Thursday, August 04, 2005

On Nick Carbo's "HER AHS AND OHS"

I feel like I've been getting too serious and drifting away from the topic of "Asian-American poetry" in my most recent posts, so I want to rectify that here. I mean, look at the subtitle to this blog, "My strange and outlandish takes..." That's what you're here for, isn't it?

And this poem is a good place to start. Nick Carbo's "HER AHS AND OHS" is like chocolate cheesecake. It's no good for you, but you eat it up anyway. You're not going to learn anything broccoli-ish by reading this poem. It's not the poem that your freshman rhetoric instructor (not a professor, but a PhD candidate) will tell you is "serious" or "profound" or "transcendent," while sweating away in his awkward little red-and-white striped bow tie, hoping that you won't question him "why?" because the answer is not in the lesson plans that he scribbled at 2am last night in pencil on an oversized yellow post-it while preparing an 8-page outline for chapter 3 of his book on Emily Dickinson's imaginary sister's Orphelian farmhouses, only three years away from getting his PhD and three and a half years from moving back into the old upstairs room in his parents' house while becoming a "freelance" writer for some software start-up in Silicon Valley as he searches for a publisher for his novella on a female Manhattanite who has to deal with the quirks and oddities of her Nebraskan fiance's family in the middle of farm-country in Lincoln during the late 1980s after being laid-off from her job as assistant to the bigwig of some Wall Street firm that went bust. Oh, no. That's not this poem.

This poem is appropriately titled, because it's about an orgasm. And orgasms are dirty! Let's say that the woman having the orgasm, and the man giving it to her, are Asian American. Do Asian Americans have orgasms? Asian Americans are a very clean people, so we have to wonder. It's probably more kosher in American pop culture for Asian American women to be portrayed as having orgasms than it is for Asian American men to be portrayed as such. So, in that sense, if we want to picture both the man and the woman as Asian American, the poem isn't all that radical. Of course, the story would change if one party was Asian American but the other was not.

If we want to carry my earlier "Hitler question" to its logical conclusion and say that it's impossible to separate the poet from the poem, we might ask, is the poet doing the pleasuring here? The poet is male. He obviously possesses carnal knowledge, which, if you can't tell from this poem, is pretty obvious from his other poems. But the perspective seems to mutually empathize with both the woman and the man, because the pleasuring is mutual -- both lovers are acting here. There are two people, both doing the pleasuring and being pleasured, in the poem.

And people, does it matter whether these "ahs and ohs" have happened in real life before? One might say that it's the question of the Yasusada hoax (discussed earlier on this blog -- where apparently a Caucasian American poet pretended to be Asian-American and got a bunch of poems published in "prestigious" magazines) all over again. But one wouldn't ordinarily question the authenticity here. Because this is not a "serious" poem in the sense that it doesn't deal with a "serious" issue like the bombing of Hiroshima. But why would one think that way? I mean, if authenticity matters in poetry, shouldn't it matter for any poem? If that's not the case, where are we drawing the line between a "serious" poem where authenticity matters and a "non-serious" poem where it doesn't?

Anyhow, getting to the language of the poem itself, I think that the poem completely overturns the steroetype that Asian Americans don't know how to pronounce consonants. Look at all those "s's" and "p's" and "t's" My goodness, Nick Carbo has done us proud! Seriously, though, I've never understood the racial stereotype of Asian Americans mixing up "l's" and "r's" That must be the most stupid stereotype on the face of the earth, because it's so factually wrong. I mean, I myself have witnessed a plethora of Asian Americans mix up so many English words in so many different ways but never those particular consonants before. Looks like the xenophobes didn't do their research. It's kind of like saying that there are too many Asian Americans in the NBA. You only get to count Yao Ming once, folks. Stop saying Asian Americans "have made it" simply by pointing up at Yao. It's rude to point.

So, I liked this poem. I feel like I can refer to the poet as "Nick" as opposed to "Carbo," because, really, how many people (excluding masochists) would refer to orgasm-givers by their last names? I tell you that Nick has come up with a poem that will last the length that it should last as long as you want it to last, which is the ultimate fantasy.


Blogger Lee Herrick said...

I dig it, Roger. Loved the Barot post, too, and this one's a blast.


10:39 PM  
Blogger Pris said...

Your comments on this are great! Love the tongue in cheek humor.


6:54 AM  
Blogger Harry said...

Having taught English in Japan, I can assure you that, for native Japanese speakers at least, the l/r thing is certainly true. I think that what actually happens is that they use the soft Japanese 'r' which is halfway between English 'l' and 'r', and it sounds wrong to anglophone ears whichever one it's supposed to be. But anyway, I did have students who said things like 'a bowl of lice' - or at least that's what it sounded like to an English speaker.


9:19 AM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Hey all, thanks a lot for the comments!

5:52 PM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Harry, this is interesting. I've never come across it, personally, so I'll have to take your word for it. Actually, I should've clarified that it is an Asian Pacific American stereotype, and more typically, a stereotype assigned to Chinese Americans.

5:56 PM  
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