Dear Emily Post-Avant,

Did you see what Kent Johnson, one of the Editors of Dispatches, said about Asian-American poets? May I suggest you call him on the carpet for this? How dare he? Among a couple other crazed things, he put this up as a comment on the Facebook page of Timothy Yu, one of the leading spokespersons for Asian American poets, who have been collectively fighting in face of great odds against the attempts by American Official Verse Culture to marginalize them! Here is what the callous Johnson said:

Eliot Weinberger said this once, years ago, and I’ll say it again, since it seems to be a long-standing repressed fact, given its inconvenience to standard PC speak by well-positioned “avant” Asian American poets, in their claims to being a marginalized, “oppressed group”: While Asian Americans have obviously been targets of racism, including of the State-sponsored kind, they are, and have been for some time, the top income demographic in the United States. In fact, they outpace whites by nearly $20,000 per household income. They outpace African Americans in household-income more than 100%. Is it not ironic that when deploying the term Poets of Color, that Asian American poets, members of the most materially comfortable and perhaps most widely admired ethnic group in the U.S., assume they should be considered in the same breath as African Americans or Native Americans or Hispanics, the most shafted groups in America? I’d argue there is some institutional opportunism at work in the dynamic, which is becoming increasingly, predictably stale. Sort of similar to white Language poets (and Post) still claiming they are marginalized by “Official Verse Culture”…

Please say something! Or, better yet, resign in protest. What have the Asian American poets, after all, ever done to offend Mr. Johnson?

–Outraged in Seattle



Dear Outraged in Seattle,

If this is an earnest letter, your naiveté is even more poignant than that of Bob Hicok. On the other hand, if the letter is meant in jest, then it is quite funny and clever. I’m going to assume it is in earnest, given that you are writing from Seattle, home of seven different “racial-purge clinics,” according to Google, all run by white yoga teachers to help white liberals get rid of their “Toxic Whiteness” (cheapest one starting at $600 dollars for two three-hour sessions). Three of these yoga teachers, I’ve been told, are published “post-avant” poets. Said clinics, in fact, are reported to be attended by both former members of the kaput Conceptual Poetry movement as well as white fellow-travelers of the also kaput Mongrel Coalition, which Kent Johnson, actually, first exposed as being run by a really rich white guy from Brazil posing as a POC. Seriously.

Anyway, I regularly critique Johnson’s writing, which makes him mad. He tends to go on for too long and doesn’t tie up loose ends, liberally mixes his metaphors, and uses way too many adjectives. But he often (though not always) manages to get the gist of things more or less right, much to the consternation of those who have been accusing him for years of being a “yellow-face” racist for the transgression of being the caretaker of the Araki Yasusada writings, far and away the most studied and debated work of antiwar/antinuclear poetry written in the United States in the past 25 years. Many of the accusers being, of course, Asian American poets with cushy jobs in the Academy trying to score points with cultural institutions run by guilty white supporters of the endearing Hillary Clinton, who had no problem with her saying she had the mojo to nuke the shit out of Tehran if they didn’t follow Imperial orders.

Look, I know that there are still remnants of prejudice against Asian Americans, sure, but it doesn’t even come close to the dimensions of racism other ethnic groups face. Even white Jewish Americans, for goodness sake, today face greater (and more dangerous) degrees of hostility than the vast majority of Asian Americans do. A Chinese or Japanese or Indian American today faces no more “discrimination” than whites of southern European ancestry, probably. And an overweight, white, trans senior like me, I’ll bet, gets lots more bad looks than Timothy Yu ever does, especially with those natty, Brooks Brothers suits he wears. You know?

I mean, really, have you ever visited any of the top-tier campuses in the United States? No marginalization of Asians there! Not in Silicon Valley, either, and certainly not in poetry, anymore. Maybe Hollywood and TV could do better, true, Crazy Rich Asians aside. But I completely agree with Johnson that it’s near-obscene for avant Asian American poets to implicitly compare their “POC status” to African Americans, Hispanics, or Native Americans. For when they do so, they appropriate and cheapen the very real racist victimization and violence these groups suffer.

So if we combine this with the fact that Asian American poets today have virtually no obstacles in publishing and promoting their work (au contraire!), the POC/disenfranchised trope begins to look like something purposely tendered for augmenting institutional advantage–at least in the case of a good number of well-known peeps, some of them quite mediocre writers, who freely resort to character assassination tactics to accomplish their goals, though I won’t mention any other names besides Mr. Yu’s, unless I have to, later. And not that Asian American poets are the only ones. White avant poets are even more vicious, generally speaking.

Bye now. Go ahead and share this on Mr. Yu’s Facebook page, if you want. It’s Cancel Culture Time in Poetry, and he’s got thousands of like-minded fans. I see that his last post defends the right of students at UW/Madison to disrupt and shutdown the speaking engagements of those the spoiled, pretend-radical brats deem not sufficiently progressive. No doubt he was all for having Gibson’s Bakery, in Oberlin, Ohio, cancelled, too.  I used to eat the greatest doughnuts there, during the annual conventions of the Socialist Workers Party. Nice.

–Emily Post-Avant