When The Best American Poetry 2015 (Scribner), edited by Sherman Alexie, was published earlier this week, it included a poem from “Yi-Fen Chou.” It turns out that Chou is the pen name of a very-not-Asian writer called Michael Derrick Hudson. From The New York Times:
Mr. Hudson, as he explains in his biographical note in the volume, doesn’t write different poems in the voice of a persona he calls Yi-Fen Chou (as Pessoa might); rather, he submits the same poem first as Michael Hudson, and then if that doesn’t work, resubmits it as Yi-Fen Chou. The idea is that this gives him a leg up in the frustrating business of poetry publishing.
While The Times’s David Orr doesn’t actually condemn Hudson for this bit of sleight of hand, citing Fernando Pessoa and Marian Evans (a.k.a. George Eliot) as examples of poets who’ve hidden behind concocted names, he doesn’t feel the poem stands up to the fuss. What’s worse, in a way, is he feels the volume itself ends up suffering from the inclusion:
One thing that has tended to go by the wayside, however, is the merit of the poem. In addition to being a chore to type, is “The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve” any good?
The answer is that it isn’t bad but that it’s far from one of the best American poems of the year.
Which makes having it included in an anthology with those words right in the title somewhat awkward. Though with all the publicity the matter has invited, the attention should push Best American Poetry 2015 to the poetry bestseller lists.