Poetry & Race Roundtable        (page 30)

Timothy Yu (continued): As the project has gone on I’ve expanded beyond Collins to take on other images of the Asian in literary and popular culture, as in this poem I wrote after Wendi Deng, the wife of media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, became a media sensation for leaping to her husband’s defense when he was attacked by a pie-wielding protester:

         tiger tiger tiger wife
         wonder woman volleyball spike
         if you have an Asian wife
         maybe she’s not just a gold-digger?
         tiger wife or trophy wife?
         slam-down sister or socialite?
         bright pink jacket and pencil skirt
         not like gold-digger who wants old man hurt
         Wendi Deng is a Power Ranger
         with Crazy Asian Magic Powers
         was in Red Army? trained to kill?
         agile PYT hit like a girl
         Crouching tiger? flying Murdoch?
         tiger wife clawed her way up
         Chinese bloggers catch Deng fever
         Wendy Daaaang her homegirls call her
         thank you for everything #mrmiyagi
         business school graduate? yoga devotee?
         from communist obscurity
          “herro you rike pilate DVD?”
         tiger tiger tiger wife
         wonder woman volleyball spike
         if you have an Asian wife
         what if she’s not just a gold-digger?

I composed the poem out of fragments of the explosion of media discourse about Deng in the day or two after the incident, and at times when I read it to myself I was a little uncomfortable: was I simply reproducing the stereotypes of “tiger woman,” “crouching tiger,” and Asian “gold digger” generated by others? Was I assuming that I’d be protected from charges of racism simply because of my last name? Had I succeeded in turning that discourse against itself, or had I simply shown how closed it was?

I’d like to think that the questions that make up the poem open up rather than close down discourse. But the larger point is the risk of implicating oneself in racial discourse—a necessary risk but one that carries with it the risk of misunderstanding, failure, offense. Hoagland pretends to take that risk but ultimately stands on self-satisfied ground. Magee’s poem did take that risk, and failed for many readers. My poems may well fail, or be taken up by readers in ways that I would find appalling. But these are the kinds of risks poets of all races do need to take—not the false risks of the provocative statement that reinforces one’s own position, but the risks that come with questioning and eroding the very ground on which we stand.

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