How a white guy got his poem published by changing his name to Yi-Fen Chou

posted at 2:41 pm on September 8, 2015 by Jazz Shaw

A rather strange tale comes across the transom to us today from the rough and tumble world of competitive poetry publishing. (Okay… I confess. I really just wanted to type that sentence.) But putting all snark aside, the Washington Post’s Sarah Kaplan did come up with a rather enlightening news item about the annual publication of the anthology, Best American Poetry.

No! Wait! Come back! I promise, the story gets better.

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.

That’s where things begin to get weird.

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.

Wait… there’s Poetry Twitter? And here I thought political Twitter was bad. But then, upon reflection, I suppose we can fall back on Rule 34 for this one. Twitter has grown so vast that it now encompasses more users than the population of most countries. If there’s a topic for people to discuss I suppose there’s a community for it out there already. (To test that theory I just looked across the table for the first random object to catch my eye and did a search on Twitter for the hashtag #saltshaker. I got tired of scrolling after a few pages looking for an end to the hits.)

But back to our story… yes, people were upset. There were accusation of the author engaging in “yellowface” to get his work published. The publisher of the book was under assault. It was, in short, a mess, but in the end they decided to keep the poem in the book. What all of this said to me, though, is that the liberal arts community really is just as much of a mess outside the world of politics as it is in the areas where it intersects with our realm. A free market conservative might ask why the poem doesn’t stand on its own merits no matter what the demographic profile of the author. It’s either good or it’s not, right? Not so in the liberal arts world. The guy couldn’t get the time of day out of publishers when he sounded too white. But when he suddenly became “ethnic” in the mind of the reviewer, he was a hit. And keep in mind that he never actually told anyone he was Asian… he just assumed a pen name as so many before him have done. But now he’s being crucified in the reviews.

So what was all the fuss over? This must have been one heck of a poem. Let’s take a look at a little bit of it.

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?

So… okay then. That’s what qualifies as award winning poetry, is it? Is there any money in that business? Because I have to confess, writing about politics and government can be pretty hard some days. This looks like something even a dunce like myself could pull off. Let’s see if I can do any better.

What’s up with the remote control is

what I’d like to know. Can you tell me? There
are easily five times as many buttons

as I actually use. Couldn’t this really be
a lot smaller and still do the job? Maybe

I should start pulling off some of the buttons.

Not bad if I do say so myself. Any of you poetry publishers want to buy it? Oh, by the way… my official publishing name is now Vihaan Gill Dhawan.


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Comments

Is there any money in that business?

Trying make a living as a poet is a sure road to penury….

bandarlog on September 8, 2015 at 5:01 PM

(c) 2005 Sam Orton

And in case you’re wondering, no, nobody wanted to publish it.

Is there any money in that business?

My experience says no, there isn’t.

GrumpyOldFart on September 8, 2015 at 3:57 PM

Poems that scan and rhyme are only useful as song lyrics these days, and I think that was a pretty good one.
Oscar? Axe? your opinions?

AesopFan on September 8, 2015 at 5:02 PM

Ahem — Trying to make a living…

bandarlog on September 8, 2015 at 5:03 PM

It’s all fun when our Sophie holds class.
But don’t think you are getting a pass!
If her smiles will not do,
Then you watch for her shoe —
(She will swing Louboutin for your ass.)

— Axe

Axe on September 8, 2015 at 5:03 PM

“I had a cat named Snowball; she died..she died..”

SailorMark on September 8, 2015 at 4:04 PM

There actually is a Welsh folk song about a dead cat, and a poem from the classic era that is an elegy for the writer’s pet.

So, Lisa is in good company (the poem wasn’t really that bad; could have been made into something interesting).

AesopFan on September 8, 2015 at 5:03 PM

I have a dream that all poetry will one day exist in a nation where it will not be judged by the color of the skin or the ethnicity of the name of the author but by the content of it’s verses.

I have a dream today!

J_Crater on September 8, 2015 at 4:09 PM

Thread winner.

AesopFan on September 8, 2015 at 5:06 PM

The Gods of the Copybook Headings,
— Kipling

Axe on September 8, 2015 at 4:48 PM

There is a man who could write a fine poem.

