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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Aaron Baker: Mission Work

BJR on this book:

This narrative is a part of the family of the imperialist writings of Theodore Roosevelt, and Frederick Jackson Turner, and the formation of the American Man through the taming and civilizing of the Wild and Dark (pigmented skin, unenlightened), childlike superstitious Other.

What is obviously troubling to me is this I white center versus black brown other existing marginally and only in relation to that I white center pervasive cosmology’s refusal to die out and become irrelevant, or pointedly criticized by American literary institutions.

Paolo Javier on book and poet:

"I think a greater part of my shock about Mission Work comes from my knowledge of its author’s prior/continued engagement with a somewhat visible group of Asian American poets in NYC. In addition to the above final questions posed by Barbara Jane, Id like to submit the following: how do you reconcile the Aaron Baker known in the past to be a generous, if not generative, presence for/amongst said group of Asian American poets, with the colonialist & primitivist author of the newly-released Mission Work?"

CSP on a poem from book:

"...weddings, in any culture, are major life events. but look at how baker characterizes the chimbu wedding: he only focuses on the 'primitive' killing of pigs (newsflash to mr baker, you gotta kill the pigs to eat the pigs, nothing real exotic 'bout it.). this primitizing caricature of an indigenous wedding is insulting. the rest of the poem reiterates the paternalistic tone as baker directs his white readers to see / learn from the lessons he learned as a missionary son. apparently, baker has access to a special indigenous knowledge that he wants to share with 'you'."


Anonymous said...

Can you post BJR's disclaimer that she hasn't read the book? This was all very intriguing until I read that on her blog. It's always disappointing to see judgments like this when the work itself is not even read. She can check it out from a library, right?

Barbara Jane Reyes said...

thanks for posting this, and i partially agree with anonymous' comment. it's my own bad for even addressing the existence of the book at all. but my entire post is not only that i haven't read the book but that giving it my time and energy is giving it importance. that is precisely what i don't want to do. ignoring its existence won't make it go away.

i did look for it at the bookstore last night. i figure i could get a free read of it there.

and finally, there are so many other "issues" that are worth my energy, and so much more poetry that is worth my attention in terms of calling the attention of others to it. that is what i much prefer to do. koxwf

Anonymous said...

Yes, what is up with that?? BJR is a judgmental non-intelligent person for even making such a statement without reading the book. It's this kind of behavior that I find utterly unacceptable and immature. It's rude, damaging, and obnoxious. Turn the tables, BJR, what if that happened to YOU, and this person online started criticizing your work without ever having read it? Let's be professional and mature here instead of immature and rude. Basically, poets like BJR, grow up.

Anonymous said...

"partially agree?" Who would only partially agree with the fact that you are slandering this poet and his work without even having read it? Wow, now I've seen it all.

Rich said...

What's up with anonymous poet bashings on someone else's blog? Basically, poets like [PFFFT! WE DON'T DESERVE TO KNOW YOUR NAME!], grow up.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, more pig-killing is what contemporary American poetry needs. It tastes good, and it's good for you.

Maybe if, every few lines, he inserted, "By the way, the natives are people, too, with real, complex emotions," then you'd like it.

Reactionary, boring identity politics. Congratulations, Gunga Din.

Rich said...

What is this, a new scene from Eyes Wide Shut? Comments left and right, but no one claims them. Nice.

"What's the password?"


"No. We want the house password."



Eduardo, it's YOU behind the anonymous comments, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Why do you care so much if comments are anonymous? Would it change your reaction to them or your response? Who cares who wrote them? Even if I know your name, I still don't know who you are and I still don't care who made the comments. It's the substance of the comments, not the person behind them. Your obsession with anonymity is focused on the wrong issue.

Eduardo C. Corral said...

Rich, I do hope you're kidding.

Rich said...

Yes, Eduardo, very much kidding. I just don't subscribe the school of thought that says anonymity doesn't matter, but perhaps the levity was unnecessary. My professor is a New Critic, and she's nice enough, so maybe anonymity has its merits...

In any case.

To "the ether": BJR is neither non-intelligent nor judgmental. One may argue that you have engaged in a bit of slander yourself. It's not too late for you to comment over on her blog, where she makes rather extensive comments about her own opinion, which is hers to hold and no one else's.

I'm willing to concede that the poems may actually be cute, perhaps brilliant, on some level. As historical documents (which poems can and have been read as), they may suffer from some of that troublesome outsider's perspective. And that's a perfectly valid reading too.

Since clearly you've read the book, perhaps you can shed some light on it for us. I'll be picking it up tomorrow myself.

As for me, I am obsessed with two things: the poem I'm working on, and good pizza. I also agree with "you" (which "you" is it, A. Nonymous?) about the pork. Pork is definitely good. I'm not always a fan of identity politics, but when I do engage, it's never boring or reactionary.

It is funny, Mr./Ms. Nonymous, how NOT engaging with identity...somehow engages with it anyway. ¿Que no?

Anonymous said...

what troubles me almost as much as the condemnation of baker's work without having read it is the assumption that there are somehow "better things to do" than actually *read* things before forming opinions about them. many of these posts remind me of the occasional student i have who comes to class with insights into the nature of Hamelt's dilemma without ever cracking the book, and personally i dismiss them in kind. but i wish we wouldn't be so cavalier (or perpetutate the work of those who are) with judgments about such a clearly promising poet.

Anonymous said...


"... how do you reconcile the Aaron Baker known in the past to be a generous, if not generative, presence for/amongst said group of Asian American poets, with the colonialist & primitivist author of the newly-released MISSION WORK?"

Easy. The subject material of the book is seen through the lens of a young boy... who probably has no idea what terms like "colonialist" and "primitivist" mean. The whole point of the book, as I read it, is to see how the adult Aaron Baker can mitigate that childhood experience with the man he becomes later on... a politically-sensitive, creative poet. Does he fetishize the culture about which he writes? Yes. But you have to keep in mind that that world he is describing is seen through the eyes of a child. The man has a write to write about his own childhood... especially since, as a boy, he can hardly be blamed as a complicit participant. If anything, the book critiques colonialism and the motivations of his missionary parents. Any careful reader of this book should be able to understand this. To compare Baker to Kipling is ridiculously unfair.