Li-Young Lee Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

The Winged Seed: A Remembrance (1995) is a memoir of Li-Young Lee’s family’s life in Jakarta, Indonesia, their years in exile, and their adaptation to life in a small Pennsylvania town. He remembers how the family suffered when his father was placed in prison for his political views. Acting out of love and loyalty, his mother spent endless hours waiting in lines outside the prison gates trying to see her husband. In her absence, the responsibility for the safety of the home and family rested on the shoulders of Lee’s sister Fei, who guarded the house from the threat of looters and corrupt government officials. Most important, Lee focuses on his love for his father, love and respect mingled with fear, as he was often beaten by his father. Lee struggles to piece together his own memories of his past as well as the stories told to him by his parents. Moving between confusing and often painful images of his past and the present safety of his life with his wife and children, Lee blends history and present narrative as he seeks to make sense of his life.

Breaking the Alabaster Jar: Conversations with Li-Young Lee (2006) is a collection of interviews with the author, edited by Earl G. Ingersoll. The twelve interviews cover a span of twenty years and highlight Lee’s development as a poet and his interaction with fellow poets, critics, and university students. Important themes of Lee’s poetry are discussed, as is the influence of his extraordinary life on his writing. Altogether, the collection sheds a warm and welcoming light on the work of Lee as an accomplished poet. It offers valuable background information on many of his favorite poems and themes.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Li-Young Lee’s poetry is filled with the memories and stories of his family’s life in exile and his struggle to bridge the gap between his own experiences as an immigrant and his Chinese heritage. Lee received National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships in 1986 and 1995, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1987, and the Whiting Writers’ Award in 1988. Rose won the New York University 1986 Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award, and The City in Which I Love You was the 1990 Lamont Poetry Selection (now the James Laughlin Award) of the Academy of American Poets. Lee received the Peter I. B. Lavan Younger Poets Award in 1994, the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry in 1995, and the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation in 1995 for The Winged Seed. In 2002, his Book of My Nights won the William Carlos Williams Award. Lee received a fellowship from the Academy of American Poets in 2003, which included a grant of $25,000. In 2009, he received the Paterson Poetry Prize for Behind My Eyes.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Dings, Fred. “Li-Young Lee: Behind My Eyes.” Review of Behind My Eyes. World Literature Today 82, no. 5 (September/October, 2008): 74. Enthusiastic review focusing on Lee’s use of the theme of voice in this work. Praises Lee for the range and originality of his poetry.

Engles, Tim. “Lee’s ’Persimmons.’” Explicator 54 (Spring, 1996): 191-192. This analysis of the poem “Persimmons” shows how the words “persimmon” and “precision” represent the experiences of the poet’s search for values from his “fading heritage.” Suggests that the speaker of the poem reflects on the warmth of his parents’ love and the importance of their culture.

Hesford, Walter A. “The City in Which I Love You: Li-Young Lee’s Excellent Song.” Christianity and Literature 46, no. 1 (Autumn, 1996): 37-60. Explores the influence of the Bible’s Song of Songs on Lee.

Lee, Li-Young. “Meaning Maker.” Interview by Lisa Butts. Publishers Weekly 254, no. 46 (November 19, 2007): 38. Discusses spirituality in Lee’s poems, his audience, and his status as an Asian American poet; the interview is accompanied by Butts’s review of Lee’s Behind My Eyes.

Slowick, Mary. “Beyond Lot’s Wife: The Immigration Poems of Marilyn Chin, Garrett...

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