The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Garrett Kaoru Hongo’s “Yellow Light” is unrhymed free verse of five unequal stanzas, the longest one opening the poem and the shortest one closing it. The tone of the poem is conversational; its syntax, diction, rhythms, and lilt are those of contemporary conventional speech.

On its surface, “Yellow Light” is at once a poem about a community that is specifically identified and about an individual, who is not specifically identified. Its setting is inner-city Los Angeles, a “J-Town” barrio a few blocks from the intersection of Olympic Boulevard and Figueroa Street. This is a struggling, racially mixed, working-class neighborhood whose social and economic anxieties, it is evident, erupt regularly in domestic abuse and street brawls. The poem, both wistfully and indignantly, describes the tawdry setting in sensory detail. This is a busy, crowded, and volatile environment where Japanese, Koreans, Hawaiians, and Chicanos exist in close proximity and not always harmoniously.

The poem’s bare narrative focuses on a female adult’s homeward trek at the end of a tiring day’s work. The reader is given no personal information about the woman, but one determines in the course of the poem that she is either poor or frugal (perhaps both), that her job is probably office work or sales (she wears high heels), and that she lives on the second floor of an apartment building. It is dusk; she gets off the bus and walks uphill three blocks to her...

(The entire section is 471 words.)