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September 07, 2015

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I've been wrestling with this for the last few hours. I have my own thoughts, but you know what? I'm gonna go with Elon James White: "You could just say nothing."

Except...the crocus challenge. I gotta hit that.

In lieu of money
my preferred compensation
is blue crocuses.

"Gender and race do not automatically create experience." To this line I must object. In a world of historical, systematized oppression against race, class, sexuality, gender and able-bodidness yes gender and race absolutely create experience and to affirm the opposite is to admit blindness and so, so, soooooooo much privilege. I appreciated Alexie's post and reflection but words like yours trouble me.

Am I a racist if I read this whole article in a slam poetry voice?

My favorite part was when he did his white guy impression.

"Oh, look at the big Indian writer conned by the white guy."

FYI We don't call ourselves 'white guy', we're just normal.

I feel an urge to tease:

Elephant Between The Crocuses

One wooden elephant toddles from the vase with crocuses to the vase with crocuses. Before I knew I wrote something new on crocuses I wrote it with an elephant crawling on its impossible legs, two lifted, two straight. The artist circled its eyes in white. So puny they look, if you look for a length of time you will pass through the hole between, one at a time because you see the beast in two dimensions, if you want to see its mirrored other side just turn, turn, turn it to make it creep from the vase with crocuses to the vase with crocuses.

© (written on 8/September/15)
-
Elephant Between The Crocuses

One wooden elephant
toddles from the vase with
crocuses to the vase
with crocuses.

Before I knew I wrote
something new on
crocuses I wrote it
with an elephant
crawling on its
impossible legs,
two lifted, two straight.

The artist circled
its eyes in white. Puny
they look, if you look
for a length of time
you will pass through the hole
between,

one at a time because
you see the beast in
two dimensions, if
you want to see its
mirrored other side
just turn, turn, turn it
to make it creep from
the vase with crocuses
to the vase with crocuses.


©Kushal Poddar, 2015 (written on 8/September/15)

I woke up in a bed of cocusus or whatever
in a world where people took their skin
way too seriously

pretty sure thats an award winning haiku right there.

p.s. the consternation was real. My initial reaction was a confused mix of sympathy for the politics of those who were condemning this development and consideration of the historical use of pseudonyms and guerrilla tactics in art forms (and in spite of a personal weakness for the latter, I'm still not convinced that's a fair representation of what Hudson's done here). Facebook conversations on the matter helped me to clarify that a bit, but still left me with some residual confusion as to how I, personally, should react to the inclusion of this poem.

This blog does go some way to clarifying that point for me, and for that, I have to offer my thanks.

"we're just normal." -- yep, think that makes you racist! (I mean, I don't want to call you a racist, I don't even know you, so this is a flippant response-- but the fact that you, the white guy, gets to say, I'm the default regular normal is the underlying reason for people getting so angry at this guy.)

Mr. Alexie,

I only know you through some of your work. In this essay, I have met you perhaps more personally. From what you say, I think you made the right decision. This essay also raised good questions worth considering. The poet deceived you, and that is his sin. You have reflected on your own process and decided how best to proceed, and that is your virtue.

Seeing the system and the reality and being honest about it, as you have been, matters. Doing your best within the constraints of its reality matters. And, ultimately, if more people honestly go forth and try to make a difference, even while failing to achieve others' or their own ideal of perfection, change will come. And, I hope, it will be change for the better.

A single crocus, after all, only slowly spreads out from the corm to make a field of flowers. A lot of crocuses, even if spread out and only single blossoms dotting the weed fields here and there, will spread out slowly, too, but will make a field of flowers more quickly. Let's hope others join in your honest engagement, thoughtful approach, and willingness to live with decisions that, in the end, you consider well made.

This is not my crocus poem. I'm sure I've mentioned them somewhere, but I think I am more guilty of photographing them.

All the best,

I continue to Respect you, S.A., for your energy, excellence and honesty. Thanks for this, and all the work you did on the anthology. I will read this one.

A couple caveats:

1) I'm a huge fan of Sherman Alexie (his short fiction foremost, poetry second; sorry, Sherman). I also think he's one of the most insightful writers on race in the 21st century, along with a bunch of other subjects.

