New Crime

“You have been charged with new crime,” thundered the judge from the bench. The gallery gasped as his gavel came down, even though no one exactly knew what ‘new crime’ was or why it was important. The judges was the judge and his outrage is all that mattered so the gallery was outraged with him.

–Unknown Writer

When I read things like this I chuckle because it conjures ideas of science fiction and fantasy.

A white man whose poem was published Tuesday under a Chinese-sounding pseudonym in The Best American Poetry anthology has provoked accusations of racism and cultural appropriation.

Indiana genealogist Michael Derrick Hudson, whose poem “The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve” appears in the annual poetry collection, said he chose then pen name “Yi-Fen Chou” after being rejected by 40 different journals under his real name, the Washington Post reports.

“As Yi-Fen the poem was rejected nine (9) times before Prairie Schooner took it. 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,” Hudson wrote in his bio, which appears at the end of the anthology.

Many observers in the poetry and Asian-American communities have accused Hudson of appropriating an ethnic identity traditionally underrepresented in American literature. Phil Yu, who runs the blog Angry Asian Man, likened Hudson’s decision to “employing yellow face in poetry.”

Guest editor and Native American poet Sherman Alexie addressed the controversy on Monday in a blog post, explaining his decision to keep the poem even while admitting the apparent race of the poet had been a factor in his selection process.

“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,” wrote Alexie, who described Hudson’s pen name as a “deceitful pseudonym.”

“But I believe I would have committed a larger injustice by dumping the poem,” he continued. “It would have implied that I chose poems based only on identity. But that’s not what happened. In the end, I chose each poem in the anthology because I love it. And to deny my love for any of them is to deny my love for all of them.”

The most effective defense mechanism ever created by a religious movement is this ability to turn the noticing of their crimes into something worse than the crime itself. The fake Chinese poet was obviously making a point about the racism of these poetry journals. Given his response, I’d say he was mocking them for it and doing it successfully. The defense mechanism of the Cult kicks in and they accuse him of a worse crime, a made up crime.

The charge of “cultural appropriation” which is supposed to be worse than Hitler, is an interesting charge to puzzle through. If it is wrong to borrow or use a culture not your own, then that means there must be different cultures and they must be preserved. Further, it is morally wrong for members of one culture to adopt the ways of another culture, hence the new crime of cultural appropriation.

That sounds a lot like what Richard Spencer and the white identity crowd says. After all, the only way it is possible to maintain these distinct cultures is through separation. Otherwise, you wind up with assimilation or worse, the domination of one culture over another. Before long Michael Derrick Hudson is marrying Yi-Fen Chou and making bananas and boiled eggs!

Taken a step further, the charge of cultural appropriation implies culture is linked to biology. If you cannot adopt elements from another culture, because you were not born into the culture, it means only one thing. Biology and culture are intertwined and inseparable. This is exactly what the guys at Stormfront have been arguing since whenever Stormfront got going. It’s why they exist. I wonder if they have poetry contests.

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UKer
Guest
UKer

If someone pretends to be someone else, they are either usually somewhat mad, a criminal or a fantasist. Now we must add something else to the mix. But I thought it was okay to ‘identify’ with other people. How puzzling, isn’t it? I can understand the kerfuffle if this would-be asian has filled the one place reserved for true asian-american authors and denied them a place in the sun, but that would mean the publication had a quota, which case it is nothing to do with talent at all. Or, given the variable nature of appreciating poetry, was it simply… Read more »

James LePore
Guest

Two things:
1. the left is immune to irony, which is why they’re so boring;
2. they are mired in their own hypocrisy. They would sorely love to assign us all numbers at birth, doing away with names altogether, but then how would they be able to rank us in sacredness according to—what else?—race.

BillH
Guest
BillH

Never appreciated poetry or poets; never will. Always seemed to me like an alternate reality, parallel universe or something.

Christopher S. Johns
Guest
Christopher S. Johns

I’m somewhat shocked to discover that the poem itself is amusingly witty and ironic – not the usual thing chosen for poetry prizes these days – which only underscores the notion that the author’s pseudonym was a deliberate provocation to the identity police:

https://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/prairie_schooner/v088/88.3.chou.pdf

ganderson9754
Guest
ganderson9754

Interesting- I have no doubt that Sherman Alexie is a card-carrying member of the cult- however, the books of his that I’ve read are a pretty unvarnished look at Indian life. Of course, he could write about something else…..