Thursday, January 20, 2005

Examples of Azn Poetry

In the comments section, Geof has usefully suggested that I provide a couple examples of "azn" poetry to help everyone, including muself, get a more concrete grasp of what I mean. In an earlier entry, I had the following to say about "azn" poets and poetry.

Assuming "azn" poetry is poetry written by "azn" poets, I would say that "azn" describes an Asian-American who (1) has grown up in America, (2) typically lives in or near a major US city, (3) wears spiked and/or bleached hair, (4) listens to hip hop/rap/R&B and is probably a fan of Eminem, (5) is fascinated by certain Japanese cars like Hondas, (6) has no problem using any racial epithets about any race, (6) is typically 25 years old and under, (7) likes clubbing and raving, (8) is consumeristic, (9) has a bawdy sense of humor, (10) sometimes dislikes the "foreignness" of newer Asian immgrants, (11) often cannot speak an Asian language, (12) uses the term "azn pride" to denote power in their identity. Of course, you don't have to have all these characteristics to be "azn," but usually, you have several in combination. (I'd also added that professions of love and heartbreak, pride in one's racial/ethnic identity, and confrontations against racism are common themes in "azn" poetry.)

So here are links to a couple examples: Ishle Yi Park's "Sa-I-Gu":
and Bao Phi's "FOBulous!" (Note: Many other poems on Bao Phi's page may also be considered "azn" poetry.)

But I also had this to say: The vast majority of "azn poets" are totally unconcerned with workshopping and publication, and poetry, to them, is purely about self-expression and communication of intimacy...I think, that at its core, azn poetry is a grassroots poetry "movement" that is not really a movement at all. Its near-total disengagement from what is an "appropriate" aesthetic is itself an aesthetic -- an aesthetic of rebellion.

So I think that there are many "azn" poets out there who have not achieved the fame and notoriety of Park and Phi, for example, and that these poets, often teenagers, are just as much integral builders and disciples of this particular, ever-changing, modern aesthetic.


Blogger Geof Huth said...


Well, I'll be hornswoggled! These examples of azn poetry were a surprise. Why? I expected more of a rap esthetic, and there was some of that--but muted.

Instead, I saw gyrations towards a traditionally "poetic" stance: unexpected use of poetic techniques like anaphora, repetends, etc. But still with a rough, not-quite-polished, exterior. These are not poems of the academy, but the poets seem to have--in the far reaches of their minds--some concept of what that academy is.

Thanks. That helps. Learning through examples is useful.


4:38 PM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:58 AM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Hey Geof, glad you found the examples helpful!

9:01 AM  
Blogger Gilbert Koh said...

This is an interesting blog.

Roger, I would like to draw your attention to the Spring/Summer 2002 issue of the Atlanta Review, which I was given to understand is a fairly well-known poetry publication in the United States (I may possibly be wrong about that).

That particular issue was the so-called "Asia" special for Atlanta Review. There were a large number of poems with some Asian element in it (that is, the poems were either set in some part of Asia, or written by Asians, or both).

Among the poets were a fair number of Asian-American poets. I think you might possibly find it interesting to compare their works to Asian poets who are not American. I have a curious feeling that you may possibly discover that your interest is not so much in Asian-American poetry (especially in the narrow way you've defined that term), but Asian poetry in English.

I happened to be one of the poets featured in that particular issue. It can still be ordered directly from the editors of Atlanta Review (google and you'll see).

I also noted that in one of your earlier posts, you expressed an interest in Indonesian poetry and Sri Lankan poetry. Hardly any Indonesian poetry in English exists, AFAIK (Li-Young Lee being a long-lost son). For Sri Lankan poetry in English, try Michael Ondaatje's poetry - I would recommend the collection "Handwriting" in particular.

9:45 AM  
Blogger Neil Aitken said...

Much of the "azn" poetry that is written these days tends to surface in the forums of Asian-American and/or "azn" community sites like Asian Avenue and Generazn. You'll need to set up a free membership with them if you want to access the forums, but it doesn't take much time to do so.

