Wednesday, March 09, 2005

A list of our own?

A comment on a previous post got me to thinking:

What if someone created a listserv for Asian American poetry and poetics? Would anyone join such a list? What would be its function? Would it help nuture a community, or would it be isolating and exclusive? Is there already such a thing and I don't know about it?

Even a cursory trip through blogland shows that there's a lot of Asian American poets out there blogging; and I'm sure for every blogger there's a dozen more poets.

Here's the thing, of course: the Poetics list, at least ostensibly, operates under an aesthetic principle (that of "experimental" or "avant-garde" writing). Would an Asian American poetry list have any such principle, or would it invite in all readers regardless of aesthetic? If so, would they have anything to talk about?


Heather said...

Hi, Tim. I was thinking something very similar after reading your recent posts and also going back to the buffalo archives to take a look at what you were talking about. I think an Asian American one would definitely be interesting; a Poets of Color listserv might also work well. I don't get into a lot of poetry discussions over lists or email groups, just because I've seen a lot of it turn into petty arguments over aesthetics, as opposed to more in-depth discussions about how aesthetics relate to identity, etc. However, it would be interesting to have a listerv of poets who actually do figure race into their idea of poetics, simply because it seems unrealistic not to do so.

Anyway... sounds interesting to me. By the way, hi, I'm Heather. :)

pam said...

Hi Tim,

This is Pam Lu from the BuffPo list. If you can believe it, I was just asking myself this very question last week-- whether the time might not be ripe for some sort of Asian American poetics/aesthetics listserv or online roundtable discussion. And then of course I asked the natural second question: does this kind of list already exist? If it does, I don't know about it.

Anyway if this list does exist, I would absolutely join it. I would envision it as a topic-oriented list (issues related to Asian American poetics) rather than a member-restricted list (in other words, open to all who are interested). That resolves the bugaboo of exclusivity in my mind.

I don't have a blog of my own, but as you and Roger Pao have both pointed out, the number of Asian American writers who do have blog presences does seem to suggest some critical mass of interest in having a public discussion in this arena. Roger has done an excellent job on his blog pulling together statements of crucial issues from the ground up. A listserv could dialogue with the questions he's brought up, and open up this field even more.

Anyhow I would be interested in joining and/or even helping to start such a list. I believe you have my email; otherwise you can pull it off the BuffPo archives from February.


pam said...


To follow up on your last set of questions, I do think there would be discussion potential if the hypothetical list were open to topics about different aesthetics across the board. Of course, there is always the danger of members staying entrenched in their own "camps," reiterating arguments that only champion their particular aesthetic, without exploring issues in depth. The flip side is that with a spectrum of aesthetics there would be more potential for cross-dialogue that could potentially open writers up to ideas outside their aesthetic, and bring up more global issues of identity and writing in general.

But by constraining the list format to a specific aesthetic (e.g., avant-garde, experimental, post-avant, what have you), there would be potential for more focused, in-depth discussions. Which I am personally in favor of.

My sense is that it is better for a list to start out with the more restrictive definition and then expand outward to meet organic demands of its members, than to start out with a more diffuse list and then try to rein it in later.


Patrick said...

An Asian-Am poetics list could be wonderful. There's a weird sociology to listserves that's not as interesting as the psychology of it. I mean -- when smart, charismatic voices are contributing it seems to raise the level of the conversation. It's a little like the ideal semester when the right mix of students is in a classroom and everything seems, well, magical.

Off the top of my head, what if there were a listserve that set as a guideline -- no formal announcements about readings, events, calls for submissions? Aren't there enough venues online and elsewhere for that? Would it be productive/ethical to be this kind of territorial about a real meaningful dialogue about race and poetics? I wonder if it would help minimize careerist footwork so common in listserves (and elsewhere) and get to the good muck of poetry that we could all probably benefit from.

Tim said...

Heather, Pam, Patrick--thanks for your comments.

I must say the more I think about it, the more I think there's a great potential for a list of this kind.

Pam, you've pretty much spelled out all of the questions I've been thinking about. I'm also very attracted to the idea of a list that has a distinct aesthetic orientation, rather than one that simply appeals to a socially defined group regardless of aesthetic. But that, of course, raises the question for me of what kind of category "Asian American" is. I've struggled a great deal over this question, and I do think that the "Asian American" in "Asian American poetry" does have an aesthetic valence; while I don't think that anyone has yet done the work that would be required to identify a distinctively Asian American poetic tradition, with distinctive forms, themes, and styles, I think that kind of work could, and shoud, be done. Perhaps that would be part of what the list would be for.

Tim said...

Pragmatically, though, I recognize that Asian American poetry is often not identified with an "experimental" aesthetic; quite the opposite, in fact. And yet it's clear there are a lot of Asian American poets--more and more, it seems--working in that realm.

So I do find the idea of a list that would be more particular in focus--e.g., "experimental Asian American poetry and poetics"--somewhat appealing, for exactly the reason Pam suggests--the possibility of much more focused discussions, and the potential to serve a community that perhaps doesn't always get recognized as having a claim to "Asian American" writing. For the same reasons, I'm attracted to Patrick's suggestion that it be "just" a poetics list, rather than a forum for announcements, self-promotions, and the like.

