Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Hongo’s earliest volume of collected poems, Yellow Light was extremely well received. The collection earned Hongo the Discovery/The Nation award and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1982. The title poem, “Yellow Light,” as the lead poem in the collection, is indicative of the quality and concerns of the remaining twenty poems in its precision, its detail, its emphasis on ethnicity and assimilation, on tensions that humanity wreaks versus the peace and harmony that nature can bestow.

In addition to ethnic disharmony, a rift in economic classes is implied in the poem, subtly but importantly. Although there are hints that the woman and her community are not well-off financially, their poverty does not really come into play until the middle of the poem, when the barrio is contrasted with the parts of the city that are some distance away, geographically and economically. The woman’s community houses used car lots and side streets from which greasy yellow kitchen lights emanate. Other, “better” parts of Los Angeles, “whole freeways away,” have movie houses from which “long silver sticks of light probe the sky.” The “fluorescence” of these wealthier sections of the city is “brilliant” in contrast to weaker lights in the woman’s neighborhood. In fact, the glamour of the wealth there “makes war” with the dim kitchen bulbs in the barrio. There is no indication that the population in the moneyed...

(The entire section is 517 words.)