The New Yorker’s April 4th issue included a poem by Calvin Trillin entitled “Have They Run Out of Provinces Yet?” The poem, which addressed the many varieties of Chinese food being popularized in America, struck many as having an uncomfortably Orientalist flavor (sorry). The Forward decided to respond, in verse.
Oh Trillin, our food-focused, sharply-phrased poet,
You’ve bungled, you’ve mis-hit, we’re sure that you know it
In this recent New Yorker, your verses rang tinny
When on Chinese cuisine you tried to give us the skinny.
See Trillin, we all like to laugh at food culture too
At cronuts, at raw foods, at fusion fondue,
Your intentions, we get it, were frivolous, glib,
In this poem’s exploration of the stains on your bib.
“Have They Run Out of Provinces Yet?” you inquired,
But your verse was, alas, far more white than required.
Your depiction of China made it seem like a place
The sole purpose of which is to intrigue New York plates.
Every province you named has a history, culture,
Too often laid claim to by our bright city’s vultures.
Perhaps the true subject you wished to lampoon
Rather than that far country, is those who jump to the tune
Of our culture, which displays a regrettable trend
For treating others like trophies, serving only our ends.
If so, that’s a respectable task you’ve adopted,
If only your purpose hadn’t been so co-opted
By the temptation to slip into that Orientalist cast.
Edward Said would have been completely aghast.
For now, let us say that you’ve missed the mark here
Next time make fun of something a little more near
To your own home. For example, food trucks are due
To be barraged by the wit that our food poet spews
Give it some thought. And to the New Yorker, please
Ask your authors for a little more taste on Chinese.
Talya Zax is the Forward’s culture intern. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @TalyaZax