IRENE HSIAO: Does it change a Chinese American poet’s relationship to the Tang dynasty poets once T. S. Eliot declares that “Pound is the inventor of Chinese poetry for our time”?
MARILYN CHIN: I don’t want Pound to have the last word on Chinese poetry. A lot of Asian American writers don’t want to be Asian anymore. They don’t want to be Chinese. They think it’s a post-Asian era. Is it okay for Pound, [Amy] Lowell, [Kenneth] Rexroth, and [Gary] Snyder to be influenced by Chinese poetry, and not okay for Marilyn Chin, who studied Chinese poetry all her life, to show off her knowledge? To “make it new,” might just mean a Chinese American woman poet writing some badass polyvocal poems to take on the Modernists. I am not afraid of my “Chineseness” and I’m not afraid of my “Americanness.” I begin the day reading Li Bai, Tu Fu, the Shijing. Some of us have to do this. It’s very important to me that I leave that mark, that I write this hybrid poetry. I want to showcase the brilliance of both literary traditions.
When I was reading some of your poetry yesterday, I was thinking about the allusions: I get some of them, and I don’t get some of them, and then wondered — does the normal reader get them? Am I not a normal reader? But really, for whom do you write?
Well, I write for a wild-girl Chinese American poet-scholar-reader-weird brainiac like you. Why not write for the best possible reader — the most informed and enthusiastic reader — one who loves poetry from a variety of traditions? Why write for a lazy, unimaginative audience? With the assumptions that the dude won’t look things up in Wikipedia. The dude will be captivated and will look things up if the poem is worthy of his attention. You might as well please yourself and your friends. And speak against whomever you want to speak against. Like Pound!