But I wonder if, in this case, there's something to be said for the big-tent approach. First, it's not at all clear to me that there is any kind of forum at all of this kind for Asian American poetry, regardless of aesthetic. Second, I think making the topic Asian American poetry in a broad way might force experimental aesthetics to think more explicitly about its relationship to race, because it might be confronted with questions about its politics, "relevance," accessibility, etc. There could, perhaps, be a productive tension over aesthetics (if we're lucky).

So my own inclination is to cast the net fairly widely. But I'm interested to hear more thoughts from others.

Tim said...

The comment function seems to be acting up a bit. Here are two comments that folks weren't able to post and sent me by email.

From Gary Sullivan:

Yes! It's a great idea, and you should pursue it. It would be especially nice if you archived the list somewhere so that others could read it.

From Ben Friedlander:

I'm not Asian American but I'd be interested in a forum like the one you're proposing, as I occasionally teach books by Asian American writers and would enjoy--not to say benefit--from a conversation about their work.

In my experience, every email forum has a center of interest and then a horizon of related interests toward which the group's attention inevitably drifts. I don't see how an emphasis on "experimental" would exclude discussion of other work, assuming the work was of actual interest to the group.

Tim said...

Commenting still bloggered.

From Pam Lu:

Yes!-- per your latest comment I do see how casting the net broadly could force the experimental aesthetic to confront its own relevance/relationship to race/culture/identity. That's very well put. A healthy tension could arise when writers working in more traditional forms challenge those working in more experimental forms, and vice versa. But then I worry again about the entrenchment danger... and discussions getting balkanized, too diffuse...

At the same time, I'm drawn to Ben's point about keeping a list centralized around a particular aesthetic/set of concerns, while also keeping the boundaries permeable enough to admit a horizon of related concerns. In fact, I see your point-- about the experimental aesthetic's self-interrogation of its own political relevance-- as a key, key issue I would like to see talked about among such experimental-minded writers. So that in the context of discussion, the list would naturally look outside of the avant garde "canon", hopefully with open-mindedness, to make comparisons between how different aesthetics approach and address issues of race/culture/identity. My own sense is that the various aesthetics all do address these issues, but that they vary in degrees of emphasis they place on the material vs. the abstract, realism vs. imagined potential, gestures vs. psyche, confessional vs. theoretical, etc. And, as Ben suggests, such an investigation could be conducted from the inside out.

Of course, this is also my personal bias in that I've long felt dissatisfied with the notion that avant garde poetry/experimental writing lies outside race/culture/identity, that it is even *in opposition to* issues of identity & identity politics. Or that the experimental aesthetic is a "sophisticated luxury" that minorities and writers of color move toward *only after* they have moved through the phase of transparent-language confessional narrative. In this sense, Asian American writers who work in the experimental vein have often had their work misconstrued (or at least *incompletely construed*) by both the Asian American lit community and the greater avant-garde community.

So I guess I'm gravitating toward keeping the list topic-centralized (with permeable boundaries). But again, not member-restricted, as in open to anyone (of any aesthetic or race) who is interested in the topic and wants to contribute to serious & responsible discussion. I like focus, not necessarily separatism.

Tim said...

Pam, I'm very sympathetic to the idea that experimental Asian American writing has gotten short shrift in both the avant-garde and Asian American writing communities. I agree that for this list to be truly useful from my (admittedly partial) point of view, it would have to be deeply interested in that kind of work, if not centrally engaged with it.

Ben's suggestion, though, makes we wonder if we can't have it both ways. Perhaps the answer is something like this: Membership would be open to anyone interested in Asian American poetry and poetics, but "we" (whoever that might end up being), as the founders of the list, might write a statement of our own primary interest in the intersection between avant-garde and Asian American discourses, and encourage discussion about those issues. An open list--with just a little bit of an aesthetic "push."

Roger Pao said...

Hello Tim, great post and comments. I respond extensively on

In response to your most recent post, I think that it is the founders of the listserv's right to make it about whatever they want to make it.

But I think you should make it clear -- more clear than a statement of interest -- whether it will deal with "Asian-American poetry and poetics" or "Asian American and avant garde discourses." I can see the overlap between, but not the collapse of, these two areas. If it's not made clear, then you might have to accept the fact that discussions over aspects of Asian-American poetry, having nothing to do with avant garde poetry, could take place and potentially take up a large share of the list. Of course, I used the word "might"; the main problem here is that there could be confusion over the intent and boundaries of "the aesthetic push."

Vireo Ibis said...

i'd be very interested in a list discussion poetics without the baggage of twits and their (denied) bigotry. i'm not Asian/Asian-American, and i'm not very well-read in Asian poetry, but knowing little about a subject has never stopped me from enjoying discussions before!

Anonymous said...

Hi, just wanted to throw my two cents in and I would say YES, a list serve would be great and I've been dying to hear somethign like this pop up. I agree with Pam's comments about having a central focus. I'd lean towards having an experimental focus because I feel like there is so much discussion already about identity politics and the subject in Asian American poetry, but not enough about form and practice.

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