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.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The central symbol in Inada’s poem is that of a profoundly important journey. This is a significant symbol for a Japanese American writer such as Inada to use. A journey can be undertaken in hope, in the belief that the place of arrival holds the promise of a better life than the life one leaves behind. This was the dream that many Asian immigrants held as they boarded boats bound to America, the Gold Mountain. Though Inada and his parents were born in California—he is thus not a first-generation immigrant but a Sansei, or third-generation resident—some of his writing concerns the history of Japanese people in general and of his grandparents in particular, people who crossed the Pacific Ocean in search of a new life in America. The “greater world” that the narrator perceives and the “ ‘Clackamas, Siskiyou’” that the pine trees utter resonate with the hope and beauty at the end of such a journey, specifically the beauty and peace that Inada found in the landscape of Oregon, where he has made his home since the mid-1960’s.

Inada’s journey motif is also significant in the sense that some journeys are not willingly undertaken but imposed, and these can be difficult and even harsh. Inada’s family undertook this type of relocation three times during the World War II internment of the Japanese living in the United States. “Each camp was different, and the same,” Inada says of the three camps in which his family was detained: Fresno...

(The entire section is 461 words.)