Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Asian American Poetry and Libraries

Ok, ever since the beginning of this blog, I've had on my list of things to blog -- being a guy who is fairly big on lists -- a post about Asian American books of poetry and libraries. I was aiming for a spectacular post, but it looks like that won't happen, but at the moment, I feel like I can aim higher than woefully inadequate, which is probably a sign to post.

The first question that one might think of asking is what types of libraries? More specficially, public libraries or university libraries? To a certain extent, however, this question is irrelevant -- neither public libraries nor college/university libraries carry acceptable quantities of Asian-American books of poetry, however one defines "Asian-American."

What do I mean by "acceptable"? Well, in most public libraries, the number of Asian-American books of poetry is two or fewer. There might be an anthology or Li-Young Lee book scattered here and there, but that's usually about it. Knowing the financial conundrums of many public libraries, I am less troubled by this phenomenon than by the lack of Asian-American books of poetry in university libraries, which is very few as well. For example, as of 2002 at Duke University, the number of Asian-American books of poetry was about fifteen.

Only because I had to do research on Asian-American poetry did I learn of the levels of exclusion of Asian-American books of poetry in college/university libraries. It is an open question whether fault lies in the library. WorldCat, the worldwide library database, shows us that all college/university libraries suffer from a lack of Asian-American books of poetry. One could fault the libraries for not purchasing these books, which I think is a legitimate critique. But I think that one could also blame on large and mid-sized book publishers, which have chosen not to publish Asian-American books of poetry, since that is the source of purchasing from many libraries. Or for that matter, one can trace the responsibility back to magazine editors or professors of poetry. And yes, one might potentially fault Asian-American poets themselves for not more vigorously pursuing publication, if such is the case.

At one point, as I have noted before, I attempted to catalog all books of Asian-American poetry ever published. In 2002, I reached about 150 books. I imagine that, at that point and taking into account books that I may have missed, there were about 250 published books. I think that now there are probably around 300 books in the canon, though again, I am just guessing here. Many of the publishers are fairly small, and many of the books may have been missed.

But I think that the tide is changing, especially in the last couple years. Asian-American books of poetry are being published at a much higher rate, and one can only imagine that this phemonenon should trickle down to college/university libraries in the form of a growing catalog of books.


Blogger pam said...

Hi Roger,

Have you ever thought of posting the catalog of 150-250 titles you said you compiled? Of course, as you mention, it's an ongoing task to keep a list up to date and as near complete as possible, but such a list could be a good resource for readers in general.

I think for example of Spencer Selby's list of small journals and magazines, which has been a resource for poets looking for places to send their work.


11:51 AM  
Blogger EILEEN said...

Re Pam's suggestion, Roger that!

Uh, pun intended of course!

4:42 PM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Hey Pam and Eileen, thanks for the posts. Yes, I've thought of posting the list, but it is an incomplete, haphazard, and ultimately (at least at this point) unsatisfactory list to me. I wanted to revise and update it first before posting, but I just haven't had the time.

But I may just post it in the next couple days or so, with disclaimers, just for the heck of it. And I'll ask for people to fill me in on books not listed, which will probably be quite a few.

5:38 AM  
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