Saturday, January 29, 2005

Requiring a Coast

In the poem, "Miss Chang is Missing," poet Adrienne Su writes, "We know it's to San Francisco/ or New York -- she couldn't have stopped/ anywhere in between, and she requires/ a coast." The in-joke here is the fact that Asian Americans (and Asian American poets) typically live on the coasts, and more specifically, in or around major urban areas.

I think that is precisely why there is no Wordsworthian equivalent in Asian-American poetry. I don't know of any Asian-American "nature" poets. Most Asian-American poets don't live in places with any wildflowers or "real" trees and forests. Most Asian-American poets live in highly urbanized settings with buildings and sidewalks and pollution and rap music and latte, in (dare I say) the bluest settings in the blue states.

This demographic tends to homogenize the poetry geographically, so one might ask when we say Asian-American poetry, are we really talking about Asian-New Yorker or Asian-San Franciscan poetry? We must remember that poets live in all 50 states, but relatively few Asian-American poets live outside CA and NY. If one believes that "geography is destiny" in poetry, then one should consider the possibility that Asian-American poets may dominate the urban terrain while not exploring the non-coastal wilderness.

(Edit: And of course, we must not overlook Asian-Hawaiian poets, such as Garrett Hongo, Cathy Song, Alan Chong Lau, Debra Kang Dean, and the Hawaii Slam poets.)

4 Comments:

Blogger barbara jane said...

check out debra kang dean's precipitates, which i am reviewing, which has as much basho as it does henry david thoreau, and which i'd say is strongly rooted in non-urban american landscape.

check out also lawson inada, who's oregon-based. also arthur sze, tina brown celona, alan lau. and consider the role of the natural world and process in mei-mei berssenbrugge's and shin yu pai's works.

10:18 AM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Hey Barbara, yes, I was going to note Sze, Cathy Hong, and early Li-Young Lee as examples, and then I thought, nah, I'm looking for more book rec's out of this post, so thanks! :)

Yes on Bersennbrugge, Lau, and Inada -- though I think that Bersennbrugge is more into nature than Inada, even if her poetry isn't as Wordsworthian; it happens to be more interesting than Wordsworth's, IMHO. I haven't read any of Dean, Celona, or Pai's works, but I'll write them down now. As you can probably tell by now, my readership -- and everyone's readership -- of poetry is limited by the quality of the library in terms of the breadth and variety of poets covered.

And, yikes, Hawaii! It's just like a landluver like myself to overlook Hawaii. Sorry. You know it's a colonized state, but then again, which state isn't?

11:09 AM  
Blogger barbara jane said...

it's true, we're mainland-centric 'til hawaii conveniently fits our needs. bad bad.

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