The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Kicking the Habit” is a poem of slightly fewer than one hundred lines written in free verse. Most of the lines are relatively short, averaging three to five words. The stanzas are irregular and break every few lines where the voice would normally pause or reach a full stop. Lawson Fusao Inada also indents several sections to indicate vocal emphasis in this poem, which, given its conversational language, was obviously intended to be read aloud. It is also obvious that the poem is meant to be read aloud specifically by the poet himself, who uses the first-person “I” to tell of his experience and frustration with the English language.

The title of the poem suggests a resolution that a person makes to get rid of some annoying, obsessive, or destructive behavior. The phrase is commonly used in connection with smoking cigarettes or consuming alcohol, the goal being to “kick” or overcome a bad habit. Surprisingly, Inada applies the phrase to his habit of speaking English, which readers are to assume has become a bad habit for him: “I was exhausted,/ burned out,/ by the habit./ And I decided to/ kick the habit,/ cold turkey.” One of the methods of any poet is to use surprising, even arresting verbal juxtapositions to shape new and memorable images in proving his point, and Inada does that here. He upsets his readers’ expectations because he is upset.

From the beginning, Inada brings his readers into the immediacy and frustration...

(The entire section is 508 words.)