Alexie wrote a long blog post over the weekend of September 6, 2015 in which he acknowledged his anger and embarrassment upon learning that Yi-Fen Chou?s?The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve? was in fact composed by Michael Derrik Hudson.
Controversy has enveloped the prestigious Best American Poetry anthology after it emerged that a white poet had been included in the selection after adopting a Chinese pen name – and that Yi-Fen Chou’s poem was kept in the much sought-after lineup even after the author told editors his real identity was Michael Derrick Hudson.
Hudson has published under the name “Yi-Fen Chou” before, notably whenever he has trouble getting a poem published under his own name. Alexie recognized this effort in his statement, which listed this among the rules he followed while picking poems: “I will pay close attention to the poets and poems that have been underrepresented in the past”.
“I’m exhausted by the Best American Poetry mess but, wow, how cool that so many people are crazy-passionate about poems”. From there, “The Bees” wound up in a pile of recommendations for the 2015 edition of The Best American Poetry, out Tuesday.
And that fateful decision to adopt a Chinese-sounding pen name paid off handsomely for Hudson. “And it diminishes categorically all of our accomplishments”. He explains in his bio that he adopted a Chinese nom de plume after his poem had been rejected multiple times under his real name. The reality is that it’s simply a part of being human – if we see the name of a writer we know and like under the title of a given work, unless we’re very careful, we’re likely to overestimate the quality of the writing.
Phil Yu, the blogger higher generally known as Indignant Asian Man, “if there’s such a factor as using yellowface in poetry, this needs to be it”.
“Of course, I was angry at the subterfuge and at myself for being fooled by this guy”.
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. 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. “It will have implied that I selected poems based mostly exclusively on id”.
At this point, Alexie faced a hard choice, he wrote in a lengthy blog post.
“If you’re doing this from a place of entitlement, you are appropriating an ethnic id that is one, imaginary, and two, does not have entry to the literary world”, poet and Chapman College professor Victoria Chang informed The Washington Submit. “Bluntly stated, I was more amenable to the poem because I thought the author was Chinese American”. “If I might pulled the poem then I might have been denying that I used to be consciously and intentionally looking for to deal with previous racial, cultural, social, and aesthetic injustices within the poetry world”.
“But I had to keep that pseudonymous poem in the anthology because it would have been dishonest to do otherwise”.
And, most importantly, Alexie wrote, if he pulled the poem, “I think I would have cast doubt on every poem I have chosen for BAP“.
Eve Ewing, a writer, teacher and editor studying race and education at Harvard, wrote a long series of tweets disputing Alexie’s point. “And I hope that you, as readers and writers, continue to debate The Yi-Fen Chou Problem and my decision to keep the poem in the anthology”.