I’ve got something of a writing hangover from the Labor Day weekend and am struggling to write something meaningful, so I apologize that this and the Mississippi State idiot from earlier are the best I can do.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll have something better.
In the meantime, this is about as on-point an example of how awful our culture and society has become in the 21st century as you’ll find. From Hot Air, something strange happened while they were putting together this year’s anthology of Best American Poetry…
There is one beleaguered individual, Sherman Alexie, who is responsible for reading thousands of submissions each year and determining which bits of verse should make it into the august publication. This year he was perusing all of the hopefuls when he came across one with the rather odd sounding title, The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve. I don’t know why that would jump out and catch anyone’s eye, but then I’m not that kind of writer. (Ahem.) The poem was authored by someone named Yi-Fen Chou and – long story short – it was included in the anthology.
But after Alexie had chosen the poem for the collection, he promptly got a note from the author, who turned out not to be the rueful, witty Chinese American poet he’d imagined while reading the piece.
It was written by Michael Derrick Hudson of Fort Wayne, Indiana, a genealogist at the Allen County Public Library who, given his field of expertise, could probably easily explain that he is not of Asian descent.
Hudson, who is white, wrote in his bio for the anthology that he chose the Chinese-sounding nom de plume after “The Bees” was rejected by 40 different journals when submitted under his real name. He figured that the poem might have a better shot at publication if it was written by somebody else.
“If this indeed is one of the best American poems of 2015, it took quite a bit of effort to get it into print, but I’m nothing if not persistent,” reads his unabashed explanation.
This still wouldn’t make for much of a story if word of the “deception” hadn’t leaked out and caused a storm to erupt on social media.
In a matter of about a day, the scandal was all over “Poetry Twitter,” which can be just as rancorous and swift to outrage as regular Twitter, but with a wider vocabulary. And, perhaps because of its Rachel Dolezal-esque tangle of questions about identity, authenticity, political correctness and “affirmative action,” it didn’t take much longer for the wider world to notice.
And here’s an excerpt of the actual poem in question…
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?
Perhaps the real scandal is that crap is considered among the best poems in America regardless of who sent it in. But it did, interestingly enough, and from now on it’s an arrow in the quiver to shoot at the next idiot talking about “white privilege.”
You don’t get to whine about “white privilege” shortly after you upbraid nonwhite kids for “acting white” by speaking proper English and applying themselves academically. Sorry, but reality doesn’t work that way.
And this is hilarious…
But Hudson’s critics said the literary bait-and-switch was fraudulent, racist and fundamentally different from Charlotte Bronte publishing “Jane Eyre” under the name Currer Bell.
“When you’re doing this from a position of entitlement, you’re appropriating an ethnic identity that’s one, imaginary, and two, doesn’t have access to the literary world,” poet and Chapman University professor Victoria Chang told The Washington Post. “And it diminishes categorically all of our accomplishments. He sort of implies that minorities are published because we’re minorities, not because of our work. That’s just insulting because it strips everything we’ve worked so hard for.”
Phil Yu, the blogger better known as Angry Asian Man, wrote “if there is such a thing as employing yellowface in poetry, this has to be it.”
The backlash against the mean white guy is funny stuff, particularly the Chinese lady who’s a poet and professor complaining about how Chinese people don’t have access to the literary world (did she call herself Victoria Windsor on her way up the totem pole?). Perhaps the takeaway here is that poetry is dead in this country, which is hard to disagree with, but so is the idea of merit in academic/cultural circles – which are now little more than menageries of identity politics rather than true reflections of the elite the country has to offer among people who live by their minds.
Central to the construction of those menageries is affirmative action, which ironically enough for the purposes of this story actually reflects more discrimination against people of Chinese or other Asian heritage than it does with white people in the context of academic awards. What makes this example fun is the way it exposes the central leftist conceit about affirmative action; namely, that it never produces a poorer quality of output despite what everybody who isn’t a committed leftist understands.
Well, in this case you have a pretty bright-line example of work that isn’t good enough to get recognized coming from a white guy but will meet what looks like a lower standard for somebody a bit more exotic. So is this not affirmative action? And does it not call into question whether affirmative action produces a lower standard of quality?
We’re all for giving people of diverse backgrounds and ethnicities a chance, but not at the expense of the end product. Anyone who does that deserves to go out of business. It’s too bad the people most responsible have found professions (government, academia, subsidized arts) in which they can ply their wares without suffering the punishment of the market so readily.