Michael Derrick Hudson, a writer living in Indiana, has prompted an outcry over a poem he had admitted into the prestigious Best American Poetry anthology. The uproar, however, stems not from the piece itself, but from the name he's running it under, Yi-Fen Chou. Hudson, a white man, picked the pen name deliberately to make the editors think he's Chinese.
"The poem in question, 'The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve,' was rejected under my real name 40 times before I sent it out as Yi-Fen Chou. (I keep detailed submission records)," Hudson writes in his bio for the anthology, "As Yi-Fen, the poem was rejected 9 times before Prairie Schooner took it."
The poem was selected for the anthology by guest editor Sherman Alexie, an award-winning author of poetry and prose. Alexie, a Native American writer who often tackles issues of race in his work, published a blog post yesterday saying that he would not be removing Hudson's poem from the anthology.
"I only learned that Yi-Fen Chou was a pseudonym used by a white man after I'd already picked the poem, and Hudson promptly wrote to reveal himself," Alexie writes. "Of course, I was angry at the subterfuge and at myself for being fooled by this guy. I silently cursed him and wondered how I would deal with this colonial theft."
Alexie continues, "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. 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. But I believe I would have committed a larger injustice by dumping the poem. I think I would have cast doubt on every poem I have chosen for BAP. It would have implied that I chose poems based only on identity."
On Twitter (or, more accurately, "poetry Twitter,") Alexie's decision has not been met with universal agreement. Hyphen magazine's fiction and poetry editor Karissa Chen tweeted, "Sorry Alexie, I'm don't agree. You should have kicked him out for yellowface, not any other reason."
Hudson, meanwhile, remains unapologetic. In his bio for the collection, which was released today, he writes, "There is a very short answer for my use of a nom de plume: after a poem of mine had been rejected a multitude of times under my real name, I put Yi-Fen's name on it and send it out again. As a strategy for 'placing' poems this has been quite successful for me."