cover image The Open Boat

The Open Boat

Garrett K. Hongo. Anchor Books, $12.95 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-385-42338-0

While Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston (whose mediocre poems are included here) have garnered attention for fiction, Asian-American poetry seems to have been neglected in the wider multicultural renaissance. It's a small wonder, when the most recognizable poets--Ai, John Yau, Jessica Hagedorn--write poems in which ethnicity plays a minor role. Even Lawson Fusao Inada (who has drawn imagery from the Japanese detention camps) is represented by two poems about jazz. The best insights into the Asian-American experience come from lesser-known writers: in a stunning image, Amy Uyematsu compares a small woman with a ``shopping cart of used cans and rags'' to ``the Vietnamese grandmothers / I've seen so often in photographs''; Li-Young Lee writes a masterful meditation on the ducks hanging in the Chinese butcher shop's window; Russell Leong's series of ``Aerogrammes'' from relatives back in China captures the relationship between old world and new with sensitivity and humor. Even writers who yearn for customs they never inherited display surprisingly little anger or bitterness, quite possibly a factor in the relative obscurity of their work. Hongo ( Yellow Light ) provides a welcome introduction. (Feb.)