Li-Young Lee
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Li-Young Lee

Past Event: Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Li-Young Lee is the author of four critically acclaimed books of poetry, his most recent being the just-published Behind My Eyes. His earlier collections are Rose (BOA, 1986), winner of the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award from New York University, The City in Which I Love You(BOA, 1991), the 1990 Lamont Poetry Selection, Book of My Nights (BOA Editions, 2001); and a memoir entitled The Winged Seed: A Remembrance (Simon and Schuster, 1995), which received an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. Lee’s honors include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Lannan Foundation, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, as well as grants from the Illinois Arts Council, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. In 1988 he received the Writer’s Award from the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation.

Born in 1957 of Chinese parents in Jakarta, Indonesia, Lee learned early about loss and exile. His great grandfather was China’s first republican President, and his father, a deeply religious Christian, was physician to Communist leader Mao Tse-Tung. After the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Lee’s parents escaped to Indonesia. In 1959, his father, after spending a year as a political prisoner in President Sukarno’s jails, fled Indonesia with his family to escape anti-Chinese sentiment. After a five-year trek through Hong Kong, Macau, and Japan, they settled in the United States in 1964.

Through the observation and translation of often unassuming and silent moments, the poetry of Li-Young Lee gives clear voice to the solemn and extraordinary beauty found within humanity. Playful, erotic, at times mysterious, his work describes the immanent value of everyday experience. Straightforward language and simple narratives become gateways to the most powerful formulations of beauty, wisdom, and divine love.

Lee lives in Chicago with his wife Donna, and their two sons.

Little Ache

That sparrow on the iron railing,
not worth a farthing, purchases a realm
its shrill cries measure, trading
dying for being.
It’s up to no good,
out to overturn a kingdom
just by swooping into the right kitchen,
or upsetting somebody’s aim.
For my pleasure, I’ll call it Good News,
or Little Egypt. For my delight,
I’ll think of it as needle and thread.
Or a breathing remnant
restored to a living cloth.
Or scissors
trimming lament
to allow for everything I don’t know.
For my happiness, I’ll call it
Pocket Dictionary Full of Words in Another Language.
For my gladness, Feathered Interval,
The Deciding Gram, Geronimo.
For nothing, Monument to the Nano.