Featured Illinois Poet
Although this website’s objective is simply to promote the art of poetry, its special focus is the rich bounty of work created by our state’s poets past and present. Through features on the work of Illinois poets, the site will highlight the poetic legacy of Illinois and showcase the bevy of fine poets currently writing within the state.
Li-Young Lee’s work is lush and often passionate, deeply infused with the spices – both sweet and tart – of human memory. In fact, the act of remembering is what often sets Lee’s poems into motion and light. The act of remembering animates his work, gives it breath and life, and bestirs within the speaker an act of making equal to the actual remembered incident. For Lee, memory fills the absence of lost things and gives them a presiding presence in the moment.
Everywhere in his poems is the celebration of the moment brought to us by our senses – taste, smell, hearing, and touch. We readers see that lush, nearly hypnotic attentiveness in his poem “The Cleaving,” where the lines between self and other blur dizzyingly. From the simplest of things, Lee moves to introspection and connection, linking self and other, past and present, the singular and the collective human experience. His work moves gracefully between plain spoken language and lyrical expression fond of repetitions, an insistent return of phrase and emotion. Always there is the poet’s sensuous eye or hand, the world revealed in its complex beauty, so ripe it nearly sighs beneath the human touch.
Li-Young Lee was born in 1957 in Jakarta, Indonesia, of Chinese parents. In 1959, his father, after spending a year as a political prisoner in President Sukarno’s jails, fled Indonesia with his family. Between 1959 and 1964 they traveled in Hong Kong, Macau, and Japan, before arriving in America.
His books of poetry include Book of My Nights (BOA Editions, Ltd. 2001), Rose (BOA Editions, Ltd. 1986), winner of the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award from New York University, and The City in Which I Love You (BOA, 1990), the 1990 Lamont Poetry Selection from The Academy of American Poets. He is also author of an autobiography, The Winged Seed (Simon and Schuster, 1994).
Lee’s honors include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Lannan Foundation, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. In 1988 he was the recipient of a Writer’s Award from the Whiting Foundation.
Lee lives in Chicago with his wife, Donna, and their children.
Li-Young Lee's Poems
"I ASK MY MOTHER TO SING"
"THIS ROOM AND EVERYTHING IN IT"