Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Non Asian American Readers of Asian American Poems

I've been wanting to make this post for a while, and now seems to be the appropriate time in light of the flow of the discussion on this blog. I have wondered about the readings of non-Asian American readers of Asian American poetry. (And I have also wondered about the reverse as well: the readings of Asian American readers of non-Asian American poetry, which I will address in a future post.)

I do think that there are some references in Asian American poems that will be more accessible to Asian-American readers/editors than non-Asian American readers/editors, but it is difficult to tell which ones. Part of the difficulty stems from the fact that my previous claim is a qualified, majoritarian one. By "majoritarian," I am referring to it applying to the majority of readers/editors from my own experience. But I think that it is definitely possible for a non-Asian American reader/editor to "get" a poem more than an Asian American reader/editor.

One related issue, which is also a recurring theme of this blog, is getting non-Asian Americans interested in Asian American poetry, and Asian American studies, in general. I am interested in the idea of making a political move towards inclusivity. As some of you know, Asian American studies or literature classes tend to be populated by, guess who, Asian Americans! Tah dah! I think that non Asian Americans should at least always feel welcome in Asian American literature/studies classes.

But I'm drifiting. Returning to the focus of this post, I think that this issue also relates Korean-American readers of Chinese-American poems, for example, or Filipino-American readers of Japanese-American poems. In comments, GK helpfully posted two of his poems -- claiming that the poem with fewer "ethnic" or "cultural" references is more generally accessible than the poem with more such references. But Alberto noted that the poem with more "ethnic" or "cultural" references was not necessarily less accessible to him, as a Spaniard, a reader in Spain. So the question of audience and audience comprehension, so to speak, is quite complicated, since every reader/editor has different tastes.

But I believe that the question of audience comprehension is a relevant and important one. I don't think that tastes in poetry are purely individual, and really, I don't think anyone does. Language is one way that a reader of poetry is either included/excluded. But I'm interested in the question of why, for example, "we" generally know, read, and care about Ashbery, Berryman, Plath, Collins, Pinsky, etc. -- or going farther back -- Yeats, Marvell, Shakespeare, etc. and far less about Asian-American poets. The "we" is in quotes, of course, because it's not in reference to readers of this blog. :) It's back to the question of books sales, large publishing houses, colleges and universities, public and private K-12 sales, and publicity in general.

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