US & Canada

Calvin Trillin: US poet defends Chinese food poem

Chinese street food stalls in Beijing
Image caption Trillin said his controversial poem was intended to mock foodies

US poet Calvin Trillin has said he has been misinterpreted after being accused of racism over a poem on Chinese food.

The work - Have They Run Out of Provinces Yet? - was published in the latest edition of the New Yorker.

In it he name-checks a number of branches of regional Chinese cookery. Critics attacked the poem as unfunny and prejudiced.

But Trillin told the Guardian it "was simply a way of making fun of food-obsessed bourgeoisie".

A food writer as well as regular contributor to the New Yorker, he added: "Some years ago, a similar poem could have been written about food snobs who looked down on red-sauce Italian cooking because they had discovered the cuisine of Tuscany."

His latest work begins: "Have they run out of provinces yet? If they haven't, we've reason to fret."

It continues with a culinary tour around China. "But then food from Szechuan came our way / Making Cantonese strictly passe," he writes, later forming rhymes around "Szechuanese", "Shanghainese" "Hunan" and "Fukien".

"Could a place we extolled as a find," he asks, "Be revealed as one province behind?"

Trillin and the New Yorker have come under fire from writers and critics.

Image copyright Twitter
Image copyright Twitter
Image copyright Twitter

Poet and performer Franny Choi responded with her own poem, Have They Run Out of White Poets Yet? which mirrors the structure of Trillin's work.

In it she describes Trillin as "a sad send-up of Dr Seuss decked in his finest anti-Asian regalia".

Others though were baffled by the response and agreed with Trillan's defence.

Image copyright Twitter

And Chinese-American writer Kaiser Kuo wrote he "honestly can't fathom why some Chinese-Americans take such affront at Calvin Trillin's Chinese food poem".