Friday, August 04, 2006

Revisiting Michael Magee's "Glittering" Work

Yes, friends, I am a few months late to the paper-knights-of-the-round-table discussion on Michael Magee's "The Guys, Their Asian Glittering Guys, Are Gay." Judging by the 103 comments on Tim Yu's second post on this poem,, I gather this "glittering" jewel became an object of importance for a couple dozen or so folk who are not working a 70-hr workweek or raising small kids (and if you are, while still managing to find time to blog and/or post comments on blogs, kudos to you).

Forgive me if I am mistaken, but I have the general impression that pretty much everything has been said on Magee's poem already. In this post, I am doing something different. Essentially, I am workshopping the first two stanzas of the poem here. It is an example of a larger project that I have been contemplating for a much longer time. It is my belief that any poem, no matter how "good" it is, can be revised/rewritten to take on different meanings. Notice I did not say "revised and made better". Perhaps such revision may make a poem "better," but "better" always seems quite subjective and that endeavor would be relatively uninteresting to me, or at least, not as interesting as an exploration into the different possibilities of language without such an ambitious (or arrogant?) agenda.

Here, below, with "Their Guys, Their Asian Glittering Guys, Are Gay," (, I am trying to concretize the ideas, concepts, and emotions that Magee has expressed through his poem. As is, I think that Magee's poem is a fascinating piece with a lot of interesting content that should be streamlined. Some poems need greater abstraction, but I sense that this poem is struggling towards greater directness, perhaps even a social statement of some kind.

At this point, Michael Magee's poem seems almost trapped between flarf and the work of Sharon Olds. (Do I get bonus points for using "Michael Magee" and "Sharon Olds" in the same sentence?) Magee uses fragments and pidgin in parts, but I would edit out most of these devices. I am not sure that they work that well in this particular poem, and at any rate, the speaker does not appear to be Asian-American (as exemplified by the line, "I don't want to sound stereo-/typical, but most Asian people I HAVE MET are pretty short," in the second stanza). The speaker is probably Caucasian. I also prefer Tim Yu's title for the poem, "Those Glittering Gay Guys," for the sake of its relative simplicity -- Magee's more experimental, more grammaticallly flamboyant title would probably work better for me in a poem that I perceived as aiming for greater abstraction. Another way of revising the poem, I think, would be to move further in the direction of flarf, but that would require heavier lifting.

"Those Glittering Asian Guys" - first and second stanza rewritten

Ten years and another Asian city shall arise.
Let the Empire swallow countries for their own benefit.
Brutus and Ajo, pity the look in the eyes of their country. A thin Asian
chick wears a burgundy car coat, Hong Kong chic.
Old guys in Chinatown like pick-up trucks,
insinuate that guys with trucks deconstruct the meaning of Asian norms.
Six guys. On some occasions, they grunt at a pick-up
as they make their way. An Asian Santa can be seven feet tall.
The "green" is spotted with snow. The flag is up. The ball is on the green.
You always hear about sleazy guys, their drivers ready,
their spectacular gazes upon Kimmy, a 21-year-old Asian cutie.
Kimmy dials a number on her cell phone. I understand.

Model minority Asian stereotypes slurp cereal from a carton.
Soon will be the baptism of their sons. I do not want
to stereotype, but most Asian people I HAVE MET are pretty short.
In a country full of plots, I search for character. But it always
ends in a soapy mess, and I cannot tell Asian from Hispanic anymore.
It depends on the wetness of skin tone.
He was Malaysian in the last century, Asian in this one,
tumbling through fantasies of beautiful bad men deceiving us with
their easy-going nature. My eyes are switching from their normal green.
The problem is that we were once special --
with our white-striped manes, watching biker-bankers tear off
their Hell's Angels jackets, partying away through the grubby paws
of horniness. What made you call her a Dragon Lady?
Anything could titillate straight guys back then. Now we are anyone.


Blogger pam said...

Actually, I think the debate was a significant one, not only because it wore away at the emotions and free time of several dozen participants (among which I was included, although I don't have small children and only work a 40-hour week), but because, as a public demonstration, it headlined some problematic conflicts between avant-garde poetics and people of color, conflicts that have flared up from time to time in various forms over the decades but that for the most part remain dormant, lurking as shadowy subtexts that no one wants to think about or dissect, least of all those people of color who happen to work in so-called avant-garde forms and participate in avant-garde communities. The ramifications of this are potentially huge, potentially miniscule, only time will tell. At the very least, the transcript of the debates, which remains publicly accessible and which, like all accessible records, the public is free to browse or ignore, serves as an unusually thorough and committed example of collective criticism.

Rewriting the poem to make it more safe for the tender reader is an interesting exercise, but I wonder if it doesn't give too much credit to the original poem for wanting to strive "towards greater directness, perhaps even a social statement of some kind," when what the debate revealed fairly early on was that the poem was constructed with ambiguity, not precision, in mind, and that the "unsafe" effects of this ambiguity on certain readers were to be defended because they (the unsafe effects) were operating on an aesthetic and intellectual level that superseded the historically grounded, racially and ethically based arguments of these readers, whereas, as I'm hoping any sane follower of the debate will realize, exactly the opposite was true.

9:06 PM  

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