Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

by Mitsuye Yamada
Dear Editor,

It is amazing to me how quickly two white males—Michael Wiegers, editor of Copper Canyon Press, and John Balaban, translator of Ho Xuan Huong’s Spring Essence [Copper Canyon Press, 2000]—have scurried to the defense of a third white male, Joseph Bednarik, who is the marketing and sales director of the same press. They apparently felt that their hapless colleague was being unfairly maligned by just one Asian American woman poet, Marilyn Chin, who was simply responding to an insult hurled at her person.

None of these men is an expert in Nôm scholarship or in Classical Chinese. They have had to refer to outside sources and base their arguments on comparison translations. They acknowledge that spoken Vietnamese is written in Classical Chinese ideographs but are unschooled in either language. They seem not to be aware that the Chinese ideographs are not only the phonetic transcriptions of the spoken Vietnamese but also hints at the meanings. How then are they qualified to question Chin’s qualifications as a translator?

Their motives are suspect and reek of marketing aggression. I bet they’re afraid Chin just might come out with a book that is better than theirs.

Irvine, California

Originally Published: October 23, 2008

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This prose originally appeared in the September 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

September 2008


Born in Fukuoka, Japan, Mitsuye Yamada moved to Seattle, Washington, in 1926 with her family. Her father was an interpreter for the US Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the family was taken to an internment camp in 1942 when her father was wrongfully accused of spying. Yamada and her brother were allowed to leave the camp, Minidoka Relocation Center in Idaho, when they renounced their allegiance to Japan. Yamada . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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