A Suitcase of Seaweed and Other Poems

A Suitcase of Seaweed and Other Poems

by Janet S. Wong

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From the author of the well-received Good Luck Gold and Other Poems comes this new collection of perceptive, touching, often amusing poems.

With a sense of pride in her Korean, Chinese, and American background, Janet Wong's poetry reflects some of the differences between Chinese and Korean customs and culture and the American way of life. Divided into three


From the author of the well-received Good Luck Gold and Other Poems comes this new collection of perceptive, touching, often amusing poems.

With a sense of pride in her Korean, Chinese, and American background, Janet Wong's poetry reflects some of the differences between Chinese and Korean customs and culture and the American way of life. Divided into three sections -- Korean, Chinese, and American -- and with the author's own explanation as to how the poems developed from experiences in her own life, these poems speak directly and simply to young people of many ethnic backgrounds, providing insights into the different kinds of prejudice that many children confront today. Here is "Poetry":

"What you study in school?" my grandfather asks./ "Poetry," I say, climbing high to pick a large ripe lemon off the top limb./ "Po-tree," he says. "It got fruit?"

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 6-8Wong was born in America of Chinese and Korean heritage, but the basic subjects she addresses in neat stanzas of free verse aim at the heart of any family, any race. The quiet, touching poems are divided into three sections, each honoring another part of her ethnicity. The Korean section deals with such diverse topics as hospitality, acupuncture, or the spicy kimchi that was a frequent dinner food. The author learned about Chinese culture from her father's parents, whose presence plays a large role in these poems of family. As an American, Wong writes poems of realization and identity. Whether the words are about customs or careers, they provide a sense of who the author has become because of her pride in her blood-lines. People may ask Asian-Americans "Where are you from?" This collection, appropriate for YAs of any culture, may make this question less relevant and important as they realize the commonalties among cultures.Sharon Korbeck, Waupaca Area Public Library, WI
Hazel Rochman
As she did in "Good Luck Gold" (1994), Wong writes in simple, casual free verse about herself. This time she has divided the small collection into three parts: Korean, Chinese, and American poems. At the start of each section is a page of autobiography as interesting as the poems. Her Korean mother met and married Wong's father when he was in Korea with the U.S. Army. He is Chinese but came to this country when he was 12. Wong was born here. Some of the poems are flat, but the best of them show a mix of feelings. Koreatown is growing, spreading--and "splitting." Korean women, furious with their families, come to the beauty salon to change their "stubborn, straight, heavy hair" and get themselves a perm. The poems overlap their ethnicity and subject, of course, and young people will recognize many of the situations, whether Wong is imagining her parents' "Love at First Sight" or chafing at their high expectations and their disappointment.
Kirkus Reviews
Neat, well-turned poems, monologues, and aphorisms, shaped into free verse by the author of Good Luck Gold and Other Poems (1994, not reviewed).

Wong—born in America of Korean and Chinese descent—divides her work into three parts that reflect this heritage. In the majority of the pieces, she looks at ethnic themes through the infallible metaphor of food (Korean and Chinese; the American section is a bit weaker than the other two, perhaps because it mostly departs from that metaphor). Only a couple of the poems are rhymed; Wong uses line breaks for rhetorical effect, but many of them would have worked just as well in the form of prose vignettes. The imagery is choice, the thoughts pointed and careful, the vocabulary attractive: In many of the pieces comedy and delicacy mingle in a single line.

Product Details

Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
1st ed
Product dimensions:
5.78(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.38(d)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

From Part I: Korean Poems My mother is Korean. She came to this country in 1960, married to my father, who met her when he was stationed in Korea with the U.S. Army. I still am not sure how they met, exactly. Something about him buying food for the troops, and her selling food from her farm. How could they fall in love, since she could not speak any English and he could not speak Korean? He married her for her nose, he says. It is a pretty nose, short and thin, pointed, straight. I have my father's nose.

Growing up, I never felt very Korean. My Korean aunt and grandparents lived in this country for only a few years, when I was in high school. And I visited Korea only once, when I was four. The month I was there I learned to speak enough Korean to order ice cream at the train station. It was the best ice cream I have eaten in my whole life.

Lately I have been wanting to know more about my mother, and for the first time I find myself craving Korean beef bone soup and kimchi, which I used to hate. Now I can eat the hottest kimchi without wincing. I eat it whenever I like, not caring about garlic breath, even turning down the gum the waitress offers when you pay the bill. Gum won't work, anyway, once garlic gets in your blood.

Love at First Sight

I like to imagine Mother
when her face was full and smooth
and she wore her hair in a long braid,

and I like to imagine Father
with his crooked smile and his crooked crew cut,
wearing an American uniform,

running after her
in the narrow dirt streets
of her Korean village,

as she rushes away
her long braid

wagging like the tall of a dog
that has found
a fresh bone.


We take turns
digging the hole
in the hard dry ground,
pushing the shovel down
in the dirt
with the soles
of our shoes.
The sweat drips
from my forehead
into my eyes
like tears.
Slowly Haraboji
the large clay
kimchi jar
into the cool dark pit,
this makeshift cellar
where chili peppers
and garlic and cabbage
will mix and sit in salt,
with snow until
spring, when
the kimchi is hot enough
to chase away all
trace of winter's chill.


With his cigarette
Uncle Kishunee
burns them off
my legs
one by one,
their marks
with mud.

Then he carries me
home, piggyback,
along river rows
of grassy rice,
his bare feet
the ground
like leeches.


"Chook! Chook! Chook!"
Mother says each time
she digs her finger
into my skin
to show me where
the doctor stuck
hundreds of needles
in her swollen, still,
fever-filled body,
when she was twelve.

I have a picture
in my mind
of how she looked -- Chook!
My mother, once
a porcupine.

A Suitcase of Seaweed

Across the ocean
from Korea
my grandmother,
my Halmoni,
has come --
her suitcase
sealed shut
with tape,
packed full
of sheets
of shiny black
and stacks
of dried squid.
We break it open,
this old treasure
chest of hers,
our noses
as we release
its ripe sea smell.

Copyright © 1996 by Janet S. Wong

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