Potential applicant for the Amina Arraf Fellowship in the Arts
September 7, 2015 4:05 PM   Subscribe

One of the poets appearing in the anthology Best American Poetry 2015 is Yi-Fen Chou. In the anthology, the poet's bio states baldly that he has found greater success in the publication of his poetry since he adopted his pseudonym rather than using his real name, which is Michael Derrick Hudson. Naturally, this has been poorly received. Sherman Alexie, guest editor of the anthology, explains his decision to keep the poem in the anthology anyway, despite his anger at having been deceived.

The Best American Poetry Tumblr is highly recommended.
posted by Countess Elena (51 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
Conflicting responses in my heart...but i'm going to buy the anthology, because of Alexie's article, so a win for poetry.
posted by librosegretti at 4:34 PM on September 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


A random poem by Yi-Fen Chou aka Michael Derrick Hudson.
posted by Brian B. at 4:37 PM on September 7, 2015


Honestly, the biggest surprise to me here is that it isn't a blind process.
posted by anastasiav at 4:40 PM on September 7, 2015 [16 favorites]


How is this different from the female writers who have been received sympathetically once they reveal that they publish under a male pseudonym, after getting rejections under their real names?
posted by knoyers at 4:51 PM on September 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well that's the thing, you can't have a blind process when you're anthologizing pre-existing works while also being active in the space/community, you'll recognize things and that already predisposes you.

It all gets back, via the roundest possible bout, to authorial intent and how much the author is supposed to matter. People fundamentally don't agree on that. In a perfect world, the editors of the anthology would ask their readership to what degree the works' authors should matter or factor into the decision-making. And the editors should take that into consideration, since that's the will of their audience. If they want to be good gatekeepers, anyway. But for all I know that already happens, I'm not familiar with this particular anthology.
posted by Phyltre at 4:53 PM on September 7, 2015


I wonder if he would be willing to take on some other aspects of being an Asian American man in the States, including but not limited to...

-Being seen as inherently non-masculine/unattractive
-Being constantly asked "No, where are you really from?"
-Being told that "Oh, your English is so good!"/"You don't have an accent!"
-In some cases, being on the bad end of Affirmative Action/not being considered a "real" minority for diversity

Etc., etc.
posted by damayanti at 4:54 PM on September 7, 2015 [19 favorites]


or like 'david wong'?
posted by kliuless at 4:59 PM on September 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


The stunt would make sense coming from a under-grad but from a grown up its just embarrassing. This is like a tiny version of the Sad Puppies bullshit.
posted by kittensofthenight at 5:00 PM on September 7, 2015 [7 favorites]


How is this different from the female writers who have been received sympathetically once they reveal that they publish under a male pseudonym, after getting rejections under their real names?

Privilege. Next question?
posted by Sequence at 5:01 PM on September 7, 2015 [29 favorites]


How is this different from the female writers who have been received sympathetically once they reveal that they publish under a male pseudonym, after getting rejections under their real names?

It's different because Alexie was, in his own words, "consciously and deliberately seeking to address past racial, cultural, social, and aesthetic injustices in the poetry world." That is, he was privileging marginalized voices while editors who pass over works written by people with female names and accept those with male names are privileging already privileged voices. It's different because a woman using a male pseudonym is combating the oppression of female voices, while a white person using an Chinese pseudonym is co-opting that combat for his own gain. The situation changes meaning when it's reversed because the participants are on opposite sides of oppression.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 5:03 PM on September 7, 2015 [37 favorites]


He should have went with Korean for plausible deniability, a "Jay H. Lee" (i.e. Americanized "Lee Jae-Ho") or something.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 5:12 PM on September 7, 2015


Apparently being named "Michael Hudson" isn't a great privilege when attempting to be a published poet. The book was entitled "Best American Poetry," not "Best Poetry of the Most Oppressed Americans." This stunt shows that, in this context, he was also combating a prejudice that would silence his voice based on what his name signifies to those with power rather than on the substance of his work, standing on its own. There isn't a difference.
posted by knoyers at 5:16 PM on September 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


He should have went with Korean for plausible deniability...

