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The Study of Poetry and Literature for Children & Young Adults

Poetry Break #3: A Poem by an Asian American Poet

Introduction: Although this poem is simply worded, I think that it would be better suited for middle school and up. With our transient society many times we don't know our neighbors at all. I don't want this poem to encourage children to enter neighboring homes without parents' knowledge and permission.

By Janet S. Wong
In Grandmother's village
you didn't go
where you couldn't walk.
You knew everyone,
their dirty laundry,
their loud songs.
On our street
we know so little it seems,
about the good quiet neighbors we see
once a week at the market
a mile away.
Rack of lamb?
Looks like a storm's coming in, huh.
They head to the cheese.
We steer the opposite way, to fruit,
and when we end up at the checkout
at the same time,
we park our carts
in different lines.
Then it's out to the cars.
Trunks are loaded up.
I turn the key right away,
lay our claim to back out first.
They follow us home
down our hill.
Their headlights
throw shadows,
our big empty heads
bobbing on the dash.
Poetry Extension: Read slowly paying attention to line breaks and separate paragraphs.  Read twice through.
Approach the discussion from the angle of differing cultures and time periods. 
Does anyone have grandmothers and/or relatives who live in villages or neighborhoods like the author?
Is it better to know your neighbors so well that you know what music they like? That you know their dirty laundry? (You may have to explain that dirty laundry does not refer to clothing).
What are the advantages? The disadvantages?
I grew up in a small town where we were related in some way or another to most of the residents. The six of us were pretty well behaved mainly because we grew up with the knowledge that if we did something wrong our parents would know about it before we got home. (And they did)
What kind of places in the world are still like this? What have we as a society lost? What have we gained?
Suggest to the class that the school is also a type of village. Do they know sometimes too much about each other? Look out for each other?
Have them express through poetry or song or art what a school community is or should be.

Wong, Janet S. 1999. Behind the Wheel: Poems about Driving. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0689825315


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Poetry Break #4