At thirteen pages and with nine sections, “Cruising 99” is the longest poem in Hongo’s collection Yellow Light. It is also the poem that uses the most variety of line length, meter, stanza, and mood. Though there is a narrative thread to the poem, it is a thin one, broken up with both jazz lyrics and meditative monologue. The many voices Hongo uses in the poem caused one critic to call him “the Rich Little of Asian American writing.” His facility is evident, as he stretches readers’ minds and limbers his own creative sinews by experimenting with forms and focus. His indebtedness to Beat generation writers such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg is evident, as is his love of music. Hongo dedicated the volume to his wife, violinist and musicologist Cynthia Thiessen.
Highway 99 is an old route that connects the inland cities of the West Coast from Mexico to Canada. Hongo’s “cruise” along it took him and two friends around Southern California, an area they knew well. In describing rich landscapes of walnut groves, arroyos, and manzanita, Hongo is also obsessively searching for some compelling truths about his own origins and identity as the car heads for a town called Paradise. He has remarked that such preoccupations are “more than a nostalgia or even a semi-learned atavism, though these things certainly play their parts. It is rather a way to isolate, and to uphold, cultural and moral value in a confusing time and...
(The entire section is 458 words.)