Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Asian vs. Asian-American Poetry - Key Point

I'm not sure if I should pick out a key point here, because, hey, isn't everything I say a "key point"?! :) But I realize that my last post was long, and I can only strongly encourage you to read the last post if you're interested in this topic. Thanks.

So my main point is below. But please note that, before, I was calling into question even the distinction between "Asian" and "Asian-American" poetry. It's a tough issue.

But, you know, carrying out this example further, we should ask ourselves what makes, say, an Arthur Sze, Shirley Geok-lin Lim, Timothy Liu, or Adrienne Su different from a Bei Dao, Ha Jin, or any of the Misty School or classical Chinese poets? I think that the main difference is that the poets in the former category have lived in the United States much longer, tend to deal more with American culture in their poetry, and tend to wrestle with questions of racial/ethnic identity in at least some of their poems, while the poets in the latter category tend to either deal with material exclusively related to love, nature, etc. or the political state of China in their poetry.

Strong argument: I think that the political and geographical distance of the latter category of poets exotifies them to a certain extent that such Asian poetry attracts the interest of certain white professors and scholars of poetry, while it leads them to take less of an interest in the work of Asian-American poets who grew up in the United States and wrestle with different, more Americanized questions of identity in their poetry.

3 Comments:

Blogger Hannah Craig said...

Probably mostly because of my academic background in cultural studies, I’m very interested in some of the issues that are raised here—in particular, the “authenticity” of “ethnic/cultural” experience and “expatriot” experience and “language” experience.

There’s actually a dude who teaches at the University of Missouri (I think) whose name is Eamonn Wall. He actually has written a few books and occasionally gives lectures about Irish-American writing and first/second generation immigrant writing, proposing that there are thematic and language elements of this writing that is UNIQUE to the immigrant-Irish experience, that even acculturated IA writers (who may or may not have ever even been to Ireland) inherently/instinctually (I suppose) grasp at cultural memes that are not purely American, that are derived from an experience they may not even wholly have belonged to. I’ve never seen him very fully develop his theories (my own fault, I’m sure, for not looking very hard)…but I find it very interesting to consider what, if any, unique experiences are generated by the tension between one’s, let say, cultural heritage and language/writing roots and one’s social or experiential heritage and language/writing. And there are so many writers who talk to us about these themes: Jamaica Kincaid, Edwige Danticat, Sherman Alexie, Jhumpa Lahiri, Chang-Rae Lee…the list goes on and on.

I’m not sure to what extent this holds true across the board—but I found my university education made me extremely interested in these sorts of writers precisely because they DO provide this bridge, this complication to our “studying” and “reading” the Other-who-has-become-Ourselves.

Dunno. Will be interesting to see you expound on some of these ideas in detail.

-Hannah

8:05 AM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Hello Hannah, thanks a lot for the post! Yes, I hope to be able to expound my ideas in the coming days and weeks. I find your characterization of Wall's theory of Irish-American writers being able to inherently/instinctually grasp at cross-cultural memes that others Americans may not be able to grasp to be quite fascinating.

It is one response to my earlier questioning of the authenticity of "Asian-American" voices. The authenticity here would lie in the actual experiences of Asian-Americans. It may also be one justification for defining Asian-American poetry as "poetry written by Asian-Americans," because the Asian-American experience is inherent/instinctual in being an Asian-American. It's definitely worth thinking about more.

5:44 PM  
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