Themes and Meanings

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The themes most frequently associated with Song’s poetry have been those related to women’s concerns ( mother-daughter relationships, pregnancy and childbirth, family dynamics), or to art and aesthetics (Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings, Utamaro Kitigawa’s woodblock prints), or to ethnicity (the travails of immigration, the stereotypes of Chinatown ghettos). “Stamp Collecting” is a departure; in this poem, Song makes a foray into the arena of world politics and expresses a view on the geopolitical forces prevalent during the 1970’s and 1980’s.

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The comparisons and contrasts upon which “Stamp Collecting” is constructed derive from a certain view of the comparative economic status of the world’s nations. Song’s poem employs a north-south view of the world in which the developed nations of the First World and the Soviet bloc are of the north while the poorer, developing nations of the Third World are of the south. Song’s poem points out the inequities of such a dichotomy. Song forthrightly names Japan as an example of a nation of the north, while she is more circumspect in identifying others, merely mentioning the presence on their stamps of queens (such as Great Britain’s or Holland’s) or factories (such as the Soviet Union’s or Poland’s). Similarly, Tonga is overtly named in the poem as a nation of the south, while the Spanish phrase “Facultad de Medicina” serves to conjure up images of any Latin American banana republic of the south.

The speaker of the poem observes that the nations of the south produce commodities of low valuation in the world marketplace, exemplified by cash crops such as pineapples and coconuts or sweatshop products such as T-shirts. The nations of the north, however, produce goods of high valuation in the world marketplace, such as trams and airplanes. This juxtaposition of products leads the reader to speculate on the justness of the valuation of these commodities. After all, are not food and clothing (coconuts and T-shirts) more basic and essential to sustaining life than speed and flight (trams and planes)? If so, there seems to be a distortion (possibly a perversion) of values when the world marketplace puts a lower value on that...

(The entire section contains 550 words.)

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