2) I'm a white guy, and even if I can't condone Hudson's actions, I can at least understand where his assholery came from. Self-centered ignorance is awful to begin with. Self-centered ignorance plus power is poison. But self-centered ignorance exists in anyone, and Hudson's is a brand that I'm - embarrassingly - familiar with.

Both those things said, Alexie shouldn't have to defend himself. I'm glad he explained what led to his decision, but he was put in an impossible situation by a bitter white guy who focused his professional frustrations on the 2% or 5% or whatever % of the time that people of color in America have the institutional upper hand.

I don't entirely agree with his decision, but I get the sense that those condemning him and it are missing the point he has made here: That if you believe in something, you must be comfortable with its uncomfortable truths. To sweep this under the rug would be to say that his approach - that affirmative action generally - could not withstand and rebut the misgivings and arguments of people like Hudson.

When the work is brilliant, such questions are secondary... unimportant, even. But the work isn't. And that's precisely when considerations of gender/race/ make the difference: when the range of the material to choose from runs from mediocre to shitty. That ID politics are a controversial force in "Poetry" is merely symptomatic of the fact that so very, very little of the material is brilliant (or worth reading at all).

I'm Black, but I'm not more delighted by reading crappy work by a writer of my (approximate) color than I am by reading brilliant material from my supposed opposite. I dislike the entire rainbow of bad verse. Raise the standards and these PC ID "scandals" will disappear. Added benefit: the very serious Content-Glut Problem will shrink, too.

No matter whether Hudson is writing as Yi-Fen Chou or as himself, I've noticed that he always sounds a lot like either the poet Anthony Madrid or the poet Josh Bell. Google that business.

Deception is cheating and is tantamount to athletes using enhancing performance substances to gain competitive advantage; when discovered, these athletes are disqualified and stripped of whatever
honors improperly won.
The same should have been done here, regardless of the poem's merits.

And what if it had been a Chinese guy posing as a white guy...?

For shame, Mr Alexie.

As a disinterested observer from outside the US, it seems to me that the easiest way to prevent this sort of thing from happening in future would be to adopt a two-pronged editorial strategy: one person to select the longlist of poems for inclusion, and another to perform a final 'blind reading' of the poems and select the final shortlist without knowing who wrote them. Even if the use of pseudonyms plays some role in the makeup of the longlist, the 'blind reading' stage will still ensure that whatever gets in does so on merit alone.

yep. that's pretty racist! :)

Seriously. This isn't that hard. If you are obsessed with not playing favorites, just have someone anonymize the poems for you.

Just curious, how did you go about selecting the poems to select from?

What an insightful essay! I judge two poetry contests in honor of my mother, who handled contests for many years for the Poetry Society of Texas. We don't see the names of the poets when we judge.

But I don't think that's the solution here. If editors are going to give more consideration to women and people of color, they should state that up front. Affirmative action does not need to mean choosing a lesser candidate because of their gender or ethnicity. At its best, it means reaching out to people who might not otherwise have applied.

I don't approve of what Michael Hudson did. But I'm glad his actions led to an honest discussion of the role of identity in what gets published. As part of that discussion, let's look at how professors who write poetry dominate the book.

'Approximately 99% of the poets are professors." Seriously?

Hi, Sarah- Academic is a state of mind; many fine poets make their living by teaching the subject they love.

"without knowing who wrote them" yes, just on the merits. Let others deal with the consequences. I have trouble with "Best American" because poetry is not a competitive sport in a mono-cultural setting; Better,in this case, to title "Sherman Alexie's Favorites"

Probably because doing it this way leads to an angsty-blog post rather than solving the problem.

Has anyone attempted to get a quote from Michael Derrick Hudson about any of this? Or contact "him" in any way? He's not listed on the staff page for the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center, and the link to his "bio" at the Poetry Foundation turns up an error page. Is "Michael Derrick Hudson" perhaps a pseudonym too?

p.s. Here's the link to the staff page at the Genealogy Center:

http://www.genealogycenter.org/Community/Librarians.aspx

And here's the link to his "bio" at the Poetry Foundation:

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio.michael-hudson

Sherman, who is Michael Derrick Hudson really?

If Michael Derrick Hudson is a pseudonym, my number one suspect would be Michael Martone, given the fact that the pseudonym "lives" in Fort Wayne, Indiana (and that Martone loves pranks).

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