Best American Poetry Controversy

Back in August/September, the poetry world was abuzz when Yi-Fen Chou's poem was included in The Best American Poetry 2015.  Why? because Yi-Fen Chou is the pseudonym of one Michael Derrick Hudson.

The reason for Hudson's alter ego is simple:  He thought it would give him an advantage.  He openly states the poem in question was rejected 40 times under his own name but only nine times under his pseudonym.
The fact is, it DID give him an advantage with the BAP selection because the subject matter juxtaposed with the Asian name was ultimately too intriguing for the edition's editor.

Hudson is unashamed, unflinching, and doesn't see anything wrong with it.  (If anyone doesn't see the issues with what he does, please let me know and I'll rant on Friday.)

Read more about it here.
I'm an odd person.  The first thing I did when I heard about Michael Derrick Hudson was check his publishing credits.  He claims, when he can't get poetry accepted under his own name, he puts on his yellowface... I mean... submits under Yi-Fen Chou, for better odds.

He makes it sound as though he's an unloved, undiscovered poet trying to pry the industry gates open every single way he can.  No one is going to know who he is unless he pulls out all the stops, all the punches, to get readers.

Horse apples!

He has been published in The Iowa Review, The Georgia Review, North American Review, and more.  These places are high-tier literary magazines!  He's been a finalist in contests and a Pushcart nominee.  All under his OWN NAME!  He even has two poems in THE Poetry Magazine, something most poets would kill for.  He's not struggling for recognition!

I haven't even had five percent of his success.  Hey, maybe I need a male pseudonym! Maybe I can borrow his name when he's not using it.


  1. Interesting! I hadn't heard about this. I know sometimes writers may feel they should have a pseudonym because who they are doesn't fit with the subject matter of their piece (I've considered it but ultimately decided against it), but this guy's motives seem (for lack of a better word) lamer to me.

    I keep trying to think of something else to say but I am just way too tired right now! Sorry! I do want to write some poems from a male perspective, so will people actually buy that if I use my real name? Or will they not even look at the name? Or maybe I'll just save alternative viewpoints for my fiction...

    1. In general, lots of places still respond more favorably to a male name but I believe that gap is starting to close, somewhat.

      If you want a pseudonym because you want to separate your poetry and your fiction, that's understandable. Some writers find it easier to have two audiences, but there are drawbacks.

      If you want to use a pseudonym because you think people won't take "male persona" poems from a woman, I get that, too. People could see your work as not authentic. There are certain individuals who believe women shouldn't write male ANYTHING.

      Keeping your name the same has its benefits, though. Getting your name out there is easier if you don't have to do it twice, once for each name. Some readers, though not too many, will follow you across genres/types. It shows off your versatility. Search results will yield more hits. And so on.

      Ultimately, you have to weigh the benefits and decide.

  2. I'm kind of on his side of this issue. It shouldn't matter what your name is but it does. I write fantasy and science fiction and there is a well-known industry and reader discrimination against women in those genre. Many women writers of those genre use their initials to hide their gender. You should write a post on what name might work for you, tongue in cheek.

    Susan Says

    1. A woman taking a man's name to get a fair shake is not the same as what he did. If there was rampant prejudice against white, straight, able-bodied men in poetry, I could see his side a bit. If he were a struggling poet grasping at any straw, I could empathize somewhat.

      There is much less choosing by affirmative action or diversity-seeking in poetry than the maintenance of the status quo. He didn't, and probably can't, say his numbers are consistently better as his pseudonym. A few times, sure, but mostly not. He plays both ends against the middle with little consequence.

  3. And all this time I thought it was my name behind all those rejection slips :) heck maybe it's the writing they don't really like..

    Seriously though, names do matter, they shouldn't, but they do. Though why a guy already published in reputed journals should want a pseudonym is a mystery to me...

    1. Because he wants to make certain to get EVERYTHING, and one way to do that is tempt the (relatively few) journals who try to seek more diverse poets into accepting him based on that.

      Have you ever thought about trying a white, male pseudonym?

  4. His plan worked, though. Besides getting the publication, he garnered a fair amount of social media buzz for his trickery. People who don't regularly read poetry were talking about it. Thought I doubt that any more people read the poem than would have otherwise.

    I have mixed feelings. Writers often use different pseudonyms to indicate different types of work, you know that whole idea of "branding." Like Stephen King was sometimes Richard Bachman. But, choosing an obviously ethnic name when you are not that ethnicity seems crass and reeks of cultural appropriation.

    It definitely doesn't make me want to rush out and find his work…under any name.

    1. It is cultural appropriation. He gets what few scraps of benefits (like a closer look at his poems by a few editors) with none of the disadvantages of actuality BEING that person.

      I would LOVE to have the publications under my belt that he does under his own name. He does just fine without his bait-and-switch. I guess another thing that makes me frustrated is how cavalier and arrogant he is over it.