Friday, January 28, 2005

Asian American Poets of Mixed Race - Part II

I'm making a second entry here on Asian American poets of mixed race, because I think that it's an important subject. Demographically, there have been ever-increasing rates of interracial marriage between Asian Americans and non-Asian Americans, which means more hapas and more hapa poets. So it's probably no surprise that over a quarter of the poets in the Next Generation anthology are of mixed race.

Poet Neil Aitken correctly observes in comments that any editor or reader may not be able to identify him as of Asian descent simply by virtue of his non-Asian sounding name. I'll also note here poet Lee Herrick who is of Korean descent but was adopted by a non-Asian American family. That might lead a fan of Asian-American poetry to dismiss or overlook their poetry, though conversely, itmay also lead a reader who is not into Asian or Asian-American poetry to view their poetry more open-mindedly without forming any racial "othering" preconceptions. Again, there are perils and privileges that come both with having an Asian- sounding name and with not having an Asian-sounding name.

(Of course, there is also an implicit critique of the obsession of the poet -- or her or his name, in this case -- over the poetry itself at play here. And here I'm echoing Alberto's remarks. But I should also reiterate that all of us do it almost all the time. We say we like or dislike Shakespeare, Coleridge, Frost, Eliot, Ashbery, etc., though, in reality, we're most likely not talking about the person of the poet here, the quality of their poetry varies from poem to poem, and few who make such a generalization have actually read the entire oeuvre of the poet. Furthermore, the very fact that I have listed these five poets -- simply by last name, I might add -- and that readers of this blog will most likely they are poets is itself a commentary on how the poet so often trumps the poem. So the listing of the poets should be taken ironically, as a critique of the canon of poetry that is not a canon of poetry but a canon of poets' names.)

Anyhow, one more issue, which is another taboo: I wonder if there is a difference between poetry written by Asian-American poets with an Asian-American father and a non-Asian-American mother as opposed to an Asian-American mother and a non-Asian-American father? One of the major debates in Asian-American studies -- cultural feminism versus pan-Asian ethnocentrism -- always circles around this taboo with the latter often implying that Asian-American women marrying non-Asian-American men, which statistically happens more often than vice versa, is a form of racial imperalism, and the former suggesting that this argument denigrates women's power to choose their own partners. (I should also note here that radical Asian-American feminists tend to side with the latter, while some Asian-American men adopt the cultural feminist position.) Another potential topic for any undergrads or masters degree students out there.

I think it's all worthy of further contemplation, especially since, as The Next Generation anthology demonstrates, hapa poets are going to be a major force in shaping "Asian-American poetry" if they haven't already.


Blogger Neil Aitken said...

I put together a website a couple years ago to serve as a bibliography and index of Eurasian American/Hapa literature. While it is out of date (and sorely in need of a redesign), it does provide an excellent jumping off point for people interested in Hapa poetry and fiction.

Eurasian American Literature Resource

1:18 AM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Hey Neil, thanks for the link and great list! I also put together a list -- of Asian-American poets -- a couple years ago, but I feel that mine needs updating as well.

12:29 AM  

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