A white dude named Michael Derrick Hudson submitted his 20-line poem called “The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve” to 40 poetry journals for publication and promptly received 40 rejections.
Hudson, by day a genealogist at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Ind., then adopted the nom de plume “Yi-Fen Chou” and submitted the exact same poem and three others for to “Prairie Schooner,” a quarterly literary journal produced by the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
“Prairie Schooner” accepted Hudson’s work — under his new, fake, Chinese-sounding name — for its fall 2014 issue.
But wait! There’s so much more! Hudson’s poem about bees, flowers, Jesus and the rest was also chosen for inclusion in the 2015 edition of “Best American Poetry” — a prestigious annual anthology which comes out on Tuesday and is currently Amazon’s “#1 new release in American poetry.”
Hudson sent a note to Sherman Alexie, editor of the poetry anthology, explaining his true identity as a white guy working in an Indiana library.
“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,” Hudson wrote, according to The Washington Post.
Is “The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve” by “Yi-Fen Chou” any good? Here, from Project MUSE, is a snippet:
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…
The world of American poetry has not taken the presence of the poem in “Best American Poetry” well.
It was a deceptive sham, critics fulminate — much different than, say, when Charlotte Bronte used the name Currer Bell for “Jane Eyre” or when Eric Arthur Blair published “Down and Out in Paris and London” under the pen name George Orwell.
“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,” a poet named Victoria Chang told the Post.
“He sort of implies that minorities are published because we’re minorities, not because of our work,” Chang also chided. “That’s just insulting because it strips everything we’ve worked so hard for.”
A blogger named Phil Yu, who himself writes under the pseudonymous blog name “Angry Asian Man,” declared: “Folks, if there is such a thing as employing yellowface in poetry, this has to be it.”
Alexie, the anthology editor, decided to keep the poem.
One of his 11 rules for judging, he told the Post, is: “Each poem will stand or fall on its own merits.”
“I know many of you poets are pissed at me. I know many of you are screaming out a simple question: ‘Sherman, why did you keep that poetry colonist in the anthology even after you learned of his deception?'” Sherman wrote.
“Listen, I was so angry that I stormed and cursed around the room. I felt like punching the wall.
“And, of course, there was no doubt that I would pull that fucking poem because of that deceitful pseudonym.
“But I realized that I would primarily be jettisoning the poem because of my own sense of embarrassment. I would have pulled it because I didn’t want to hear people say, ‘Oh, look at the big Indian writer conned by the white guy.’ I would have dumped the poem because of my vanity.”
Ever the diplomat, Sherman also felt the need to that he is “a powerful literary figure” — and, indeed, he is — “and the pseudonymuser is an unknown guy who has published maybe a dozen poems in his life.”