the asian-american author is dead

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i could listen to javier huerta talk about his poems all day. amazing.

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however, i could live a happy life if i never hear another word from raymond bianchi. in a post about a new anthology called LANGUAGE FOR A NEW CENTURY: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond , Bianchi writes:

The work is so broad that it seems that every poet who has anything to do with Asia is included. […] There are some really great poets in this book. Nikmet Hazmet, Sarah Gambito, Prageeta Sharma, Ha Jin and Bei Dao among them. The fact is however that the weight of the size of Asia makes this book seem unsatisfying in its scope having said that how does one encapsulate Asia in 695 pages? The book is in reality a triumph and gives many Asian voices a chance in the American market […]

so bianchi is a little overwhelmed by the sheer size of asia and a little underwhelmed by the sheer size of the anthology. he goes on to write:

One of the problems with After-Postmodern Racial politics is that there are no boundaries. When does someone stop being “asian” and become just American or British? It is hard to argue that some of these poets are really “asian” in fact 102 of the over 240 poets are in fact immigrants or natives of the USA, Australia and the UK and if their goal was to create an anthology of all poets with any Asian blood- where are the Latin American Asian poets?

Poetic identity politics is a really dangerous road. This might have been the result of the fact that all three editors are Anglo-American academics the inclusion of a poet editor from the Middle East or East Asia might have mitigated this problem. There are poets in this book who it is hard to argue they are Asian- Yehuda Amichai comes to mind is he really a Middle Eastern Poet? Is Ashkenazi Israeli culture Asian? You see why this is problematic.

yes, i do see why this is problematic! racial politics are just way too flexible these days, with asian-americans, filipino-americans, korean-americans, chinese-americans, japanese-americans–who can keep track of all of these borderless bodies! they are not REALLY asian! it gets worse:

Would Peter Gizzi or Jennifer Scappettone be included in a contemporary Italian anthology? Of course not- but people whose connections to Asia are just as distant are included here and I think that it is a weakness of this book. I think that the anthologists should have limited themselves to poets living in Asia or ones whose primary formation was in Asian culture not Immigrant Culture. Many of the poets included who are of Asian origin are really part of their immigrant cultures- not Asian culture directly and this is the only weakness of this book.

thus, the asian-american poet is dead. apparently, if you descend from asian immigrants then you are no longer part of asian culture in any ‘direct’ way, but you are now part of the grand melting pot known as ‘immigrant culture’. well, it’s good that bianchi came along and clarified the boundaries and saved not only those confused asian-americans but all our cultureless immigrant souls from the dangerous road of ‘poetic identity politics’. forgive us for having complex cultural and racial subjectivities and for rejecting the assimilation myth of immigration. we’re sorry to confuse you.

and my favorite bit of bianchi’s idiocy:

In the end however contemporary poetic identity politics gets in the way of a book that might have been seminal instead it is only important.

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5 thoughts on “the asian-american author is dead

  1. Hey! Maybe a more apt title for your blog post is “The Asian American Anthology is Dead.”

    You know, I read Bianchi’s blog post and I think the question of “when does one stop being Asian…” isn’t a bad question. I think a lot of us ask that question of ourselves in terms of whether be belong to “Asian/API” etc communities.

    I think it’s that his answer rubs me the wrong way, because I don’t think he’s got enough information on the behaviors, geographical and political movements, linguistic issues of all these Asian communities in order to answer that question in an informed way.

    So I don’t even need to get into the fact that many of us function within transnational families with dual citizenships, or the centrality of ethnic enclaves in American urban areas for us immigrants, and the transnational focus of these ethnic enclaves.

    Not having seen this anthology, let me make a more general statement: I think astute editors of such large sweeping projects should be writing very incisive introductions in order to qualify the group(s) they are trying to represent, what are their rationales for including American born Asians in an anthology in which someone like Bei Dao seems to be THE representative Asian national.

    Maybe the editors did this. If this is the case, then I’d say the editors did their job, and the reader can’t claim not to know the answers to the questions he is asking. Whether he agrees with the editors’ answers is another issue.

  2. Since my post illicited a response on this blog I will clarify. The problem with our current cultural situation is that the old terms dont work well. Black, White, European, Asian et cetera.

    Immigrant culture is a different thing than Asian, Latin American or European culture-it is a fusion. I will use myself as an example- I am an American whose parents are of Italian origin but who lived in Brazil and Argentina.
    My wife is a Brazilian of German and other backgrounds. All these influences fill my poetry but I am not a Latin American or an Italian because I was educated here not within those cultures. Even though I speak Italian, Portuguese and Spanish.

    The problem I think that the to call someone Asian is a very broad term since the cultures are not similar- unlike say Latin America where there is a linguistic and religious unity- is so broad to as to not mean anything. My point is that eventually we become something else after we immigrate and I think that this is a different book than an anthology of Asian writing. That was my point- sorry for the percieved idiocy but unlike the owner of blind elephant I am trying to figure things out… I do not know it all– the book by the way is great and i hope people buy it..

    Ray

  3. Aren’t we all a “fusion”? Aren’t we all “fusions”, in the plural sense? For myself, what : Scottish, Australian, Irish, French? The quest for authentic cultural adhesion seems like the quest for the perfect adhesive: it will always, sooner or later, peel off.

  4. I am currently undertaking a project to publish an anthology of poems by over 3000 poets in a volume of less than 1000 pages, which, of course, forces me only to consider work in haiku or tanka form, which is perfect, since it is the poetry of my people. Well, not really, since I’m Chinese.

    However, it would be wholly illegitimate for me to narrow the contributors to any one geographical locus. So, instead, the work will come from poets who are identified as yellowish-brownish by people who have seen them, like their neighbors or the cashier at the grocery store or a distant aunt. They cannot, though, expect to contribute merely by self-identifying as yellowish-brownish, because, really, how can one possibly be objective about themselves?

    I will take care to be as inclusive as possible to the entire yellowish-brownish tonal range, since I am sure there are poets who would otherwise be brownish but for their worried mothers who kept them out of the sun or under an umbrella when it wasn’t even raining; or who would be yellowish, but for a nutrient-rich diet which is, like, way, way more available now that we’re all in the New Country.

    When the project is complete, I am very certain that it’ll be something important, though admittedly, not seminal.

  5. I’ve always assumed I was French, not Chinese, even though I write in English. I write and think mostly in French and English (the latter more as the result of my choices). I am aware of the history and culture of China, but they do not have the same emotional resonance to me as French history and culture do.

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