Unlucky poetry judge Sherman Alexie
Yesterday, we learned that Michael Derrick Hudson has a poem in Best American Poetry 2015 he submitted under the pen name Yi-Fen Chou. Ben al-Fowlkes sent me Sherman Alexie’s explanation of how that happened, which I like as much as anything he’s written in years. Alexie wisely begins from his own perspective as a writer, which is the familiar mix of high ideals, envy, and conspiracy theory. I find contest judges are unfairly biased in favor of writers who aren’t me. Alexie feels about the same way, albeit for better reasons than I do, and when he becomes guest editor of BAP 2015 he resolves to judge fairly. He also resolves to uphold Rule #5:
Rule #5: I will pay close attention to the poets and poems that have been underrepresented in the past. So that means I will carefully look for great poems by women and people of color. [snip]
Enter Yi-Fen Chou. Alexie read his poem carefully and thought it was great. After he picked it for the anthology and Michael Derrick Hudson unmasked himself, Alexie was enraged. Then he read the poem again and liked it just as much, so it stayed in.
Michael Derrick Hudson, who has published poems as Yi-Fen Chou
I apologize for the lateness of the hour; my plan was to hold today’s post until I could link to a pleasant surprise, but that surprise is not happening until tomorrow. In the meantime, look what Michael Derrick Hudson did. Hudson is a white person and poet who occasionally submits poems under the pen name Yi-Fen Chou. Here he is explaining his method:
After a poem of mine has 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. The poem in question … was rejected under my real name forty (40) times before I sent it out as Yi-Fen Chou (I keep detailed submission records). As Yi-Fen the poem was rejected nine (9) times before Prairie Schooner took it.
The “poem in question” here is “The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve,” which Sherman Alexie selected for the 2015 edition of Best American Poetry. Surely it means something that readers rejected one of the best American poems of 2015 when Hudson submitted it and liked it when Chou did. But what?