Not only would he not be published today, he would be hounded out of society and burned in effigy, if not in reality.

Not just for his white privilege, but for believing in the White Man’s Burden.

AesopFan on September 8, 2015 at 5:08 PM

Psalm 23
— David

Axe on September 8, 2015 at 4:51 PM

Part of the problem is that the Literary Left first started reading modern translations of the Bible, and then gave up reading it altogether.

AesopFan on September 8, 2015 at 5:08 PM

Henry V, 4.3.*
— Shakespeare

Axe on September 8, 2015 at 4:57 PM

Running through the Old Dead White Men Who Wrote Poems?
(h/t Dead Poets’ Society)

AesopFan on September 8, 2015 at 5:12 PM

WE can now call this the Old Dead Thread Society.

AesopFan on September 8, 2015 at 5:13 PM

Running through the Old Dead White Men Who Wrote Poems?
(h/t Dead Poets’ Society)

AesopFan on September 8, 2015 at 5:12 PM

One of my favorite sayings is an old Spanish proverb: Don’t speak unless you can improve on the silence.

Does that make the originator of that saying a “white hispanic”?

GrumpyOldFart on September 8, 2015 at 5:15 PM

Empty Bottle,
so green, so clean.

I long for your
cool refreshing innards.

Woe to me
that they are now gone.

A fridge too far
for another one.

— Sum Dum Gai

Oxymoron on September 8, 2015 at 5:16 PM

Running through the Old Dead White Men Who Wrote Poems?
(h/t Dead Poets’ Society)

AesopFan on September 8, 2015 at 5:12 PM

Oh, and I’m not dead yet.

GrumpyOldFart on September 8, 2015 at 5:19 PM

White Eyes Tried A Poem
Caucasian Not Accepted
Beijing Approach Worked

Hey, it’s the best Haiku I could come up with.

orangemtl on September 8, 2015 at 5:28 PM

Is there any money in that business?

Trying make a living as a poet is a sure road to penury….

bandarlog on September 8, 2015 at 5:01 PM

That’s for sure! One of my relatives was actually a published poet, but being “a published poet” doesn’t = CA$H. She even copyrighted one of her poems, but that was meaningless.

Del Dolemonte on September 8, 2015 at 5:33 PM

“HWÆT, WE GAR-DEna in geardagum,
þeodcyninga þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon!
oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena þreatum,
monegum mægþum meodosetla ofteah,
egsode eorlas, syððanærest wearð
feasceaft funden; he þæs frofre gebad,
weox under wolcnum weorðmyndum þah,
oð þæt him æghwylc ymbsittendra
ofer hronrade hyran scolde,
gomban gyldan; þæt wæs god cyning!
Ðæm eafera wæs æfter cenned
geong in geardum, þone God sende
folce to frofre; fyrenðearfe ongeat,
þe hie ær drugon aldorlease
lange hwile; him þæs Liffrea,
wuldres Wealdend woroldare forgeaf,
Beowulf wæs breme — blæd wide sprang—
Scyldes eafera Scedelandum in.
Swa sceal geong guma gode gewyrcean,
fromum feohgiftumon fæder bearme.”

~ Li Bai (李白), Qianyuan (乾元) year 1

DarkCurrent on September 8, 2015 at 5:40 PM

Pfffttt… that’s nothing, my pen name is Li Chin Nigel Muhammad Shakur-Singh.

YahwehPundit on September 8, 2015 at 5:56 PM

So this must be an example of institutionalized racism coupled with white privilege, right?

Star Bird on September 8, 2015 at 6:11 PM

I have a program
From the 60s
Pens better poetry
with fluent ease.
Alas, no machine I have
Can run it.

Shit.

Skip2014 on September 8, 2015 at 6:16 PM

Six word memoirs:

For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.
*
I found my mother’s suicide note.
*
I can’t keep my own secrets.
*
Living in existential vacuum; it sucks.

GrumpyOldFart on September 8, 2015 at 6:31 PM

I do so wish that people who don’t spend any time with poetry would not comment authoritatively and sub-humorously about poetry. It’s akin to hearing gramps rant on and do “funny” imitations of Elvis, back in the day.

