Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Azn Poets and Poetry - A Commentary and Critique

Even though I believe that "azn" poetry is a legitimate subculture of poetry itself, I do not mean to suggest that there aren't any problems with the poetry of my spikey-haired amigos with the funny choices in hair color.

I think that the biggest problem of "azn" poetry, or "political" poetry in general, is its lack of linguistic originality. Not to say that it can't be original -- it can, as in the case of the best work of Bao Phi or Ishle Yi Park, for example. For the masses of "azn" poets, however, I think it has always been difficult to come up with new ways to talk about your yellow/brown skin, your being perceived as a foreigner, your being discriminated against, etc.

In addition, "azn" poetry, while laying claim to the true essence of "Asian-ness," has ironically never been about an "original," traditional Asian culture itself but has borrowed heavily from hip-hop/rap and black culture. We all know that the suburbs of San Marino ain't exactly the 'hood. Confucius most likely never went around doing poetry slams in Detroit or NYC.

At any rate, it's always amazed me the extent to which "azns" like to co-opt the lyrics of economic oppression and racial subjugation as an "azn" identity that has never been theirs to possess singularly but applies to a much wider range of races, ethnicities, classes, etc. And I think political oppression is legitimate subject matter, and much of poetry is about co-opting and transforming.

But I'm saying "azn" poetry doesn't have a monopoly on "Asian-ness" or "Asian" authenticity that it would sometimes like to believe it has. Neither does the liberal, political left that dominates "azn", or for that matter, "Asian-American" poetry. I view "Asian-ness" as an open terrain in a legitimate sense -- not in the radical, leftist, deconstructionist sense that opens up the terrain only to quickly shut it again to include only views conducive to the left-of-center philosophy. I've always felt like there should be more conservative poetry, if only because I've been curious what such poetry would look like -- what kind of aesthetics that a politically right-of-center, young Asian-American poet would possess, for example.

17 Comments:

Blogger pam said...

"I've been curious what such poetry would look like -- what kind of aesthetics that a politically right-of-center, young Asian-American poet would possess, for example."

Like a Dana Gioia poem with more references to high-end rice and Acura?

But seriously, your question brings up a host of other questions: To what extent does the term "Asian American" presume a particular political stance? On what criteria is this political stance based-- an essentialist race position? cultural identity? aesthetics? one's positions on the latest media-reported events?

Is there a threshold of political stance past which "Asian American" (or any other identity-based category) becomes obsolete as a descriptor? For example, can an individual be so conservative (I'm reading "conservative" here as synonymous with "status quo") that it becomes ridiculous for him/her to claim or be claimed by a term that evolved historically from conditions of marginality?

5:12 PM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Hey Pam, sorry, I've been really busy (too busy) of late. Thanks a lot for the comments. Those are great questions.

Just in one quick swoop at them, I'd say that, in poetry at least, "Asian American" is presumed as a politically liberal stance. It might as well be. I don't know of any politically conservative Asian Americans who are poets in any way, shape, or form.

I think that conservatives, in general, will pretty much say in unison that they reject all identity politics. Of course, that's not true. Various conservatives have identities of their own -- Christian, pro-gun, anti-abortion, libertarian, anti-immigration, etc. The skillful framing of it as not having an identity is just a political move.

9:24 AM  
Blogger Bryan Thao Worra said...

Each poet and author has their own options about how they spell their words, how they present their ideas, etc. and as we watch the formation of an Asian American identity, it's only natural that some will take their influences from the hip-hop nation ideas and other urban motifs.

At some point, I strongly suspect hip-hop may go the way of jive, and we will begin to see the emergence of a post-hip-hop generation, which should be interesting to see.

I find myself pretty laissez-faire in this area other than to say that what's least interesting to me as a poet, however, is regurgitations of cribbed sociology textbooks, and the chronic listings of every injustice that's been inflicted on us over the years since the fall of the Roman Empire.

I suspect many of us need to do poems like these at least once, and that this is almost an inescapable part of the Asian American poetic process, based on how many times I've seen it among different Asian American poets.

But still, one eventually needs to broaden up their work and either bring a new dimension to the old, a la Bao Phi, for example, or try to find something genuinely new to explore.

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Blogger Thomas Newton said...

Roger,

"I've always felt like there should be more conservative poetry, if only because I've been curious what such poetry would look like"

It would look like this:

THE CIA PREDATOR DRONE

Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done. --President George W. Bush, Address to the joint session of Congress on September 20, 2001

You can no longer kill Americans
Around the whole world with impunity.
When you began your heinous murder runs
On New York you lost your immunity.
There is no place you can run to and no
Place you can hide. The drone is flying just
Above. The target designator glow
Is following you, who rate our disgust.
The eyes of all America are watching
You day and night, in rain or shine or snow.
Our spies are gathering vast data, matching
The faces, names and financing. We know.
The laser designator is on you.
The Hellfire missile drops out of the blue!

Thomas Newton
Conservative Poet

8:55 AM  

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