Saturday, January 15, 2005

What If You Don't Care About Asian-American Poetry

I'm assuming that, if you've come here, then you at least have a little interest in Asian-American poetry. If not, I pity you. The Internet can lead us down freaky roads.

But let us say that you are "normal." Let us say that you don't care about Asian-American poetry. How can someone get you to care? I think that it's a difficult question. You can't force someone to care. Or you can, but I don't want to resort to making people eat all the broccoli.

The only thing that comes to my mind is to ask someone to be open-minded. But being "open-minded" is itself an aesthetic bias. I consider myself "open-minded," because I'm interested in every "type" of poetry. (Even though English-language poetry would be most accessible to me, I am curious about translation.) "Open-mindedness" requires a lot of mental energy, and one could argue that open-mindedness would eventually lead to the triumph of breadth over depth.

But I know some people don't (and won't) care about Asian-American poetry. I will like, and perhaps love, many of these people. And yet my passion for such poetry will be inaccessible to them. They will probably have interests and dreams that are inaccessible to me. I find that oddly poignant at this late hour.

I see the same phenomenon going on in the Joan Houlihan-BAP debate: some types of poems will never be accessible to some people. Actually, I can sympathize with elements of both sides. It is an upper-middle-class, "academic" struggle for the control over "academic" poetry -- and "academic" poetry is quite powerful and influential, since it is usually what is taught in schools. Of course, this last sentence both is and is NOT a critique of "academic" poetry, since this blog has almost been completely been about "academic" poetry, so I must wonder if I am a blogger on "academic" poetry even if I don't desire to so limit myself. (Note: By "academic poetry," I am thinking of a definition like "poetry deemed worthy of reading by usually upper-middle or middle class, white, college/university scholars and poets of the amorphous politically left or apolitical persuasion.") I guess "nerds and dorks" would be the quicker definition, but I'll save a little self-respect for myself here and won't go that far. :)

Anyhow, I am very interested in trying to get people who don't care at all about Asian-American poetry interested in such poetry. I've said that I will keep on trying to justify the existence of this blog, and I think that this is yet another justifcation.

6 Comments:

Blogger Andrew said...

I wonder if it's possible to convince anyone to care about any kind of poetry short of getting them to read it and engage with it.

Surely the people that you love and that love you are willing to engage in something that means so much to you?

You could try to convince someone to care about Asian-American poetry for political/cultural reasons, but I'm not sure that you'd want want anyone to read poetry for that reason. I sure wouldn't want to be targetted for reading so that someone could feel good about themselves for fufilling some ideal.

The only way to instill a love of poetry, or any type of poetry, is to get them to read that poetry. If it wins them over, great! If not, then I don't think there's anything else that can make them authentically care.

The only trouble is getting people to openly engage with something; no one cares to do that these days, whether it be in the realm of politics, religion, or poetry of any stripe. So it seems I don't have an answer for you after all. Just more ramblings.

You've convinced me to care, at least. I hadn't ever really thought about Asian-American poetry in a serious way before you started blogging. And while the internet does indeed lead down some freaky roads, I don't think it's led me down this one so many times by accident.

7:25 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Hi Roger, thanks for the e-mail inviting me to check out your site. As one who doesn't know much about poetry (let alone Asian-American poetry) please forgive me if what I write is kinda simplistic :)

I found it interesting that you should refer to people who "don't care about Asian-America poetry" as being "normal". This implies that people who DO care about Asian-American poetry are NOT normal. I have many over-seas-born Chinese friends who might take offence to that blatant generalisation/presumption.

Where you say being open-minded "requires a lot of mental energy", I find the opposite: that it's usually at it's most sincere & genuine when it flows naturally. But I guess we're all different, and part of being open-minded is accepting that very fact, right?

I noticed you said that "one could argue that open-mindedness would eventually lead to the triumph of breadth over depth". Although I agree with what I think you're saying here, I'm reminded of a quote by Alexander Hamilton: "Those who stand for nothing fall for anything." So I think it's great that whilst you're advocating breadth over depth, that you are still retaining a deep richness, that being Asian-American Poetry.

Best wished in your endeavour to bring the uninitiated to your site :)

4:40 PM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Hey Andrew, thanks a lot! Actually, you've made me think more about "philosophical poetry." It's a very nice category, worthy of further contemplation.

Most of all my friends and family members, with some exceptions, aren't into poetry. I don't think it's any different from the rest of the general population, though. But it's cool. I was just ranting a bit yesterday. :) You're right that I don't want Asian-American poetry to become broccoli. And we all have our own individual interests, which is part of what makes the world interesting.

8:15 PM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Hey Mark, thanks for visiting and posting! No, what you've written is definitely not simplistic. It always annoys me when people say that others are writing simplistic stuff, or say something of that nature, because that usually means they haven't read carefully and are just being haughty or lazy.

Sorry, I think you missed the joke on the "not normal" point. :) I was being darkly ironic and critiquing the marginalization of Asian-American poetry. But like I've said -- "strange and outlandish takes" -- and you aren't the first, and won't be the last, person to not get my warped, weird sense of humor.

Your open-mindedness point is a good one. Actually, I misspoke slightly, because I was aiming for a generalization. Being open-minded does come naturally to me, at least at this point in my life and poetic development. I was mainly commenting on how it seems more difficult in poetry, as poets group themselves into different "schools" and aesthetic tastes, Asian-American poetry included. In maintaining this blog, I am certainly not implying that people shouldn't read poems not in the category of "Asian-American poetry," though I imagine no one was under that impression anyway.

Anyhow, I wonder if I will develop more precise aesthetic tastes as I read more and more poems. Right now, I still feel like I should keep an open mind, which is more natural than I'd implied. :)

8:28 PM  
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6:29 PM  

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