Source: Best American Poetry/The Poetry Foundation via Salon.com
It began when the poem "The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve" was selected to be one of seventy five poems included in the annual anthology Best American Poetry ("BAP").
The poem was submitted by Yi-Fen Chou and selected for inclusion by BAP's 2015 editor, the famed novelist and poet Sherman Alexie.
After being chosen, Yi-Fen Chou promptly contacted Alexie to let him know that Chou was, in fact, Michael Derrick Hudson, a Caucasian poet from Fort Wayne, Indiana. According to Hudson's bio, Hudson's poem had been rejected 40 times when submitted under his real name. Hudson then decided to take on the pseudonym Yi-Fen Chou "as a means of subverting what he believes to be a politically correct poetry business," as Alexie wrote in his editor's note. When the same poem was sent out by Yi-Fen Chou, it was rejected only nine times before landing at a literary journal.
Once Alexie discovered the conceit, he debated whether to keep the poem or reject it. Ultimately, as Alexie explains in his frank editor's note, he decided to keep the poem, disingenuous pseudonym and all. As Alexie writes, "If I'd pulled the poem then I would have been denying that I was consciously and deliberately seeking to address past racial, cultural, social, and aesthetic injustices in the poetry world." Alexie adds, "And, yes, in keeping the poem, I am quite aware that I am also committing an injustice against poets of color, and against Chinese and Asian poets in particular."
And, indeed, the outcry against the inclusion of the poem has been swift and strong, with commentators likening Hudson's deception to yellowface and cultural appropriation on par with that of Rachel Dolezal (the white woman who claimed she was black).
So what to make of Hudson's self-professed strategy for gaming the literary system? Do we decry affirmative action or acknowledge that no work is ever objectively judged for its merit?
Whatever the answer is, the one silver lining to this morass is that the hashtag #ActualAsianPoet is now trending, bringing much needed publicity for, yes, actual Asian poets.