Hudson doesn't want plausible deniability. He wants exactly what happened -- for people to be talking about how those liberal poets will gush over a poem submitted under some random Chinese-sounding name that they totally wouldn't if it were by some white guy. Watch for someone at Fox News to take a sudden interest in the BAP this year.
posted by Etrigan at 5:18 PM on September 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


This stunt shows that, in this context, he was also combating a prejudice that would silence his voice based on what his name signifies to those with power rather than on the substance of his work, standing on its own.

Yes, because there's been so much recognition and praise heaped on Asian American poets, and white men have been silenced. I mean, look at how many Pulitzer Prizes for poetry Asian Americans have won, compared to white men!

Wait, what do you mean only one Asian American person has won it, meaning that say, Robert Frost along with many other white men, won more Pulitzers than all of the Asian American men.
posted by damayanti at 5:24 PM on September 7, 2015 [11 favorites]


For every White author who "gained cachet" by using a foreign-sounding pen name, there are dozens of Non-White authors who have HAD TO do exactly the opposite.

And he could have just used his middle name "Derrick Hudson" and passed for African-American.
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:26 PM on September 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


Anne Boyer was tweeting about this earlier today and pointed to the story of Araki Yasusada, which I didn't know about.

The part in Alexie's response that I don't understand is the worry about what would have happened if MDH went public after being rejected. To me, that is exactly how something like this should go public: the dishonest/disingenuous person complains about an editorial decision that upset him, but would have harmed many others if it went to print. Or, better yet, is so ashamed to be called on his bullshit he never speaks of it again.

I appreciate Alexie's anger after the reveal and am *very* glad he shared that part of the story, but as someone whose name was going to be on this volume, it seems like his move should have been not to include it because of exactly those feelings. That would have been completely defensible response, I think.

In my editorial work, I've seen (white, male) writers pull these kinds of shenanigans, and while it is painful to deal with (for potentially vane reasons, I admit), I have to think about the impact it has on the publication's audience and the values it wants to uphold.

Also, the privilege in play here isn't just that which comes (or as some have argued, doesn't come) from having a white-male-sounding name, but all of the privilege of being a white male writer with writerly aspirations in a culture that embraces a canon consisting mostly of white men.

This man's voice was in no risk of being silenced (in fact, the poem had been published in a journal with potentially a larger readership that BAP); one of the goals of the series, as Alexie states, is to bring attention to underrepresented voices. MDH knew this is the case in many venues, and was hoping to exploit it. To me, that is unforgivable and grounds to dump the poem. I am amazed that he wasn't ashamed to lay out his reasons for the pseudonym in the bio. That alone reveals the delusional level of privilege within which he operates.

Perhaps also worth adding to this conversation is Elisa Gabbert's recent Electric Literature column (previously on the blue).
posted by activitystory at 5:39 PM on September 7, 2015 [14 favorites]


One interesting thing (touched on by Alexie) is that the stunt worked because of the juxtaposition of the Asian name and the typical Midwestern white guy poet obsessions. If you named yourself Doug Jackson and wrote about living in Taiwan working in your father's noodle shop I think a lot of editors would take extra note as well. Sic semper mediocratus.

But there's clearly no bias against white guy poets lol. Look at the actual list of BAP poems and poets included.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:45 PM on September 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


I really wonder what Hudson's play is here. Whatever payday there is in being a politically incorrect poet, surely it's bigger when you've won some big prizes and published a collection, not simultaneously with your first appearance in ABP (or, as he surely gambled, in lieu of such appearance, given that Alexie's decision not to spike the poem was so unlikely.)

