| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
Garrett Kaoru Hongo
Garrett Kaoru Hongo is a prolific and accomplished
Asian American poet. His poetry is characterized by striking images and
unexpected, luminous lines. He has a special talent for close observation, an
eye for the telling detail, and an ability to make the mundane beautiful, as in
the vivid food images of “Who Among You Knows the Essence of Garlic?” In
dramatic monologues, such as “The Unreal Dwelling: My Years in Volcano,” he
gives voice to figures from his familial past or from a communal past. Of his
writing, Hongo has written, “My project as a poet has been motivated by a
search for origins of various kinds—quests for ethnic and familial roots,
cultural identities, and poetic inspiration....I find the landscapes, folkways,
and societies of Japan, Hawaii, and even Southern California to continually
charm and compel me to write about them and inform myself of their
in Volcano, Hawaii, Hongo moved as a child to Laie, to Kahuku, and then to
California—the San Fernando Valley—where he and his brother were the only
Japanese in the public school. His family finally settled in Gardena, a
Japanese American community in South Los Angeles adjoining the black community
of Watts and the white community of Torrance. Hongo graduated from Pomona
College, then traveled in Japan on a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. He returned
for graduate work at the University of Michigan, where he won the Hopwood
poetry prize and studied with poet-professors Bert Meyers, Donald Hall, and
Philip Levine. Later, he earned an M.F.A. from the University of California at
Irvine. He taught at various universities, including the University of
Missouri, where he was poetry editor of the Missouri Review. He is presently
professor of English and creative writing at the University of Oregon.
has produced three volumes of poetry. The first, a joint publication with
fellow poets Lawson Fusao Inada and Alan Chong Lau called The Buddha Bandits
down Highway 99 (1978), is a tripartite work of youthful exuberance. Hongo’s
contribution to that first volume, “Cruising 99,” is included in his second
book, Yellow Light (1982), from which most of the poems in the anthology were
taken. Yellow Light won the Wesleyan Poetry Prize. The River of Heaven (1988),
his third book of poetry, was awarded the Lamont Poetry Selection for 1987 by
the Academy of American Poets and two years later was a finalist for the
Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. “The Unreal Dwelling: My Years in Volcano” comes from
this collection. In 1995, Hongo published Volcano, a poetic memoir exploring in
greater depth some of the themes he had introduced in his poetry: his
continuing search for family history and his rediscovery of the land of his
has also contributed to the Asian American literary/historical/critical opus by
compiling and editing three significant anthologies. The Open Boat (1993)
showcases the poetry of thirty-one Asian American poets; Songs My Mother Taught
Me (1994) collects stories, plays, and memoirs of Wakako Yamauchi; Under Western
Eyes (1995) assembles personal narratives by Asian American writers. Hongo’s
description of the Asian American poets he has gathered together in The Open
Boat applies equally to his own poetry: “We come to consciousness aware of the
history of immigration and the Asian diaspora, singing from the fissures and
fragmentations of culture in order to bring about their momentary unity in the
kind of evanescent beauty that the figure of a poem makes.”
University of Wisconsin at Madison
University of California, Los Angeles
In the Heath Anthology
And Your Soul Shall Dance
Off from Swing Shift
Who Among You Knows the Essence of Garlic?
The Unreal Dwelling: My Years in Volcano
The Buddha Bandits down Highway 99 (with Alan Chong Lau and Lawson Fusao Inada)
The River of Heaven
The Open Boat: Poems from Asian America, ed.
Wakako Yamauchi: Songs My Mother Taught Me
Under Western Eyes, ed.
Volcano: A Memoir of Hawaii
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Hongo makes switch from poetry to prose for `Volcano'
An article for the UC Davis newspaper by Elisabeth Sherwin.
Modern American Poetry
Provides criticism and interview excerpts.
In a radio interview, Hongo reads Mendocino Rose, and Volcano House.
The Academy of American Poets
Offers a biography, three texts, and links.