Poems Inspired by the de Young

By the Last Hoisan Poets

March 16, 2023

Pool of Enchantment at the de Young with ferris wheel and trees in the background

Welcome to your museum — a place for poetry.

Practiced throughout history — in every culture and on every continent — poetry speaks to our common humanity and shared values. It builds bridges that bring people together. The simplest of poems can be a powerful catalyst for dialogue and peace. In celebration of World Poetry Day, the Last Hoisan Poets share three poems written in response to the de Young’s architecture and public spaces.

Andy Goldworthy's Drawn stone at the de Young museum

Time flows through a crack
Hidden in the geography
To which life returns

Genny Lim
March 3, 2023
© 2023 Genny Lim

A haiku written in response to Drawn Stone by Andy Goldsworthy.

School children entering the de Young museum near Andy Goldworthy's Drawn Stone

As curator of Poets in the Galleries from 1990 to 1994, poet Genny Lim guided schoolchildren and teachers on museum field trips, where students wrote poems in response to works of art of their choosing.

Dog outside of the de Young museum
Children playing in the Garden of Enchantment at the de Young museum


Ferris wheel 
go round
circled pond 
crimson lantern flowers 
welcoming those
who sew
azure sky 
canopy of trees
welcoming those 
who hear voices soar
welcoming those
who embrace     
 . . . . . nature’s family 

Flo Oy Wong
March 4, 2023
© 2023 Flo Oy Wong

A poem written in response to the Marcus Garden of Enchantment, landscape architecture by Walter Hood, Hood Design Studio.

Pink flower against a brilliant blue sky in the Garden of Enchantment at the de Young museum

“I wondered about the children I saw, about what would feed their souls in a culturally reinforcing way, and with what objects of identity they could connect. Will the de Young provide them and future generations with an enlarged view of their cultural world?” wrote guest artist Flo Oy Wong, after touring the galleries in preparation for the de Young’s 1997 exhibition Art of the Americas: Identity Crisis.

Flo Oy Wong standing near green plants under a brilliant blue sky
Water droplets on copper wall at the de Young museum


You enter through depths of ocean floor
meeting sky, bowl bottoms and moons, raindrops 
becoming nature’s earrings, light transparent as heart.
You welcome ferns and eucalyptus inside, release air and breath
of courtyards and gardens.
Through floor-to-ceiling glass windows, workers and visitors integrating
vision, labor of saws and hammers, computers thrumming,
paintbrushes, patina
of copper turning green through the magic of nature.
Can this wandering on stone paths lead to embrace of eyes, of trees,
of winters and springs?
Can we sing or bellow against tyranny against earth, peoples
and creatures, our fish, toucans of bright beaks?
You wear your skin dappled with V’s of blue sky, contract
and expand, our breaths, this freedom we seek amid
children’s laughter, the posing of a black girl and a yellow* girl dancing
in liberation’s glare, the lover, in a wheelchair, of Asawa’s sculptural art.
Circling the grounds around the Pool of Enchantment, riding the elevator
for views of a city glistening in March’s pale light, then touching your skin, golden
and dark brown, the forest of Obata’s trees, you open 
your thousand eyes, obsidian, free.

Nellie Wong
March 4, 2023
© 2023 Nellie Wong

Written in response to the de Young museum, designed by Herzog & de Meuron.

*Yellow used to be a term that was used to uplift a cohesive racial identity for Asian Americans, especially during the social movements of the 60s and 70s. Many Asian Americans still use it as a racial identity and others dont and find it offensive because of its connections to yellow peril.

Nellie Wong touching copper exterior wall at the de Young museum

Oakland-born Nellie Wong began writing poetry in the early 1970s. She was still working as a secretary for the Bethlehem Steel Corporation when she began traveling across the Bay to pursue studies in creative writing at San Francisco State University. Today, Nellie visits the de Young in search of new art and new ideas.

Nellie Wong standing outside the de Young museum

Poets Genny Lim, Flo Oy Wong, and Nellie Wong trace their roots to China’s Hoisan villages, home of the Hoisan-wa (a.k.a., Toisanese / Taishanese) Chinese dialect. As the Last Hoisan Poets, they conduct special poetry readings in English and Hoisan-wa to pay homage to their mother language, which is at risk of fading from collective memory.

All photographs by Andi Wong.

Learn more at World Poetry Day with the Last Hoisan Poets.

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