And you can’t even make a living at it, ha ha.

Franklin S on September 8, 2015 at 8:19 PM

There once was an engineer named Paul
Who had one hexagonal shaped ball
The mass of its weight
Times his pecker plus eight
Is his phone number give him a call

*Drinks*

-my pen name is a series of clicks and noises not pronounceable by anyone outside of a Police Academy movie, but that’s okay because I totally plagiarized that little gem.

Laura in Maryland on September 8, 2015 at 8:30 PM

AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAA!!!!!!! So dumb.

2lbsTest on September 8, 2015 at 8:53 PM

Is there any money in that business?

This reminds me of the old joke among “horse people.”

Q: How can you make a small fortune in the horse business?

A: Start with a large fortune.

There Goes the Neighborhood on September 8, 2015 at 9:11 PM

I bet I could get a job with the Obama administration if I went under the name Albert “Al” Qaeda.

The Rogue Tomato on September 8, 2015 at 9:19 PM

I would have gone with the name Fu Lin Yu.

James on September 8, 2015 at 9:27 PM

Ok, now nobody steal this!

Here in my car
I feel safest of all
I can lock all my doors
It’s the only way to live
In cars

Here in my car
I can only receive
I can listen to you
It keeps me stable for days
In cars

Here in my car
Where the image breaks down
Will you visit me please
If I open my door
In cars

Here in my car
I know I’ve started to think
About leaving tonight
Although nothing seems right
In cars

Dongemaharu on September 8, 2015 at 10:21 PM

This whole thing is pretty damn stupid. It reminds me of the sophomoric game us kids used to play, making up book titles and authors’ names. Here’s one: “Spots on the Wall” by Who Flung Dung. See? Anybody can do it.

Mr. Grump on September 8, 2015 at 10:27 PM

An extra layer making this all the more hilarious is that the editor taken in by the pen name was Sherman Alexie, a writer whose sanctimonious “identity” could not be more PC if he was a character in a Christopher Buckley parody.

ugottabekiddingme on September 8, 2015 at 10:28 PM

Mr. Grump. You mean like “yellow river” by I.P. Daily?? :-D

Indiana Jim on September 8, 2015 at 10:50 PM

One of my favorite sayings is an old Spanish proverb: Don’t speak unless you can improve on the silence.

Does that make the originator of that saying a “white hispanic”?

GrumpyOldFart on September 8, 2015 at 5:15 PM

Not sure about the ethnic part, but I like the proverb.

There’s a reason for all those old sayings; it’s a shame our kids and grandkids are not learning them. Aesop is a meaningless name to most of them, although there was one children’s program (Sprouts) that used them as one of their on-going “items”.

see: Kipling’s “Gods of the Copy-book Headings”

AesopFan on September 8, 2015 at 11:04 PM

Oh, and I’m not dead yet.

GrumpyOldFart on September 8, 2015 at 5:19 PM

lol – that one never gets old!

AesopFan on September 8, 2015 at 11:04 PM

Literary world: punked.

Now the Greek chorus of whiner loser SJWs.

Axeman on September 9, 2015 at 12:07 AM

A Nasty Turn by Fook Yu.

Axeman on September 9, 2015 at 12:15 AM

Wong Fei Lo

Christien on September 9, 2015 at 12:39 AM

If he wore a dress, and called himself Shaniqua Jenteal they probably would have paid him for it and gotten him an Artist In Residence gig somewhere.

LegendHasIt on September 9, 2015 at 1:07 AM

Why, this harkens back to my old Cowboy Poetry days:

http://hotair.com/archives/2011/03/10/ramirez-every-cowboy-sings-a-sad-sad-song/

========================================================

I tried one time to milk my horse
and found he had one teat
and every time I pulled on it
he stepped upon my feet.

========================================================

My horse rode into town Sunday
With no one in the saddle
Behind the wheel of my pickup truck
and my entire herd of cattle

I don’t care, he cleaned me out
in the poker game last week
He looked to won it fair and square
’til an ace fell out of his cheek

How can that cheatin’ horse be so unkind
as to take my stuff and leave
and not take that which hurts me most
my Senator Harry Reid.

