Sunday, January 09, 2005

Asian-American Poetry Anthologies

I'm attempting to answer a couple questions in the comments section today. Andrew asks for advice on where to start for someone who knows little or nothing about Asian-American poetry. And, you know, I've been whooshing away on its blog so quickly that I overlooked that this question could be helpful to a lot of people. I can still remember when I was clueless about poets, poetry, Asian-American poetry, etc. I mean, I bought the International Library of Poetry anthology for goodness sake! It would've helped if people took the time to clarify and explain.

So, I think that the best place to start would be "Asian-American" poetry anthologies, because you can get an idea of poets, from a relatively wide range of ethnicities, to figure out whose styles that you like/dislike. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that there have only been 5 anthologies, dedicated exclusively to "Asian-American" poetry, ever published. Here they are, in roughly the chronological order of the poetry:

1. Quiet Fire: A Historical Anthology of Asian-American Poetry, 1892-1970 (1996), edited by Juliana Chang
2. Breaking Silence: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian-American Poets (1983), edited by Joseph Bruchac
3. The Open Boat: Poems from Asian America (1993), edited by Garrett Hongo
4. Premonitions: The Kaya Anthology of New Asian North American Poetry (1995), edited by Walter Lew
5. Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation (2004), edited by Victoria Chang

I would read 1 and 2 for background on the history of Asian-American poetry, and 3, 4, and 5 for what is going on today. Of course, there are also anthologies of Chinese-American, Filipino-American, Japanese-American, etc. poetry, which you may want to look into after getting an idea of the Asian-American poetry scene.


Blogger EILEEN said...

This post, on one level, makes me glad there isn't yet a third-party criticism book on AA poetry. Because if one is to rely on what has been published work such as these five texts as what "Asian American poetry" is, then you get a simplistic picture (the exception being Walter Lew's fabulous PREMONITIONS).

Oh, definitely to look at these texts, but to also look at other texts -- not as a secondary phase (as I read your post to imply) but as an integral part of this first phase of getting to know AA poetry -- including the more ethnic-specific anthologies put out by the Asian American Writers Workshop from 1998-to early 2000s which, in part, redress weaknesses of earlier AA anthologies in limited offerings (not to say I'm criticizing early AA anthologies because "introductory" texts sometimes can't be comprehensive).

Also, since you give a focus to Next Gen anthology, I strongly suggest anyone very interested in "Asian American poetry" check out the offerings of Interlope (edited by Summi Kaipa) whose writers generally fall outside of the aesthetic style of Next Gen. "Asian American poetry" is not just about Asian Americans but poetry, and a would be "new"-ist anthology that might present new names but not wide-ranging poetic styles or backgrounds (so to speak) is something that would not be "representative."

And I even more strongly suggest that people really interested in this topic check out Pinoy Poetics (edited by Nick Carbo). The book's essays/poems not only present writers not included in many AA texts but also present *points of view* not represented in historical AA anthologies (and, thus, as a text of interest transcend its ethnic-specificity for Filipinos).

Now, I don't really mean to say of course that it wouldn't be nifty to have such a third-party critical text on AA poetry. But maybe there's a reason why, to date, the kind of people who would have written such texts (scholars like, say, Elaine Kim and Nick Carbo) have, to date, focused much of their efforts on just publishing the actual works -- to make them accessible to any readership. With hindsight, this has been a good approach, partly if such third-party critical texts in the future are to be written by non-AA scholars or scholars who have not been as steeped in the AA "community."

With all good wishes to you, Roger,

9:06 AM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Thanks a lot for the post, Eileen! I really appeciate your coming over here to chat.

Uh oh, just quickly, I should emphasize that THIS LIST IS JUST AN IDEA FOR STARTING OFF! I'm sorry if I made it unclear. Eileen is absolutely right: LOOK AT OTHER TEXTS. And Eileen raises some nice suggestions.

Of course, any book of third-party analysis/criticism would have to go beyond these texts. And I don't mean to detract from any of the great work that Asian-American poets/scholars have done in focusing on publishing, but I also believe that such analysis/criticism is a form of power in the sense that it would make Asian-American poetry more central in literary discourse.

But I don't know. I guess I'm still wrestling with the difficult question of why people know and care so much about Eliot, Frost, Plath, Ashbery, Pinsky, etc. but not as much about Asian-American poets and poetry.

9:29 AM  

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