The Best American Poetry 2015 guest editor Sherman Alexie emailed the anthology's poets, apologizing for the "damn mess" created when it was revealed that poet Michael Derrick Hudson was published under an Asian pseudonym.
The poet said he used the name “Yi-Fen Chou” as a “strategy” to increase his chances of getting his poems published in The Best American Poetry 2015.
In his bio for the anthology, Hudson said his poem "The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve," was rejected 40 times. When using the pseudonym, the poem was rejected nine times before Prairie Schooner took it.
On Monday, Sherman Alexie, the anthology's guest editor, defended his decision to publish the poem even after learning the true identity of Yi-Fen Chou. Alexie said that he paid attention to Hudson’s poetry because of who he thought the poet was.
“I’m a brown-skinned poet who gave a better chance to another supposed brown-skinned poet because of our brownness,” he said in a blog post.
Alexie said that nepotism is "as common as oxygen" in the poetry world.
"But, in putting Yi-Fen Chou in the 'maybe' and 'yes' piles, I did something amorphous. I helped a total stranger because of racial nepotism," he wrote.
The Best American Poetry editor David Lehman said that Alexie was solely in charge of picking the 2015 poems.
After finding out Hudson's true identity, "Sherman wanted to keep the poem in the book," Lehman said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. "There is a long history of pen-names in literature, and we have published pseudonymous poetry in BAP in the past."
After the revelation, many poets voiced concerns over the decision.
On Tuesday, Alexie emailed the other poets in the anthology, apologizing for the "Pseudonym Bullshit."
Read the full email, obtained by BuzzFeed News, below:
Dear Best American Poets,
I am sorry to send this as a group message but I wanted to reach you all at the same time.
I am sorry that this Pseudonym Bullshit has taken so much attention away from all of your great poems. I have been re-reading the anthology all day and I have been transported, again and again, to that wonderful moment when I first read each of them.
I still believe—I know—this year's Best American Poetry is a revolutionary celebration of poetic talent and diversity. And I hope this controversy soon fades and your poems will rise and be as celebrated as they should be.
And, yes, I respect those of you who might disagree with my decision to keep the poem in the anthology. And I understand why you might want to disassociate yourself from the anthology and from me.
I will continue to be a fan of all of you wonderful poets regardless of how you feel about this damn mess. And I will continue to be your fan regardless of any public or private opinions you need to express.
It comes to this: I love your poems—all of them—and I am honored to share this anthology with you.
Below is David Lehman's full statement:
The selections for THE BEST AMERICAN POETRY are made each year by a guest editor. We guarantee that person's autonomy. Sherman Alexie read the poem in question, loved it, added it to the list, and it survived the painful process when the list has to be pruned back to the destined 75.
We were in production when we learned the author's true identity. Prairie Schooner, the magazine where the poem appeared, was unaware that "Yi-Fen Chou" is really "Michael Derrick Hudson." After we found out, Sherman wanted to keep the poem in the book. There is a long history of pen-names in literature, and we have published pseudonymous poetry in BAP in the past.
We were transparent. The contributors' notes section in the book makes it clear who "Yi-Fen Chou" really is. When asked why he chose the pseudonym, Mr. Hudson replied with the two paragraphs we have published -- immediately after his bio graf and immediately before his comment on the poem on page 167.
The tygers of wrath are louder than the horses of instruction, but it should be said that the poem and the whole episode bring up questions not only about politics and demographics but about literary styles and protocol. After all, we have the examples of Borges, Pessoa, and others who manufactured pseudonyms and "heteronyms" and demonstrated their creative potential. We have also had hoaxes of various kinds, some designed to lampoon an institution or a tendency. There is a larger question out there. If one reads a poem by, say, someone identified as Emily Randolph, we have no proof that Emily Randolph exists. Is this a function of language, the misleading effects of which are magnified by the Internet? It is a metaphysical conundrum perfect for the age of virtual reality.
Mary Ann Georgantopoulos is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Mary Ann Georgantopoulos at email@example.com.
Isaac Fitzgerald is Books Editor at BuzzFeed, co-host of The Tell Show, and co-author of Pen & Ink: Tattoos and the Stories Behind Them. He is based in New York. Contact this reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact Isaac Fitzgerald at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.