April 21, 2018

Poet Li-Young Lee Poetry Review by Mary Aalgaard

Poetry Reading by Li-Young Lee

 
Quote of the Day:  Art is the yoga for a deeper understanding of intuition. Li-Young Lee, words of wisdom shared during his poetry reading at Central Lakes College in Brainerd, MN, Sept. 24, 2012.

Li-Young Lee at Central Lakes College
 
Here’s a little background on the poet:
Li-Young Lee (李立揚, pinyin: Lǐ Lìyáng) (born August 19, 1957) is an American poet. He was born in Jakarta, Indonesia, to Chinese parents.[1] His maternal grandfather was Yuan Shikai, China’s first Republican President,[2] who attempted to make himself emperor. Lee’s father, who was a personal physician to Mao Zedong while in China, relocated his family to Indonesia, where he helped found Gamaliel University. His father was exiled and spent 19 months in an Indonesian prison camp in Macau. In 1959 the Lee family fled the country to escape anti-Chinese sentiment and after a five-year trek through Hong Kong and Japan, they settled in the United States in 1964. Li-Young Lee attended the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Arizona, and the State University of New York at Brockport.

He told us that when he was in Indonesia, he looked like the enemy because he is Chinese. Then, when he moved to the U.S. in the early 60’s, a country that was at war with another Asian country, he looked like the enemy. So, he grew up with that feeling, which seeped into his psyche and his writing.  He told us about the four selves: We have our public self, the one we show to anyone, even strangers. We have our private self, who we are with friends and family, where we feel a little safer. We have our inner self, the one we know and keep only to ourselves. Then, we have the hidden self, the part of us that is unknown even to ourselves. There are parts of us that we haven’t discovered yet. They might not be revealed to us for a long time. We might find ourselves surprised to discover something. And, I believe, someone on the outside might be that person who sheds light on that hidden self.

Mr. Lee says that the best art, particularly poetry, has elements of all four selves. That’s when it is the truest, when it connects, when it becomes “the yoga that deepens our understanding of our true self, our intuition.” He spoke for just an hour and read two poems, Undressing, and Virtues of the Boring Husband, and I felt like I learned so much and was inspired. Both poems are very personal, have to do with his relationship with his wife, their intimacy and responses to each other. His poetry is sensual and meaningful, filled with vivid images and mind wanderings. Here’s a sample, used by permission from the poet.

To Hold

So we’re dust. In the meantime, my wife and I
make the bed. Holding opposite edges of the sheet,
we raise it, billowing, then pull it tight,
measuring by eye as it falls into alignment
between us. We tug, fold, tuck. And if I’m lucky,
she’ll remember a recent dream and tell me.

One day we’ll lie down and not get up.
One day, all we guard will be surrendered.

Until then, we’ll go on learning to recognize
what we love, and what it takes
to tend what isn’t for our having.
So often, fear has led me
to abandon what I know I must relinquish
in time. But for the moment,
I’ll listen to her dream,
and she to mine, our mutual hearing calling
more and more detail into the light
of a joint and fragile keeping.

from Li-Young Lee’s book of poetry, Behind My Eyes

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