Whatever the play -- damn cold-blooded. Alexie pays him a compliment many very good poets never get (publication in ABP) due mostly to Alexie's commitment to feature obscure poets (which Hudson was) much more than his commitment to give an extra look minority poets (which Hudson isn't) -- and Hudson absolutely stabs him in the back for a few days or twitter fame.
posted by MattD at 5:55 PM on September 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Approximately 99% of the poets are professors.

This is extremely depressing.

I mean, the Yi-Fen Chou thing is depressing too, but I expect that kind of crap. It has happened before and it will doubtless happen again.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 6:35 PM on September 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


It befuddles me how eager (even desperate) those with the most privilege are to be seen as victims.

I am lucky to write poetry as a hobby rather than a way to pay the bills, but when I've written something I feel is truly special, my satisfaction arrives with the completion of the poem, not its publication. Hudson's argument seems to be, "Look, they fell for my trick because they published my poem!" What does that say about his confidence in his work?
posted by sallybrown at 7:10 PM on September 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Aww thanks yeah. None of you white people supporting this when this Asian shows up for a job interview despite his resume reading 'Michael Hudson III'.
posted by hal_c_on at 7:48 PM on September 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


It is really hard to argue that this guy -- an unknown librarian -- had more privilege than the editors of Prairie Schooner or Sherman Alexie. To his great credit, Alexie recognizes this -- and acknowledges that one of things he grappled with in his entire job as guest editor, and in his response to this issue, was the huge disparity in power that favored him (Alexie).
posted by MattD at 8:02 PM on September 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


I have to give Alexie big props for the brutal honesty of that response. And the cojones to take the shit for it by leaving that poem in. Whether or not it should be left in, I'm not sure. But Alexie has a point that the whole thing pointed out his own bias, big time.

Now, whether or not the poem author had a point by doing it...well, submitting with an Asian name may have been an advantage in publishing (we'll wait until someone does a study on this), but is it in most places? Probably not.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:37 PM on September 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Whatever payday there is in being a politically incorrect poet

Now envisioning a middle age of teaching MFA at Liberty University, and maybe going on those right-wing cruises as a guest artist
posted by thelonius at 9:28 PM on September 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


>other aspects of being an Asian American man in the States, including but not limited to...

>-Being seen as inherently non-masculine/unattractive


Where are you getting this from? Being seen by whom as unattractive? This has not been my experience.

>-Being constantly asked "No, where are you really from?"

Okay, yes, this has totally been my experience.
posted by surenoproblem at 9:42 PM on September 7, 2015


>-Being seen as inherently non-masculine/unattractive

Where are you getting this from? Being seen by whom as unattractive? This has not been my experience.


Previously on Metafilter.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:19 PM on September 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


>-Being constantly asked "No, where are you really from?"

Okay, yes, this has totally been my experience.


Also previously, and a very good thread.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:23 PM on September 7, 2015


Privilege. Next question?

Statistically, his "Anglo-name privilege" appears to have been an anti-privilege. In what practical sense is it a privilege if it leads to a penalty?
posted by theorique at 1:33 AM on September 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


The worst thing is that if he hadn't been so lazy he could have been a Pessoa, but instead he chose to be a dick.

Actually, on second thought, his heteronymous poems would probably have been embarrassingly orientalist, all Li Po and plum wine.
posted by Kattullus at 2:26 AM on September 8, 2015


This is the same Alexie that called trigger warnings "colonialism" and even when contacted by other Native Americans and people of color with PTSD refused to back down. He was a really important voice but I think success has made him forget about those not in power.
posted by ShawnStruck at 5:02 AM on September 8, 2015


It is really hard to argue that this guy -- an unknown librarian -- had more privilege than the editors of Prairie Schooner or Sherman Alexie.

It is not a single scale where we can add up "white + male + librarian = 1.39" and "Native American + male - hydrocephalic - alcoholic absentee father + triple PEN winner = 2.12" and determine that Sherman Alexie is "more privileged" than Michael Derrick Hudson.
posted by Etrigan at 5:56 AM on September 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


This is how you pseudonym.

