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SOURCE: "Inheritance and Invention in Li-Young Lee's Poetry," in MELUS, Vol. Li-Young Lee’s poetry draws on his memories of the refugee experience and stories recounted by family members.
I don't think Lee set out to write a book about the loss of his father, …
but the dead father enters almost all of these poems like a half-bidden ghost.
Readers, meanwhile, mill about the edges of the literary park, hoping to be caught by a poet's music or gossip, by the telescopic insinuation of worlds or by the expansive description of them. [In the essay below, Zhou contends that "Li-Young Lee's poems enact and embody the processes of poetic innovation and identity invention beyond the boundaries of any single cultural heritage or ethnic identity."] Li-Young Lee's two prize-winning books of poetry, Rose (1986) and The City in Which I Love You (1990), contain processes of self-exploration and self-invention through memories of life in exile and experiences of disconnection, dispossession, and alienation.
Sometimes a poet's voice distinguishes itself by carrying authority and by addressing... While providing him with a frame of reference to explore the self,...
Many critics have sought out Lee's poetic influences, noting Walt Whitman in particular, although the majority agree that his finest poems, such as "The Cleaving," depart from American poetic tradition.
Several scholars have focused on the significance of Lee's Chinese heritage, which has sparked some critical debate. [Mitchell names "tenderness " as the most salient quality of Lee's poetry and judges this a shortcoming in Rose.] Rose, Li-Young Lee's first book, begins the career of a promising poet.In taking a metal splinter from his son's hand years before, his father recited a story in a low voice. [In the following review of The City in Which I Love You, Kitchen extols Lee's "verbal and visionary imagination."] Li-Young Lee's second book, The City in Which I Love You, is the 1990 Lamont Poetry Selection of The Academy of American Poets.Years later the son performs a similar service for his wife. This is a work of remarkable scope—musically as well as thematically—offering a sweeping perspective of history from the viewpoint of the émigré.Lee continued his studies at the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Arizona, and State University of New York.He has taught at Northwestern and the University of Iowa.Zhou Xiaojing has responded by claiming that such readings "are not only misleading, but also reductive of the rich cross-cultural sources of influence on Lee's work and the creative experiment in his poetry." Zhou added, "Li-Young Lee's poems enact and embody the process of poetic innovation and identity invention beyond the boundaries of any single cultural heritage or ethnic identity." SOURCE: A review of Rose, in Prairie Schooner, Vol. Lee is one of a rising number of Asian-American writers, though in Rose that background is not an issue.One line refers to someone "exiled from one republic and daily defeated in another." Two other lines recall someone "who was driven from the foreign school-yards / by fists and yelling, who trembled in anger in each retelling." There is a poem, too, about relatives singing and remembering China. He recreates, instead, "immedicable woes" (Frost's term) about his love for his father.The opening poem, "Furious Versions," is a long, seven-part account of his family's exile.Fueled with the sense that he is the only one who has lived to tell it, Lee recounts his father's fractured life and the loss of his brother.His maternal grandfather had been the first president of the Republic of China, and his father had been a personal physician to Mao Zedong in China before leaving for Indonesia.In Jakarta Lee's father helped found Gamaliel University, where he taught English and philosophy.