Full Title: “White Poet used Chinese pen name to gain entry into Best American Poetry (via The Guardian)”
Controversy has enveloped the prestigious Best American Poetry anthology after it emerged that a white poet had been included in the selection after adopting a Chinese pen name – and that Yi-Fen Chou’s poem was kept in the much sought-after lineup even after the author told editors his real identity was Michael Derrick Hudson.
At the back of the 2015 edition of The Best American Poetry, which is published today, Yi-Fen Chou is revealed as the pen name of Michael Derrick Hudson, from Indiana. Hudson writes that his poem chosen for the anthology, The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve, was rejected under his real name 40 times before he sent it out as Yi-Fen Chou, when it was rejected nine times before getting accepted. “If indeed this 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,” writes Hudson.
With his approach described as “yellowface” by Brian Spears, a poet and poetry editor of The Rumpus and by poet Saeed Jones, literary editor of Buzzfeed, the decision to make the poem one of the 75 chosen out of at least a thousand for inclusion in an anthology which has been “a mainstay for the direction and spirit of American poetry” ever since its debut in 1988, according to its publisher Scribner, drew heavy criticism online.
But Sherman Alexie, the National Book Award-winning author and poet who guest edited the anthology, defended the move. Writing on the Best American Poetry’s blog, in a lengthy essay which was both applauded and criticised by the poetry community, Alexie said he only learned that Yi-Fen Chou was the pseudonym of a white man after he had picked the poem, and Hudson revealed himself.