AM
"Best of" anthologies tend to give me whiplash.

All that back and forth
between
poems
that were never meant to
go together.

William Haskins
09-10-2015, 05:13 AM
thanks for the responses.

CassandraW
09-10-2015, 05:15 AM
what are you going to do with them?

William Haskins
09-10-2015, 05:18 AM
cherish them.
use them against you.
print them and make a cut-up poem.
make dirty anagrams from them.

CassandraW
09-10-2015, 05:21 AM
I'll help with the dirty anagrams.

kuwisdelu
09-10-2015, 05:24 AM
Not an anagram, but a dirty little tanka.

the wind moves
mountains, not men,
but when
it lifts your skirt
then i am moved.

Albedo
09-10-2015, 08:54 AM
cherish them.
use them against you.
print them and make a cut-up poem.
make dirty anagrams from them.

*Shh, him erect!
*Aguise a stout hymen.
*Tom the punk emancipated a rump.
*A handy ferret mammograms kit

CassandraW
09-10-2015, 09:13 AM
I am relatively certain I am being harassed and oppressed by this thread.

Kylabelle
09-10-2015, 09:19 AM
I had NO idea Baby was a ferret!

CassandraW
09-10-2015, 09:29 AM
You also possibly were unaware of the stoutness of my hymen, that my rump has been emancipated, or, for that matter, that William is erect.

I do not know how Albedo came to know these things. I do know, however, that I feel somewhat violated.

kuwisdelu
09-10-2015, 11:54 AM
You also possibly were unaware of the stoutness of my hymen

I wasn't even aware that you were a virgin.

CassandraW
09-10-2015, 04:05 PM
I wasn't even aware that you were a virgin.

I like to save it as a surprise.