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Sunday, September 13, 2015

What's in a name?

A poet by any other must surely read as sweet... to badly paraphrase Shakespeare.

Except when said poet uses a female Chinese name Yi-Fen Chou to mask a pedestrian WASPish male name of Michael Derrick Hudson and submits the same poem only 9 times (instead of 40 as the WASPish) before it gets selected for publication.

The editor Sherman Alexie ( of Native American extraction himself) who was unfortunate enough to select the poem had this to say:

"But I had to keep that pseudonymous poem in the anthology because it would have been dishonest to do otherwise.
        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.
        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."
And throw into the mix the fact that Hudson 'borrowed' the Chinese pen-name from a classmate of long ago, whose family is now protesting the use of their daughter's name.

And that an indignant writer of Chinese extraction pens this op-ed on NPR complaining about the cultural appropriation that Hudson has committed, by trying to take advantage of the slightest of 'ethnic minority' affirmative action to corner more of a literary market already overcrowded with the output of white male writers.

Except that for a writer of Chinese origin, he calls Hudson names indirectly in a patently incorrect last line
" And so what about the pen name Yi-Fen Chou, used by Michael Derrick Hudson? If you know Chinese, you know it actually means "a piece of stink.""
The real name Yi-Fen translates approximately to 'righteous indignation' according to online translators.

So what to make of the output of Yi-Fen Chou vs that of Michael Derrick Hudson in the anthologies. Read the examples below to make out any differences. Is the perception of the poem different if you think the poem is written by someone of Chinese vs. WASP extraction?

Yi-Fen Chou in the Painted Bride Quarterly

"So here’s to all those pretty waitresses you’d break up over
who don’t really want to be

waitresses. You inchling! I over-tip three soggy dollars
and some silver and you’d think I’d screwed

an archduke’s monocle into my watery left squint, slapped
my thigh with an ivory walking stick

and strode forth in jodhpurs from the foxed
crosshatching and curlicues of an old English copperplate…

Toff! Blabbermouth! I sneeze green into a monogrammed
sky-blue handkerchief and elucidate my sorries over

another all-American soundtrack..."

Michael Derrick Hudson:

To think I used to be so good at going to pieces
gobbling my way through the cops

and spooking what’s left of the girls. How’d I

get so far, sloughing off one knuckle at a time,
jerking my mossy pelt along

ruined streets? Those insistent, dreadful thuds

when we stacked our futile selves
against locked doors. Our mumbles and groans!

Such hungry nights! Staggering through the grit

of looted malls, plastered with tattered
flags of useless currency, I’d slobbered all over

the busted glass and merchandise of America ...