For AAAS: “Gaps” between Asian American Literary Scholars and Literary Community

So, I am on a panel this Friday re: the above-mentioned “gap” between Asian American Literary Scholars and Literary Community. So I want to step back from any emotional arguments that as an educator, I usually hear/am the recipient of: “I am an Asian/Filipino American writer; why don’t you teach my work?” Similarly, any “list” I put out there for a literary body, or even on my own website/blog is met with a “You didn’t include so-and-so,” “You didn’t include me.”

There’s a lot of assumption and expectation loaded into those statements/complaints.

I used to feel obligated to respond to each complaint, to explain in painstaking detail my process, my criteria I have for the works I ultimately select for course adoption. And I do believe it’s important to be very clear, transparent with criteria, parameters.

This is, I guess, the gist of my spiel for tomorrow.

I accept that the interests of the scholars and the interests of the artists don’t always intersect, nor should they necessarily intersect.

Our industry, specifically as American poets, is a fast-moving one. We can publish pretty rapidly. But even before tackling the relative velocity of poetry publishing, let me say I see in contemporary poets on my radar, how fast their/our poetics and bodies of poetry can also grow. Whether it’s because of being open to constant pop culture and social media exposure, or being open to the constant onslaught of new publication and new media, poetry, “Contemporary American Poetry,” grows and changes fast.

Is it just “what we do” as poets. I think of “taking the temperature,” of a current moment, what informs the current moment, what language is being used and changed in the current moment. How is this all linked to the larger condition.

I can’t assume to know what scholars do, and why they do it. Some work in historical recovery. Some work in specific historical periods and specific historical and social phenomena. Those kinds of scholarly works would not necessarily include contemporary poetics and contemporary literature.

I can say a few things about literary scholars who have engaged my work. To date, the work most frequently engaged, most currently engaged, is Poeta en San Francisco, a book which I wrote around 2003-2004, and which was published in 2005. Timothy Yu and Jane Wong are two Asian American literary scholars who have engaged this work. And perhaps it’s more accurate to say, literary scholars who are Asian American, for whom my poetry coincides with their research. I also think that because Yu and Wong are also poets in addition to being scholars, we have intersecting concerns. Thea Quiray Tagle is another scholar, though not specializing in literary scholarship, who is Asian American, specifically Filipino American, who has written about Poeta en San Francisco. Craig Santos Perez, a Chamoru poet and scholar, has also written about my work via interview and book review, and I feel like he has done so outside of his academic research’s scope, as a poet engaging another poet — i.e. as the way we practice poetry community and literary citizenship.

Since the publication of Poeta en San Francisco, over a decade has passed, and I have had three poetry chapbooks and three full length poetry collections published, all of which have built upon some aspect of Poeta. Who knows if my subsequent work will ever be so actively written about.

I know of only one scholar who’s taken on my body of work in some kind of trajectory — Martin Joseph Ponce, who had included Poeta en San Francisco in his Beyond the Nation: Diasporic Filipino Literature and Queer Reading. He has written about a substantial cross section of my work for the forthcoming American Poets in the 21st Century: Poetics of Social Engagement, after being specifically solicited to do so. I feel like this is a rare thing, this larger cross examination of the work of a living, mid-career, contemporary poet.

And so, I think what I am coming to is that what we two different parties do are wildly different things. Any expectation to be included without any consideration for the specifics of one’s work would be based on identity politics. And this will only take you so far.

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