There’s an awkward paradox lurking in the bland title of The Best American Poetry 2015. On the one hand, the anthology claims to offer something summative, something definitive, something intentionally exclusive: The Best American Poetry. The best! Here are the poems, the volume promises, that are the most worthy and/or the most accomplished and/or the most moving and/or the most formally interesting and/or the most conceptually innovative of all of the poems that were published in a formal or semi-formal capacity in its stated calendar year! As the volume’s marketing literature assures its potential readers, “The Best American Poetry 2015 is a guide to who’s who and what’s happening in American poetry today.”
But then there’s the book’s qualified byline: “Edited by.” Which is followed, in this year’s edition, by the name of the poet and novelist Sherman Alexie, who did the work, this year, of deciding 1) how to define “best” and 2) which poems made that cut. Which in turns suggests that a more fitting title for this book of Bests might have been The Best American Poetry of 2015 According to This One Poet.
The subjectivity/objectivity awkwardness—which is of course baked in to the production process not just of BAP, but of The Best American Essays and The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Magazine Writing and every other anthology that taps a guest editor in the service of curating a canon—took center stage this weekend: It came to light that one of the 75 poems included in BAP’s 2015 collection was written by a poet who submitted his work under the pseudonym Yi-Fen Chou. The given name of the poet in question is in fact Michael Derrick Hudson. And he is very much not, as his pseudonym would suggest, Chinese American. Nor is he Asian American. He is white. He lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he currently works, he says, at the Genealogy Center of the Allen County Public Library.