Monica Luhar for NBC News Asian America – October 8, 2015
In celebration of National Poetry Day, the site Literary Hub asked contemporary poets to share how some of their favorite Asian or Asian-American poets have shaped and influenced their own literary work.
Under the hashtag #ActualAsianPoets, 35 writers and poets responded with names from across the globe of Asian or Asian-American poets who continue to influence and inspire through piercing monologues, haikus, and blank verses that speak about grief, heartache, compassion, and the “Asian American experience.”
The Asian American Writers’ Workshop launched the hashtag last month after a poetry anthology came under fire for publishing writer Michael Derrick Hudson’s poem under the name “Yi-Fen Chou.” Hudson explained the use of the pen name in his bio, writing, “As a strategy for ‘placing’ poems this has been quite successful for me. The poem in question, ‘The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve,’ was rejected under my real name forty (40) times before I sent it out as Yi-Fen Chou (I keep detailed submission records). As Yi-Fen the poem was rejected nine (9) times before ‘Prairie Schooner’ took it.”
In introducing the list of poets on Literary Hub, writer and poet Adam Fitzgerald credits organizations like Asian American Writers’ Workshop with helping to elevate and shape the discourse within the poetry community.
Ken Chen, a long-time poet and the executive director of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, told NBC News the hashtag #ActualAsianPoets originally came about in an organic manner.
“The real important thing is to not bring more attention to this writer who did this racial stunt, but to bring attention to actual Asian-American poets,” Chen told NBC News.
Every week over the last year, Chen says the Asian American Writers’ Workshop has published new Asian-American poetry, both from emerging and established writers. “And we’ve probably done events with hundreds of Asian-American writers in the last year,” he added.
Some of the questions that Chen and many are continually trying to answer are, “How can people be interested in Asian American writers outside of when there is just some kind of scandal? How can people go beyond speaking beyond prejudice?” he asked.
Poets mentioned in the list include Sawako Nakayasu, who was born in Japan and raised in the U.S. where she received her MFA at Brown University and went on to write “Texture Notes,” a collection of poetry that explores everything from the fear of insects to a myriad of textures and sensory feelings. Other poets include Li-Young Lee, Ocean Vuong, Wong May, among others.