Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Poetry in the Classroom - Between Cultures: Part 1

I was looking over the posts I've written so far this month and suddenly realized that while there has been a great diversity of subject matter represented (I think), there has been little representation of other peoples and cultures. So, it's high time I remedy that. Today I share two books that present life between cultures.

A Suitcase of Seaweed and Other Poems, written and "decorated" by Janet Wong, is a collection of 36 poems that celebrates all aspects of her heritage. Divided into three sections, Korean poems, Chinese poems and American poems, the poems are preceded by an introduction that describes the author's experiences with this part of her culture. For example, the Korean poems section begins, "My mother is Korean." The Chinese section begins, "My father is Chinese." If that isn't enough to place the author squarely between cultures, she tells us in the American poems section that she is American, having been born in Los Angeles. The introductions are themselves poetic, and only hint at the beauty of the poems to come. Many of the poems revolve around family and food. Here is one of my favorites.
Albert J. Bell
Forty years of friendship
with my grandfather,
and still Uncle Al cannot eat
with chopsticks.

Forty years of friendship
with Uncle Al,
and still my grandfather forgets
to offer him a fork.
To explore more poetry in this book you can read the story behind the poem GongGong and Susie and hear Janet Wong read it at her web site.

Many of the poems in this collection compare the "old ways" to the "new ways." This is a lovely book that will help readers get a sense of what it might be like to be a bit Korean, Chinese and American all in one. Those who read the book from start to finish will also get the message that comes through loudest of all--just how much pride the author feels in all these parts of her heritage.

My Chinatown: One Year of Poems
, by Kam Mak, is a lushly illustrated book that follows a young boy as he adjusts to his new life in the Chinatown of his new American city. The pictures are so beautiful and finely detailed that in some instances readers may be fooled into thinking they are looking at a photograph. The heart ache and longing for home the boy endures can be felt in every poem. These poems are also filled with stories of family and food. Here is the poem that begins the fall section of the book.
In the fish tank,
the carp are crowded
nose to tail, scale to scale.
In plastic tubs on the sidewalk,
eels slither, frogs scramble.

My mother points out the fish she wants.
He waves his tail gently
and looks straight at me.

That night I say I'm sick
so I won't have to eat him.
This book begins in winter with a poem that starts, "Back home in Hong Kong,/it's New Year." It ends with winter again, and a New Year's Day poem that begins this way.
New Year's Day!
Noodles for breakfast,
sweet rice cakes.
A red envelope stuffed with money
in my pocket.
And lions in the street outside.
After struggling to adjust, this last poem is happy and triumphant.

Both of these books will give readers a glimpse of life in Asian communities that moves well beyond stereotypes.

If you are interested in more information about this topic, check out some of these resources.

No comments:

Post a Comment