Is the poem any good? Has anyone here read it? It's going to be difficult to read it objectively now.
posted by GrapeApiary at 10:56 AM on September 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Here it is. Actually, it is pretty good. As are the others from this collection it seems.

The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve

Huh! That bumblebee looks ridiculous staggering its way

across those blue flowers, the ones I can never
remember the name of. Do you know the old engineer’s

joke: that, theoretically, bees can’t fly? But they look so

perfect together, like Absolute Purpose incarnate: one bee
plus one blue flower equals about a billion

years of symbiosis. Which leads me to wonder what it is

I’m doing here, peering through a lens at the thigh-pouches
stuffed with pollen and the baffling intricacies

of stamen and pistil. Am I supposed to say something, add
a soundtrack and voiceover? My life’s spent

running an inept tour for my own sad swindle of a vacation

until every goddamned thing’s reduced to botched captions
and dabs of misinformation in fractured,

not-quite-right English: Here sir, that’s the very place Jesus

wept. The Colosseum sprouts and blooms with leftover seeds
pooped by ancient tigers. Poseidon diddled

Philomel in the warm slap of this ankle-deep surf to the dying
stings of a thousand jellyfish. There, probably,

atop yonder scraggly hillock, Adam should’ve said no to Eve.

posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:51 AM on September 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's a good poem, I think, but the literary world is brimful of good poems and, in America anyway, short of places to publish them. The fact that it's neither terrible nor immortally brilliant is part of what I found fascinating about this matter.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:42 PM on September 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Is "Yi-Fen Chou" a name that bespeaks lack of privilege? To me, it reads as "doctor's son who went to Stanford," if we are drawing conclusions about people's backgrounds from their names.

If Hudson had chosen "Tyrone Grandberry" as his nom de plume, then I would agree he chose a name that suggested oppressed status.
posted by jayder at 8:07 PM on September 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Slate article.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:44 AM on September 9, 2015




Welp
posted by kmz at 12:37 PM on September 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


Best American Poetry Pseudonyms
Sherman Alexie is deeply invested in the Best American Poetry anthology, which he edited this year. In his words, “I take the publication of Best American Poetry very fucking seriously.” It’s worth hearing him out. But it’s also worth remembering how much time and energy he has invested in this process, and thus, how hard it would be for him to admit that it’s all a ludicrous farce, and of course, it could be gamed by an unscrupulous shit-bag. This is why he makes such a solid case for not taking the list so seriously, whether he’ll admit it or not:
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:01 PM on September 10, 2015


Yi-Fen Chou and the Man Who Wore Her, Soleil Cho
So Yi-Fen, how does it feel to have a name that is so carefully calculated in its foreignness? To be chosen for the slight spiciness you add to your bearer’s tongue, the dash of Sriracha in his turkey sandwich? Your Chinese-ness is deliberate in its weaponization. (Set phasers to submit!) We know there’s a reason why you weren’t allowed to choose for yourself an Americanized nickname like Eve or Elaine, like so many of us do in order to lubricate social interaction in the West. You had to stay visibly Other so you could remain a racialized fetish-object; the more assimilated you seem at first glance, the less reason he would have to use you to garnish his work.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:05 PM on September 10, 2015


One of the best (satirical) responses to the Yi-Fen Chou issue I've seen is Timothy Yu's.
posted by kalessin at 4:48 PM on September 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


A long but worthwhile read from Jenny Zhang: They Pretend To Be Us While Pretending We Don’t Exist

A response poem from Franny Choi: "regarding the yellowface poet"
posted by naju at 3:07 PM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


How is this different from the female writers who have been received sympathetically once they reveal that they publish under a male pseudonym, after getting rejections under their real names?

Privilege. Next question?


