“The Owner of One Pock-Marked Tongue”
John Yau and the Logic of Ethnic Abstraction
Among contemporary poets of Chinese descent in the United States, John Yau stands out as at once the most formally distinctive and the most conspicuously ignored by the dominant American literary establishment. He has been the one most thoroughly and successfully to abandon the notion of a broadly coherent subjectivity giving affective voice to individual experience as the authorizing conceptual premise for “ethnic” poetic enunciation. In doing so he maps a novel economy of transpacific signification for Asian American poetry. Through its manifold departures from what remain the hegemonic signifying protocols for American “ethnic” verse expression today, his work powerfully illustrates both the logic and the broader cultural stakes of the third and most recently emergent mode comprising the tradition of poetry by writers of Asian descent in the United States, namely, “ethnic abstraction.” Yau thereby helps to usher in a new stage in the historical development of Chinese/American verse in particular by defying the pressures of the reigning liberal multiculturalist order and pursuing instead the articulation of an idiom that flatly rejects any simple legibility based upon assimilationist formal gestures and the presumption to linguistic transparency.
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