Friday, December 31, 2004

Good, Critical Readers of Asian American Poetry

I've been thinking more about Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation, and I think that perhaps what the anthology most needed was more good, critical readership before its publication. I would venture to say that, in general, we have many good, critical readers of Asian American poetry but not enough of them.

By "good, critical readership," I do not mean merely providing a one-sentence blurb of one's opinion but honestly and clearly articulating the precise ways in which one believes that the anthology could have been improved. For example, I think that the editor would have benefited from my comments, even if she disagreed with all of them and thought I was a moron. (Don't worry folks, it happens all the time. :) ) The editor would have had the power to accept or reject my suggestions -- but she would also have had to process them in her thinking, which would have most likely been useful to her. And a "good, critical reader" might also mean a reader with a different mindset, a different voice, a different worldview. That's why I think open dialogue is so important.

I'm making this entry, partly because, in a way, I feel sorry for the editor of this anthology and all editors of Asian-American anthologies. They are heading out into strange terrain with relatively few voices to guide them, though one can argue that it is slightly easier for today's editors than predecessors who came out with the first anthologies.

I'm going a little off-topic here: Please, please, someone out there correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that there has NEVER been a published BOOK of criticism on Asian-American poetry. (I'm not sure, but I think that Juliana Chang is currently writing one?) When I was writing my senior undergrad thesis, I looked and looked and looked and came up empty. I just found it appalling that so little attention has been devoted to analysis of Asian-American poetry. Good criticism can be foolish, stubborn, and annoying, but at least it suggests an attentive reading of the poetry. At least it suggests that people care.

So in response to a comment made earlier, I think that it is wonderful for Asian-American poets to gain greater exposure. But it is not sufficient. Asian-American poets (and editors of anthologies of Asian-American poetry) also deserve to be taken seriously and read passionately. I guess that would be my main point, if I had to give one.

12 Comments:

Blogger Shin Yu said...

Roger, I do not myself know of any book strictly devoted to Asian American lit crit, but 2 critic/scholars who's writings I find particularly intelligent and insightful are Zhou Xiaojing and Tony Barnstone. Check them out.

7:48 AM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Thanks a lot for the rec's! I'd read Barnstone's review of Sze's "The Redshifting Web," but I didn't realize that he was an expert in Chinese translation. Same thing with Zhao Xiaojing: I'd read a couple of his reviews of poets, but didn't appreciate the fact that there were others out there.

9:23 AM  
Blogger Shin Yu said...

One other name for recommended reading: Yunte Huang.

9:49 AM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Thanks again. Oops, just noticed that I forgot to mention that I Googled the names. That's how I found out about their other works.

10:27 AM  
Blogger barbara jane said...

hi roger - these might be helpful, though dated: elaine kim's asian american literature: an intorduction to their writings and their social context and sau-ling wong's Reading Asian American Literature: From Necessity to Extravagance. both of these i have only skimmed so i cannot really tell you much about them, but i am familiar with both kim and wong from ethnic studies at uc berkeley where i did my undergrad.

hope you find something valuable in these? peace, barbara

10:29 AM  
Blogger EILEEN said...

There is critical writing on individual AA poets, not necessarily AA poetry as a group (and maybe the former is a better approach anyway). Indiv poets like Meena Alexander, John Yau, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, David Mura....actually, the poets in my first book BLACK LIGHTNING (Asian American Writers Workshop). And I actually recommend BL specifically because it's the poets critiquing their own poems. As with Pinoy Poetics (Meritage Press, 2004), I think it's often useful to hear autobiographically critical stances by the poets themselves instead of relying only on third-party criticism ...

3:30 PM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Thanks a lot, Barbara! I haven't read either, and they both look interesting.

11:49 PM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Yes, I read "Black Lightning" a couple years ago and that came across my mind when I was making my post. I think that is the closest thing to "a book of criticism on Asian-American poetry" out there.

I guess I was thinking of a more systematic breakdown of Asian-American poets and/or their poems. And I have to confess that I am a bit jealous of the fact that there are piles and piles of books devoted to William Wordsworth or T.S. Eliot, for example, but none to any Asian-American poets/poetry.

But you raise a great point that third-party breakdown of Asian-American poetry as a group may not be the way to go. Autobiographically critical stances may be more useful than third-party criticism in some respects. But I'd still appreciate more third-party criticism from an intellectually and emotionally charged readership. I guess it goes back to my own hangup about desiring passionate readers.

11:58 PM  
Blogger EILEEN said...

Talisman has put out a John Yau issue. Meena Alexander told me just last month that she's in the midst of preparing a volume for that Poets on Poetry series that I think David Mura also has done. That Poets on Poetry series may include more AA poets than I mention and can include third-party writing...

I don't mean to say third-party crit is not useful...just that, especially for certain groups (in which I'd include many ethnic-American writers), autobiographical positions are also important.

10:12 AM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Thanks for the info! - Roger

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