“Morro Rock” is a long poem in free verse, its eleven stanzas varying in length from three to twenty-eight lines. The rock of the title is a landmark offshore in Morro Bay, California; it serves as a focus for memory and meditation as the narrative moves from various descriptions of the rock to events and images suggested by its form, location, and environs. Ultimately, the rock becomes a symbol for the play and importance of the imagination and for the uncertainty of reality.
Although Garrett Kaoru Hongo’s poem is autobiographical, it ultimately moves beyond the personal voice to make a statement about perception and about the act of writing poetry. In this sense, it can be termed metapoetic.
The poem begins in mid-line with a dash, as if the first description offered of the rock is simply another in a series of possibilities. In the fog, the rock resembles a fedora; in the sun, it invokes the choppy yet unified movement of a modern sculpture. No matter how it is described, the rock is perceived as an intrusion, something out of place and unnatural as it violates the smoothness of the ocean surface and the regularity of the surf. The second stanza is interpretive. The narrator indicates the importance of the perceiver in giving Morro Rock its identity. He imagines its omnipresence in various situations, such as a tuna run, the franticness and carnage of which reminds him of the war. In stanza 3, a day at the beach with one’s father encompasses an attempt to capture the perfect photograph, to render the rock as an artistic artifact. Finally, in stanza 4, the rock plays a part in a love story gone awry.
The last line of stanza 4 offers an important comment on the role of the rock. When the lovers feel the emptiness of the death of their affair, “The Rock filled the space behind us.” Morro Rock is simultaneously an absence and a plenitude, or a fullness of presence. It offers a hinge for the attachment of meaning, a mass that can occupy the blank spaces of knowing and reading reality in one’s life.
In stanza 5, the “true” affair of the author’s teens becomes mythicized, material at once for sordid retellings at youthful gatherings and archetypal accounts among...
(The entire section is 910 words.)