Asian American Poetry Additional Summary

Korean American poetry

Korean American poetry is a very young literature, coming to the fore mainly in the second half of the twentieth century. In the 1970’s, when memories of the Korean War were still fresh and were in fact heightened by the ongoing Vietnam War, there emerged a distinct voice centering on the historical and psychological issue of Koreans as a “lost” people whose destiny has been unfulfilled. This voice was often a questioning one, singing of the inexplicable predicament of a strong-spirited but disempowered people under oppression or in exile. In Gail Whang Desmond’s “Korean Declaration of Independence” (appended to her “Memories of My Grandfather: Rev. Whang Sa Sun”), she describes her attempt to understand her grandfather:

Korean Declaration of Independenceyellow from agebrittle from usage. . . . . . .How many times has he read it?Why does he read it?. . . . . . .Who are Koreans?

She explains how her grandfather arrived in the United States in 1913, full of dreams for a “good life,” for an “education,” but he has endured “nothing but pain, struggle.” She wonders about the tiny lapel pin of a flying goose that he never takes off: “Why?” Her poem is plaintive: “It’s the end of our first generation./ Will anyone ever understand?”

The questioning voice at times becomes an indictment, as in Kim Tong Il’s poems, which sing of dreams about an independent, unified “Morning Calm” (literal translation of Korea) turned into nightmares of “the land of oppressed calm”:

Tell me the silent hills,Isn’t it time...

(The entire section is 799 words.)

Filipino American poetry

Filipino American literature is a direct offshoot of a continuous modern Filipino literature, which features a number of mature writers already versatile in Spanish and English and familiar with the Western tradition. José García Villa (1914-1997), who came to the United States in 1930, was a prolific poet. Steeped in the Western tradition and making little reference to his ethnic background, his poetry won the acclaim of American and European critics. He was a favorite of Edith Sitwell and other British critics, who found his poetry dealing with the mysterious beauty of God to be Blakean (“Be Beautiful, Noble, Like the Antique Ant”; “Imagine God a Peacock”). In contrast to Villa, Carlos Bulosan, arriving in America in...

(The entire section is 829 words.)

Southeast Asian American poetry

In the 1990’s and at the beginning of the twenty-first century, what many Asian American poets of various ethnic backgrounds shared was an ability to blend their work and their ethnicities with other groups and methods of communication, capitalizing on the interest in multiculturalism in the United States. Such a tendency is evident among many young poets of the turn of the century, including Chinese Americans Lim and Sia, and Filipino American Gonzaga.

Le Thi Diem Thuy (born 1972), a Vietnamese American, shares this interest in blending her work with other forms of presentation. She grew up in South Vietnam during fierce fighting. She left the country in 1979 and settled in the United States. As a performance artist,...

(The entire section is 585 words.)

Bibliography

Carbo, Nick, ed. Returning a Borrowed Tongue: Poems by Filipino and Filipino American Writers. Minneapolis, Minn.: Coffeehouse Press, 1995. Contains translations of established writers such as Gemino Abad, Eugene Gloria, Catalina Cariaga, and Jessica Hagedorn. Newer poets such as Jaime Jacinto are also represented.

Chang, Juliana, ed. Quiet Fire: Asian American Poetry. New York: Asian American Writers’ Workshop, 1996. This first book published by the workshop has become a landmark because it is the first historical survey of Asian American poetry. It contains early works of Joy Kogawa, Jessica Hagedorn, Lawson Fusao Inada, and...

(The entire section is 815 words.)