Wisdom Anthology Meets the Asian Meter

It’s 7:15am in Cambridge, Massachusetts and I’m sitting in the Peet’s Coffee off Brattle Square waiting for some friends to roll out of bed and come grab some breakfast with me. In the meantime, I thought I’d throw up a post about a semi-recent collection of poetry by Wisdom Publications: The Wisdom Anthology of North American Buddhist Poetry (2005).

As you might guess, I decided to view this book through the lens of the Asian Meter. How many Asian American Buddhists met the bar for inclusion in this work? I wasn’t surprised to find out that the Wisdom Anthology, at 17% Asian American, fell right in the middle of the other publications that I’d reviewed (The Best Buddhist Writing, 19%; Buddhadharma, 17%; Shambhala Sun, 11%; Tricycle, 8%). But rather than harangue the Wisdom Anthology, as I’ve done for the other publications, I think this is something to be celebrated. Specifically because a quotient of 17% is infinitely more than a certain Buddhist anthology published by Shambhala many years back: Beneath a Single Moon.

Wisdom Anthology Demographic Breakdown

That publication featured no Asian American poets. Not a single one. When Walter Lew criticized the selection of writers and published a list of well-known Asian American Buddhist poets, one of the editors of Beneath a Single Moon replied to say that none of the authors that Lew mentioned were qualified “as I assume he would have mentioned specific names if there were any.” (Dang!)

Gender Ratio

So I was pleased to see that at least one of the poets that Lew listed, Lawson Fusao Inada, was included in the Wisdom Anthology. For those of you interested in a more inclusive demographic breakdown, I also included the percentages for white, black and Latino authors in the graphic above. One ratio that the Wisdom Anthology (perhaps) deserves credit for is the gender ratio. Although women still comprise a minority of the authors, at 13 women versus 16 men, the ratio isn’t as bad as I expected it to be. Maybe my expectations are too low. I’d love to know if 45% women poets is considered standard, sub-standard or better-than-usual in the poetry publishing community.

As for the Asian Meter, I could rant (again and again) about how unrepresentative the Wisdom Anthology is along with all the other big Buddhist publications. But I think I’ve started to lose hope that I’d find a high-profile American Buddhist publication where Asian Americans fill up more than 30% of the author list. Notwithstanding, the Asian Meter continues. It’s important to continue to highlight the disparity between the actual community demographics and the high profile publications that (I hope) strive to be inclusive publications. And over time, I’d like to track to see if the Asian quotient of these publications is going up or down.

By the way, if you donate $50 to Wisdom Publications, you can call yourself a “Friend of Wisdom” and you will get a complimentary gift of the Wisdom Anthology.