Friday, March 11, 2005

Asian American Listserv? - Playing Devil's Advocate

Building off Eileen's ( quasi-suggestion for an Asian-American poetry Listserv, Tim posts and comments on the possibility of having such a listserv and hypothesizes on its parameters ( Both his post and the ensuing comments are really quite interesting -- most commenters support the idea of such a listserv, and you should check them out. On balance, I think it would be fascinating to have a Listserv and I do support the idea (I actually think that the creation of an "Asian-American" school of poetry is overdue but is developing now more than ever with Kundiman and increasing interest in Asian-American poetry, which I won't get into here). But I'll sort of play devil's advocate here and describe a few potential dilemmas:

1. The Listserv format: Probably the biggest dilemma, and the one that I most genuinely believe is a problem, is the listserv format. I've belonged to a few listservs in my day, but I've found them hard to follow due to the sheer quantity of e-mails. Paradoxically, "bad" listservs are the easiest ones to follow -- if there are only a couple comments a day, then it's easy to keep track of the ideas. But "good" listservs, if they have 20+ posts a day and if the posts are relatively long, can be absolutely maddening.

2. Membership: Pam suggests that the listserv should have a completely open membership, while others suggest limitations by aesthetic or even aesthetic using race as a proxy, i.e. race-conscious poetry. Of course, no surprise to readers of this blog, that I agree with Pam here. I don't think that this is a major issue, and now editing here, I think that most will concur that there should be no membership restrictions.

3. "Controversial" Posts: Sooner or later, an issue will arise with "questionable" posts about Asians or Asian-Americans. In the rare instance of an outlandish, maliciously racist post, one can foresee almost everyone agreeing that the individual should be kicked off the list for the good of the Listserv. But I think that the paradigmatic "controversial" post is one that will only be controversial to some, and the "racism" will have some members questioning whether or not it is "racism" or simply intelligent provocation, a witty remark, or utterly uncontroversial at all. More likely than not, there will be disagreement over what, if any, action should be taken to remove a "controversial" poster. And such might engender negative feelings and accusatory exchanges over censorship vs. insensitivity against racism.

4. Poems vs. Philosophy: I wonder whether the listserv would be about Asian-American poets posting their own poems, discussions over the philosophy of Asian-American poetry, or both. Actually, I think that discussion boards are a much better format for workshopping poems than listservs. And it might be arguable that a discussion board would be preferable in the case of conceptual discussions over "Asian-American poetry" as well.

5. Focus: Perhaps in contrast to Tim and Pam, I do not favor a focus on a particular aesthetic, e.g. avant-garde. Aside from the difficult issue of having to define "avant-garde," I think that it would circumscribe the listserv too much. In essence, it would no longer become an "Asian-American poetry" listserv, but an "avant-garde Asian-American poetry" listserv or an "identity politics Asian-American poetry" listserv, for example. Tim raises this point in a later comment. Now a restrictive Asian-American poetry listserv would not necessarily be a bad thing, but it would have to be acknowledged as such, if such a restriction on subject matter was part of the raison d'etre of the listserv.

Anyhow, I still think it's a cool idea to have an Asian-American listserv, or at least some online discussion group on Asian-American poetry.


Blogger Nick said...

hey roger, good questions here. you know, vince gotera and i co-founded a listserve called FLIPS: way back in the late 90's and it served the filipino/flip-american writing community for a long time and it is still active today. many of us have now gravitated to the blog world where most of the action seems to be happening. i think listserves are things of the past. blogs are where it's at!

11:47 AM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Hey Nick, thanks for the heads up on FLIPS. Yeah, I have mixed feelings about the listserv format, since blogs, message boards, and discussion groups seem to allow for more dialogue. Or maybe it's 'cause I've taken pity on my inbox.

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