Asian Avenue link

Generazn link

There are poetry forums at both sites and plenty of examples of the many varying grades of "azn" poetry. Most of which really does reflect either a rebellion or a general apathy towards "appropriate" aethestic or the typical conventions of poetry.

9:47 AM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Hey Gilbert, great catch on Li-Young Lee. Although he is of Chinese descent, one may argue that he is also Indonesian since he spent part of his childhood there.

Yes, I think the Indiana Review also came out with an "Asian-American" issue as well. I haven't had a chance to read either issues yet. The idea of lit mags coming out with "Asian" or "Asian-American" issues is a good idea for a future blog posts.

Wow, I must say that I'm almost pleasantly surprised that you think that I would be more interested in "Asian-American poetry" than "Asian poetry written in English." I was anticipating a critique that would've gone exactly the opposite way. I have written a lot, though, so you probably missed some of my earlier posts, sorry.

I'd recommend that you, and anyone out there who is interested, to read my ongoing negotiations over "What Is Asian-American Poetry?" If you look in the archive, you'll see that I've proposed many different possible definitions of "Asian-American poetry." That is, if you have the time, of course. :)

10:13 AM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Arghhh! I'm not terribly fond of comments sometimes, because I feel like I want to edit to clarify. By that last remark about having the time, I meant that I have written a lot on the matter. I feel like I have been positing slightly shorter posts of late, though.

10:15 AM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Hey Neil, yes, I've been focused on Xanga, but I overlooked Asian Avenue (and also the Rice Bowl Journals, though there's less "azn" poetry over there). I'd actually never heard of Generazn, but I'll check it out.

I definitely agree that there are varying grades of "azn" poetry. I think that there could be an interesting article/essay written on "azn" versus "Asian-American" poetry, especially as it relates to age, class, ethnicity, urban vs. non-urban, length of time in America, citizenship status, fluency in an Asian language, etc.

10:22 AM  
Blogger Neil Aitken said...

Actually, I think you misread Gilbert's comment -- he does suggest that you'll find more of what you're looking for in Asian poetry (ot necessarily by American-born Asians as opposed to Asian-American poetry.

As a poet/writer of mixed ancestry, the construction of the term "Asian-American poetry" has always seemed especially problematic. And, as you've posted earlier, how does one really define (and is it even possible) what the parameters of the field should be? For me at least, I'll leave that issue for the future critics of my work -- I tend to incorporate whatever seems appropriate to the task at hand.

For an excellent discussion of poetics, race, and hybridity as it relates to this discussion you might look at "Faking It: Poetics & Hybridity" by Fred Wah. I highly recommend a great essay in there called "Speak My Language: Racing the Lyric Poetic"

As for good poetry written by Asians now in America, you might want to look at the anthology, "Out of the Howling Storm: The New Chinese Poetry" edited by Tony Barnstone. The work of Chou Ping who now writes all his poetry in English, seems especially pertinent. Many of these poets seem to negotiate and construct/deconstruct the Asian and American identities in new and artful ways.

10:40 AM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Hmmm...yeah I think that there could be a useful discussion on "Asian poets' poetry in English" vs. "Asian-American poetry" vs. "Azn poetry.

I think it's definitely possible to define "Asian-American poetry." Of course, all academic fields are defined wrongly. ;) (I'm hoping people out there get the joke.)

Thanks a lot for the recommendations! They've actually made me think a little more about "Asian-Canadian poetry" vs. "Asian-American poetry." I know relatively little about the former.

3:24 AM  
Blogger Neil Aitken said...

Re: Asian-Canadian poetry

Older Asian-Canadian poets:
Fred Wah
Roy Miki
Michael Ondaatje
Gerry Shikatani
Evelyn Lau
Roy Kiyooka

Younger Asian-Canadian poets
Larissa Lai
Rita Wong

You can find more at the Ryerson Library siteHere's a good list of anthologies pertaining to the subject: click here Here's an Asian-Canadian arts scene blog: click here

10:42 AM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Hey Neil, Thanks a lot for the list!

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