There is a very important point about privilege: privilege is most accurately described as accruting to to classes, not individuals. I encourage people to be cautious when they use the term privilege to apply to any individual person. I think the fact that he did this to "make a point" against political correctness is possibly damning enough in itself, but in both cases the volume of submissions accepted/rejected (assuming the reports are true) indicates a clear bias both in the case of the woman submitting with a male name, and in the case of a white man submitting with a Chinese name.

We can debate whether in one case or the other the bias is justified or not, but at this point it seems pointless for anyone to say that the bias wasn't there.
posted by chimaera at 3:50 PM on September 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's also become clear that he basically stole the name of an old schoolmate. That's a dick move any way you slice it and shows a pretty major lack of awareness of how the internet detective squad works.
posted by chimaera at 4:11 PM on September 11, 2015


> It is really hard to argue that this guy -- an unknown librarian -- had more privilege than the editors of Prairie Schooner or Sherman Alexie

I don't know anything about the upbringing Hudson had, but if you read Alexie's autobiographical work "privilege" is not the word that springs to mind. It's not just about the one moment of having a poem accepted, but also how difficult or easy it was to get to the stage where your poem is even being written that merits a closer look or a second chance.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:35 PM on September 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Statistically, his "Anglo-name privilege" appears to have been an anti-privilege.

A quick look at the Table of Contents of The Best American Poetry 2015 refutes that notion pretty soundly.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:35 PM on September 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I really respect the way Alexie lays out his own biases and his struggle with the whole process here. I wish more people could be this thoughtful.
posted by MsMolly at 8:41 AM on September 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


When I did my stint as editor of my university's little lit journal, we set up a rigorous blind submission system, mostly so we could keep staff editors and staff readers from succumbing to the temptation to push their friends' work further along the process. We explained to staff editors and readers why we set up this cumbersome process, and that while we trusted them absolutely, we wanted to make a clean break from the past several years, which hadn't been as scrupulously policed (folks were starting to notice); and please, if you do recognize some of the work, please step forward and recuse yourself -- we'll give you something else to read (there's plenty!). Nevertheless, one particular dillweed on the poetry committee managed to shepherd through one of his own poems, which he had submitted under a pseudonym.

I understand why Alexie avoided a blind reading process (he wanted to push certain classes of poets further along ), but I guess it just goes to show that no matter your goals, no matter the process you follow to reach them, some particular dillweed is bound to arrive and screw it up in the most self-aggrandizing way imaginable.
posted by notyou at 12:20 PM on September 14, 2015


theorique: "Statistically, his "Anglo-name privilege" appears to have been an anti-privilege. In what practical sense is it a privilege if it leads to a penalty?"

Hang on. From Wikipedia:
Hudson's poems have been published in several journals and literary magazines, including the The Georgia Review, The Iowa Review, New Letters, Washington Square, Fugue, and Baltimore Review, amongst others.[3][6] Several of which have garnered him minor poetry and manuscript prizes.[2][3] Hudson's poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize ("Man vs. Nature") and by the Greensboro Review and North American Review.[2][7][8] In March 2015, two of his poems "End of Days Advice from an Ex-zombie" and "Russians" were published in Poetry.[9]

Hudson's manuscript, titled The Dead Bird in the Liquor Store Parking Lot, was selected as a finalist for both the University of Wisconsin‍ '​s Brittingham and Felix Pollak Poetry Prize and the Utah State University‍ '​s May Swenson Poetry Award.[10] Five of his poems were named as cowinner of the 2014 Manchester Poetry Prize.[3]
I'm no poetry expert but this guy seems to have been doing not too shabby so far. Is the idea that if it weren't for his Anglo-Saxon name, he'd be Robert fucking Pinksy by now?
posted by mhum at 12:14 AM on September 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


From the Asian American Writers' Workshop:

After Yi-Fen Chou: A Forum
19 writers respond to Michael Derrick Hudson’s yellowface


("Also, visit our #WhitePenName generator...")
posted by oakroom at 7:30 AM on September 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


You're not Chinese!
posted by nathancaswell at 2:08 PM on September 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


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