The Primacy of the Poet: On Michael Derrick Hudson
by Ryan Johann Perry
(The Primacy of the Poet)
Sometimes I think most art should be anonymous, allowing us to see humanity without a filter, but mostly, to quiet the self-aggrandizing poets who have nothing better to talk about than what it means to be a 'poet.'
A white author sends a composition to 40 separate journals only to be rejected. The same poem, when attributed to a non-white sounding name, suddenly finds itself chosen from a shortlist of poems by Sherman Alexie to be published in the Best American Poetry anthology. While the poem was posted around online and fawned over as the work of Yi-Fen Chou, once it was revealed to be the work of a white librarian, the peanut gallery changed their tune.
In science, this is a clear example of a blind study. Participants, the publishers, readers do not know the identity of the author and must (gasp) judge a work by its content and not its social theorist possibilities. 'Problematic' with judging a work by the work itself is that you must actually read it, absorb it, and cannot simply get by on word salad criticisms that are the intellectual equivalent of a dog bark. That is to say, you cannot bring your idiot self and your Cultural Studies 101 into the argument, you must deal with it one on one.
But again, this is problematic, so most of the criticism is by the self anointed aggrieved. Because, you see, it is easier to deny reality that contribute to it.
The swarming peanut gallery is now spewing charges of racism, pontificating on the ethics of the whole thing, and generally restating the vapid idea that only whites can be racist. One 'thinker' on social media guffawed at the idea that there is any affirmative action in the literary world, despite the evidence of this white guy getting published using an ethnic name, and despite the explanation by Sherman Alexie that the Asian name did, in fact, influence his initial vote. How Sherman Alexie's admission that he chose the poem based on the non-whiteness of the name is not considered racist, is beyond me. For the slack-jawed social justice warriors, evidence and fact do not matter. What matters is their anecdotal stories, or what could hypothetically, possibly, happen. These hypotheticals and possibilities are the backbone of the science fiction genre, but fiction is there in its name.
A local poet here in El Paso, ___ ________, lamented that the poem was included and finds it “hard to admire the poem, due to knowing its story.” This is indicative of modern criticism, one most know “the story” or know the author, to come to any real conclusion, that is, to be given their opinion on the matter before even reading the poem. This is precisely why Sherman Alexie is popular and considered a good writer, because we are told he is.
Interestingly, no one is commenting on the poem itself. They are attacking their periphery and missing the focal point. These bloggers have amassed about $1.08 in opinions about the appropriation of a culture, the racism of pen-names, etc. They have all lamented their inability to get published themselves. Unfortunately for them, their name alone cannot get them published, they must also be decent writers, which for the aggrieved bloggers, is patently unfair.
If I was a better University student, I would be equally offended and begin railing against the injustice and laughing at anyone who even mentioned reverse racism. If I was a poet, I would be offended that this poem and the story around it has had a greater visceral effect than a million poems about pick-up trucks, menstruation cycles, tortillas or nappy hair can in this day and age. Perhaps that says something about poetry in popular culture, that it is arm in arm with “The Andy Griffith Show.”
In articles in Jezebel, Washington Post, Gawker, NPR, etc, about this very subject, the argument was made that writing under an Asian pen-name is taking away from real Asian's 'place at the table' and that Michael Hudson took that place. This, of course, implies that there are reservations, that there are spots reserved not for great poems, but for poets of 'diverse' backgrounds. These reservations imply that the two are not the same thing, that a poet and the poem should be judged differently, separately and that the 'Poet' has primacy.
Zero Fucks Given