The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Cathy Song’s “Stamp Collecting” is a lyric of three unequal stanzas. Its easy flowing and conversationally cadenced verse lines muse in a whimsical and wittily urbane tone of voice on postage stamps and what stamps can reveal about the countries that issue them. Ostensibly about the hobby of stamp collecting, the poem is also about geopolitics.

The opening stanza of the poem begins with the commonplace observation that many of the least wealthy nations issue the most eye-catching of postage stamps. These countries tend to produce commodities of trifling value for the world market, such as bananas, T-shirts, coconuts—and pretty postage stamps. The speaker of the poem takes as an example the island nation of Tonga, tucked in the South Pacific between New Zealand and Fiji. Tourists to Tonga may well expect to view dramatic natural beauty such as waterfalls or exotic birds, but the particular mystery they are guided to is merely oversize bats hanging upside down from fruit trees. The stamps of Tonga depict fruits—bananas pictured to look as exotic as seashells, pineapples dramatized to resemble erupting volcanoes, papayas colored to look like goat skulls.

The second stanza continues in a similar vein. Developing nations, which often have only lesser products to sell to the world, produce postage stamps that strain to be impressive. The stamps illustrate their nations’ faith in postcard-like snapshots of their efforts at progress and...

(The entire section is 401 words.)