People are getting fussy after finding out that a poem titled “The Bees,” commended as one of the best American poems of 2015, was written by a white man under the Chinese pseudonym Yi-Fen Chou.
The poem was chosen from hundreds and probably thousands of other works to be included in the 2015 edition of Best American Poetry, an anthology published annually, according to the Washington Post. Michael Derrick Hudson wrote the poem “The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve” under the Chinese pen name. His literary work was chosen along with six dozen others that made the final cut into the anthology.
Sherman Alexie, the editor of the anthology, was notified by the author himself after the poem was chosen for the collection. Hudson, a genealogist at the Allen County Public Library from Fort Wayne, Indiana, wrote in his biography for the anthology:
“If this indeed 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.”
The author’s poem “The Bees” was rejected from 40 different journals when he submitted it under his real name. Still he was relentless and thought it may have a better chance at publication if people believed it was written by someone else.
A literary journal called Prairie Schooner picked up the poem along with three others that were published in its Fall 2014 issue. Alexie stumbled upon it when it was referred to Best American Poetry and even a popular Tumblr poetry-commentator, Jim Behrle, posted about it.
Things went south when the information made its way to “Poetry Twitter,” a similar domain to regular Twitter, but with bigger words. Critics acknowledge that pen names have been used in the past by famous authors hoping to reach a greater demographic. Notable cases include initials and pseudonyms for women including Joanne Rowling (J.K. Rowling), Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot), and Charlotte Bronte, who published “Jane Eyre” under “Currer Bell.”
However, those critics say Hudson’s case is different. Poet and Chapman University professor Victoria Chang told Washington Post:
“When you’re doing this from a position of entitlement, you’re appropriating an ethnic identity that’s one, imaginary, and two, doesn’t have access to the literary world. And it diminishes categorically all of our accomplishments. He sorts of implies that minorities are published because we’re minorities, not because of our work. That’s just insulting because it strips everything we’ve worked so hard for.”
Alexie is resolved to keep the poem in the anthology, stating:
“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 controversial scandal has many in the literary and non-literary world fired up about whether it is ethical to publish under an ethnic pseudonym. Alexie tweeted that the debate has brought up one positive thing:
I’m exhausted by the Best American Poetry mess but, wow, how cool that so many people are crazy-passionate about poems.
— Sherman Alexie (@Sherman_Alexie) September 8, 2015