========================================================

unclesmrgol on September 9, 2015 at 3:06 AM

Oh How I Long for the Day when Liberals are no More. – by justltl

Oh
How I long for
The day
When liberals are
No more.

justltl on September 9, 2015 at 4:54 AM

This just shows how racist the all inclusive multicultural diverse liberal world really is. The author engaging in “yellowface” to get his work published, that’s the point….. They hate White!

casey92 on September 9, 2015 at 5:19 AM

This just shows how racist the all inclusive multicultural diverse liberal world really is. The author engaging in “yellowface” to get his work published, that’s the point….. They hate White!

Nice poem by They hate White!, casey.
Interesting name for a poet.
Reminiscent of “He Hate Me”.

justltl on September 9, 2015 at 5:37 AM

The answer was simple: All he had to do was self-identify as an African American Cherokee who self-identifies as Chinese.

Yeesh. Do I have to solve all of the problems on the Innernets?

eforhan on September 9, 2015 at 6:22 AM

J. Crater in hands of ironic(?) style editor:

….I have
a dream that all
poetry will one
day exist in a nation where it will
….not be judged by the color of
….the skin or the ethnicity of
….the name of the author but
….by the content of
it’s verses.
….I have
a dream

G. Charles on September 9, 2015 at 6:59 AM

The dog he bark
But do he bite?
Kill my landlord
Kill my landlord
C-I-L-L my landlord.

tommyboy on September 9, 2015 at 7:38 AM

Poems that scan and rhyme are only useful as song lyrics these days…

AesopFan on September 8, 2015 at 5:02 PM

All right then, how about this one?
*
Epitaph

Look into the hearts
Of those who knew me.
There, for good or ill,
You will find my monument.

This?
This is a rock.

(c)2013 Sam Orton

GrumpyOldFart on September 9, 2015 at 8:28 AM

James on September 8, 2015 at 9:27 PM

Winner Winner Chicken Lo Mein Dinner

Laura in Maryland on September 9, 2015 at 9:32 AM

The best poetry I’ve ever seen on a grave stone.

“Here lies

Lester Moore

Four slugs
From a 44

No les
No More”

Conservative4Ever on September 9, 2015 at 10:18 AM

One deceptive ‘nom’
Added to valueless verse
And voila, published.

Talent matters not
Despite Bill’s “rosy” comment
It’s all in the name

Society’s death
Described in microcosm
Poetic license?

HotAir palate cleanse
Masked as important story
Bring on the emails!

Freelancer on September 9, 2015 at 10:35 AM

The dog he bark
But do he bite?
Kill my landlord
Kill my landlord
C-I-L-L my landlord.

tommyboy on September 9, 2015 at 7:38 AM

Eddie Murphy aka Tyrone Green, SNL, circa 1981

Freelancer on September 9, 2015 at 10:40 AM

Oh, by the way… my official publishing name is now Vihaan Gill Dhawan.

You should instead call yourself:

Kareem Abdul Jabbari al bin Jabbar

Danny on September 9, 2015 at 11:02 AM

Who cares. Poetry is dead, and the garbage written by Michael Derrick Hudson of Fort Wayne, Indiana proves it. That isn’t poetry, it has no rhyme or meter. It is just prose, and pretty bad prose at that, like most of the crap that passes as “poetry” today.

earlgrey on September 9, 2015 at 11:06 AM

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.

Perhaps a better way to say this is “poetry twitter” may be without reason, but still has rhyme.

Actually, this story reminds me of the playwright who abandoned his profession to become a poet. You might say he went from bard to verse.

Dr. Charles G. Waugh on September 9, 2015 at 11:56 AM

Gosh, if he lives in Massachusetts he can take Elizabeth (Pocahontas) Warren’s place as the token fake-minority Senator when she take’s Hillary’s turn to screw up the country.

Don L on September 9, 2015 at 3:48 PM

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
I’m just a white guy
Who made a fool out of you
You thought I was Asian
Because of a fake name
But I’m a Caucasian
And beat you at your game.

Don L on September 9, 2015 at 3:53 PM