Sunday, February 06, 2005

Point One - Why No Lit-Crit on Asian-American Poetry

I've decided to devote the next several days to responding to Eric's many points, one-by-one, for two good reasons: 1) he raises fascinating and informative points, and 2) heck, it buys me some time to think up new stuff to write. :)

Eric suggests that the lack of Asian-American poetry lit-crit results from a major collapse of the academic publishing market and the resulting emphasis on publishing books that sell well, which has tended to push the still-relatively small field of Asian-American poetry into even greater oblivion. Long-time readers of this blog will know that this assertion makes perfect sense to me, because of my belief that both poetry readership and criticism are dictated by economic power as well as deep-seated psychological and philosophical beliefs by professors/scholars/editors over what "good" poetry is and which poets/poems are thus worthwhile to read and seriously consider.

But I don't perceive Asian-American studies folks as merely victims of an uncaring non-Asian-American public. People interested in Asian-American poetry also become perpetrators of lagging book sales and ignorance when they do not believe that the field is worthwhile -- which, of course, doesn't apply to any readers of this blog.

As far as a plan goes to popularize Asian-American poetry, I think that the first step is to attract the interest of non-Asian-American scholars/poets interested in "Asian poetry." For example, there has been far more critical work done on Chinese poets than on Chinese-American poets. I think that Asian-Americanists must make a more concerted to build alliance with such scholars. The second step would then be to go the other natural route -- which is to encourage Asian Americans to take a greater interest in poetry. Such work is happening already in the form of the Asian American Writers Workshop as well as the newly established organization Kundiman.

If I disagree anywhere with Eric here, I would say that I don't believe that building a community of scholars for a book-length work is necessarily time-bound. For example, let us take the rise of "Paris Hilton"; "Paris Hilton" is a historical anomaly in the sense that "Paris Hilton" was unforeseeable to any of us just a few years ago. Now there is a vibrant community of writers discussing "Paris Hilton," both pro and con, in articles, books, etc. There is much more "Paris Hilton"-mania than Asian-American poetry-mania, even though "Paris Hilton" is a much more recent and arguably inconsequential phenomena than Asian-American poetry.

My basic point is that Asian-American poets and professors of Asian-American poetry must not cave in to fatalism and must pursue their agenda, just as Paris Hilton has eloquently and ambitiously pursued hers -- of course, this recommendation is referring to style, not substance. There is no shame in trying to advance a field of academic study; it is what Shakespeare and Pound professors/scholars have done for years and have done successfully. If one has never read any Asian-American poetry, there is absolutely no reason why Shakespeare should be studied instead of Asian-American poetry. (I'm playing with logic there in that last sentence; basically, I mean to say that an intellectual refutation of Asian-American poetry in favor of Shakespeare must entail a critical readership and engagement with both, which has not taken place yet.)

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