poem index

poet

Li-Young Lee

1957- , Jakarta , Indonesia
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Li-Young Lee was born in 1957 in Jakarta, Indonesia, to Chinese parents. His father had been a personal physician to Mao Zedong while in China, and relocated the family to Indonesia, where he helped found Gamaliel University. In 1959, the Lee family fled the country to escape anti-Chinese sentiment and after a five-year trek through Hong Kong, Macau, and Japan, they settled in the United States in 1964.

Lee attended the University of Pittsburgh and University of Arizona, and the State University of New York at Brockport. He has taught at several universities, including Northwestern and the University of Iowa.

He is the author of Spoken For (W. W. Norton, 2018); Behind My Eyes (W. W. Norton, 2008); Book of My Nights (BOA Editions, 2001), which won the 2002 William Carlos Williams Award; The City in Which I Love You (BOA Editions, 1990), which was the 1990 Lamont Poetry Selection; and Rose (BOA Editions, 1986), which won the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Poetry Award.

His other work includes Breaking the Alabaster Jar: Conversations with Li-Young Lee (Edited by Earl G. Ingersoll, BOA Editions, 2006), a collection of twelve interviews with Lee at various stages of his artistic development; and The Winged Seed: A Remembrance (Simon and Schuster, 1995), a memoir which received an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation.

With regard to Lee's work, the poet Gerald Stern has noted that "what characterizes [his] poetry is a certain humility... a willingness to let the sublime enter his field of concentration and take over, a devotion to language, a belief in its holiness."

He has been the recipient of a Fellowship from the Academy of American Poets, a Lannan Literary Award, a Whiting Writer's Award, the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award, the I. B. Lavan Award, three Pushcart Prizes, and grants from the Illinois Arts Council, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship. In 1998, he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from State University of New York at Brockport.

He lives in Chicago, Illinois, with his wife and their two sons.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Spoken For (W. W. Norton, 2018)
Behind My Eyes (W. W. Norton, 2008)
Book of My Nights (BOA Editions, 2001)
The City in Which I Love You (BOA Editions, 1990)
Rose (BOA Editions, 1989)

Nonfiction

The Winged Seed: A Remembrance (Simon & Schuster, 1995)

multimedia

Poetry Breaks: Li-Young Lee Reads Emily Dickinson

Poetry Breaks: Li-Young Lee Reads Emily Dickinson's "I tried to think a lonelier Thing"

Poetry Breaks: Li-Young Lee Reads "Eating Together"

Poetry Breaks: Li-Young Lee Reads "Eating Together"

Poetry Breaks: Li-Young Lee Reads "Irises"

Poetry Breaks: Li-Young Lee Reads "Irises"

Poetry Breaks: Li-Young Lee Reads "From Blossoms"

Poetry Breaks: Li-Young Lee Reads "From Blossoms"

Poetry Breaks: Li-Young Lee Reads "I Ask My Mother to Sing"

Poetry Breaks: Li-Young Lee Reads "I Ask My Mother to Sing"

by this poet

poem

Childhood? Which childhood?
The one that didn’t last?
The one in which you learned to be afraid
of the boarded-up well in the backyard
and the ladder to the attic?

The one presided over by armed men
in ill-fitting uniforms
strolling the streets and alleys,
while loudspeakers

poem

I loved you before I was born.
It doesn't make sense, I know.

I saw your eyes before I had eyes to see.
And I've lived longing 
for your ever look ever since.
That longing entered time as this body. 
And the longing grew as this body waxed.
And the longing grows as the body wanes

poem
I didn’t know I was blue,
until I heard her sing.

I was never aware so much
had been lost
even before I was born.
There was so much to lose
even before I knew
what it meant to choose.

Born blue,
living blue unconfessed, blue
in concealment, I’ve lived all my life
at the plinth
of greater things than me.
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