Introduction & Overview of The Legend by Garrett Hongo

Garrett Hongo
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The Legend Summary & Study Guide Description

The Legend Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

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“The Legend” is the concluding poem in Garrett Hongo's award-winning book of poetry The River of Heaven, published in 1988. In an interview with Bill Moyers in The Language of Life, Hongo recalled that the poem was written during an unhappy period in his life, when he was struggling to find direction in his work as a graduate student in literature. On a trip to Chicago, Hongo found himself alone in a hotel room watching a television program on random street violence, which included a segment on an Asian man who was accidentally shot on the street. According to Hongo, the program treated the man as virtually anonymous, vaguely identifying him as Asian. Hongo claimed that the next morning, when he sat down to write, the poem “The Legend” came flowing out of him spontaneously. In addition to portraying images of incidental street violence, the poem contains a reference to an old Asian legend that Hongo had been told as a child. Hongo regards the writing of the poem as an influential moment for him; in fact, he then decided to leave his graduate studies and instead write a book of poems. This poem in particular guided him in his efforts.

“The Legend” is a narrative poem with a contemporary, readable style. Although it is not a long poem, it touches upon many ideas important to Hongo, including the alienation and violence of the streets, the difficulties faced by immigrants in America, the poet's own questioning of his ethnic identity, and the mixing of Asian and Western cultures. The poem is dedicated to the memory of Jay Kashiwamura, who may be assumed to be the man featured on the television program seen by Hongo, who perhaps made an effort to seek out the deceased man's identity so as to pay him respect.

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