It's always illuminating to hear someone else summarizing your argument, which often brings out things that you may not have noticed yourself. Silliman's pithy precis defines the three "generations" of Asian American poets quite nicely along the lines of politics. I had also hoped to emphasize that I saw some degree of continuity between the "politicized & populist" poets of the 1970s and younger "post-avant" writers (with the implication that it was the "lyric" turn of the 1980s that could be viewed as anomalous in the history of Asian American poetry). But that's certainly a debatable point.
Thanks also to csperez for pointing (in Silliman's comment box) to the discussion that's been going on here and elsewhere. I'm sorry I haven't had a chance to respond more fully to the thoughtful comments by him and by Pam Lu, in part because I've been away the past few days (on which more to come). But I'll try a quick stab at answering now.
Both commenters raise the question of whether perhaps the anthology does represent some sociological "truth" about Asian Americans: as Pam puts it, maybe the anthology's "dehistoricized, deculturalized, uncritically-examined perspectives do actually reflect the perspectives of a (growing) sector of the population."
It's difficult for me to assess this as a sociological claim. It's certainly true that one hears Asian American activists complaining all the time about the problems of politicizing Asian Americans, and perhaps some might see this as a decline from the activist days of the 1970s. But is the Asian American population in general less politically engaged and less historically aware than it was three decades ago? My guess would be no: a generation of students has gone through American colleges with at least the opportunity to study Asian American history, literature, and politics, and Asian American student organizations remain robust (if rarely politically radical).
But I think Pam may be right in another sense, in that there are now a multitude of models for how one might be an "Asian American writer." To claim that label in the 1970s meant a rather particular thing, both politically and aesthetically--which also rather excluded one from "mainstream" acceptance. But the "breakthrough" success in the late '70s and 1980s of writers like Maxine Hong Kingston and Cathy Song made it quite possible to be both an Asian American writer and a "mainstream" one--or, better yet, to be a writer who "just happens to be" Asian American.
For me, The Open Boat plays out the political and aesthetic logic of this moment. But what I don't think I'd realized in my past readings of Garrett Hongo's anthology was how pointed Hongo's dissent from the aesthetic/political conjunction of the 1970s was. To take up Silliman's characterization, Hongo's stance is probably not apolitical but purposefully anti-political, a reaction against "ethnic consciousness" dogma. But that resistance, at least, was still a kind of engagement, a conscious departure from a certain norm; an ironic awareness of ethnic politics is still a form of awareness.
But what happens when one places into the category of "Asian American writer" those who do not see their work in those terms at all? What Chang's anthology seems to argue is that it is now possible not to allude to the tradition of Asian American writing in form, content, or intention, and yet still to be called an Asian American writer. In short, that there is now a completely dehistoricized and decontextualized way of being an "Asian American poet," and indeed to be a highly successful one. To make this point even more contentiously: it may be precisely that success itself (measured in terms of fellowships, publications, and teaching positions) is the gold standard of acceptance into the category of Asian American poet. The Asian American poet thus becomes the model minority.
Finally, the question has been raised of what an ideal anthology of Asian American poetry really would look like. It's interesting that Silliman read me to be saying that such an anthology would essentially be Premonitions redux. That's perhaps what I would like to have said, or perhaps should have said were I a more loyal post-avanter. What I actually said was
The new, truly comprehensive anthology of Asian American poetry that is needed now would draw generously from both the 1980s lyric represented in Hongo’s Open Boat and the avant-garde work of the 1970s and 1990s featured in Premonitions, offering notes and introductions that place both aesthetics in historical and literary context. But it would also offer a much longer historical perspective on Asian American poetry...It would place this work alongside poems by younger writers who represent some of the newest Asian American immigrant groups, while using three decades of experience by teachers of Asian American writing to help measure what poems have been most useful in the classroom. Such an anthology--ideally a collaboration between critics and poets--would provide an invaluable introduction to Asian American poetry for general readers, while providing the depth students, scholars, and writers need.That's the anthology that, to me, would seem the most useful--one I could use in my own classroom, but that I'd also love to read.