Garrett Kaoru Hongo Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Garrett Kaoru Hongo (HOHN-goh) wrote Nisei Bar and Grill, a play that was written and performed in Seattle and San Francisco in 1976. Its revised version became a workshop production at the Kilauea Theater (1992). The play depicts interactions among veterans of World War II and the Korean conflict. Volcano: A Memoir of Hawai’i, his memoir of growing up on Hawaii, was published in 1995. Hongo also has written literary essays appearing in Agni Review, The New York Times Book Review, New England Review, Ohio Review, and elsewhere. He edited the landmark anthologies The Open Boat: Poems from Asian America (1993) and Under Western Eyes: Personal Essays from Asian America (1995).


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Garrett Kaoru Hongo’s poetry is notable for its immediacy of voice, clear evocation of place, and poignant negotiation of both ethnic and temporal boundaries. He typically employs memory to compile imagistic pastiches that re-create an emotional state. Many of his poems are quests—for a synthetic cultural identity, for a true personal history, for a unique and satisfactory voice. Traversing landscapes from the volcano of his birthplace to the volcanic experience of living in a mainland metropolis (primarily Los Angeles), Hongo explores the brutality of contemporary life as it assaults the tenderness of the spirit. Alienation, discrimination, cruelty, violence, loss, and isolation permeate the poems as insults to the soul.

Hongo has received high acclaim and support through several prizes and fellowships: the Thomas J. Watson Travelling Fellowship, 1973-1974; the Hopwood Poetry Prize, 1975; the Discovery/The Nation Award, 1981; National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, 1982 and 1988; Pushcart Prize selection, 1986; the Lamont Poetry Selection, 1987; and a Guggenheim Fellowship, 1990-1991. In 1989, The River of Heaven was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in poetry and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Filipelli, Laurie. Garrett Hongo. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University Press, 1997. A critical survey of Hongo’s work with bibliographic references.

Hongo, Garrett Kaoru. “Garrett Hongo.” Interview by Bill Moyers. In The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets, edited by Moyers. New York: Doubleday, 1995. Hongo examines his life, his work, and his influences.

_______. “A Vicious Kind of Tenderness: An Interview with Garrett Hongo.” Interview by Alice Evans. Poets and Writers Magazine 20, no. 5 (September/October, 1992): 37-46. Hongo says his writing stems from his need to be part of a “corrective process in American history.” Useful comments on craft, family, and Asian-Pacific culture.

Jarman, Mark. “The Volcano Inside.” Southern Review 32, no. 2 (Spring, 1996): 337-343. Examines the role that Hongo’s birthplace, Volcano, and the actual volcano have in his life and works.

Santiago Vural, Soledad. “Garrett Hongo: Whispered Memories of Diaspora.” Santa Fe New Mexican, March 25, 2005, p. PA34. The author discusses Hongo’s view of the Japanese American experiences of immigration and assimilation in conjunction with the poet’s reading selections from his unpublished collection, The North Shore.

Slowik, Mary. “Beyond Lot’s Wife: The Immigration Poems of Marilynn Chin, Garrett Hongo, Li-Young Lee, and David Mura.” MELUS 25, no. 3 (2000): 221-242. Hongo is discussed as one of several Asian American poets looking back through the immigrant experience to their ethnic roots.