Wednesday, May 04, 2005

On Li-Young Lee

Sigh, only two more weeks (hopefully) until more prolific blogging resumes. Either other bloggers are great at finding time to blog regularly, or I'm awful at it. Probably both.

In the meantime, I almost missed the small Li-Young Lee brouhaha (, which I found via Tim Yu's blog (

Ok, a lot of people have been down on Li-Young Lee, because he is the Tiger Woods of the Asian-American poetry world. He's a celebrity with an "it" factor and thus the number one target for lovers and haters of all stripes. If you're reading this blog, you probably know that his first book, Rose, looks completely different from his most recent book, Book of My Nights -- different as in "good" or different as in "bad," depending on how you want to look at it. Whether Book of My Nights is an Asian-American book of poetry is open to question, and Asian-American poets have certainly not been rushing to embrace his most recent work. (Note: If you are an Asian-American poet who has been rushing to embrace Li-Young Lee's most recent poems, feel free to tell me I'm wrong.)

But I do have something nice to say about Li-Young Lee, which is that I know that he is personally good to students. He is thoughtful and attentive to the concerns of individual students. That may seem like next to nothing to you, especially if you are not a student. But I find it to be one of the most important traits of a great poetry professor and authentic poet. It's a measure of character, and quite often, that character is reflected through the poetry. Sadly, I know of poets, who are in the minority of poets and who shall go nameless here, who are not good to students, and, as a reflection of my response to the Hitler question posed earlier, I do find it difficult to pretend to be completely oblivious to their inhumanity while reading their poetry. And so, I'm hoping that the Li-Young Lee reading in question was an anomaly and that he will soon return to better sorts.


Blogger Bryan Thao Worra said...

When I met Li-Young Lee in Minnesota, he's often been a very warm and wonderful figure, and I found him very giving as far as his candor and advice went.

These days, I may disagree with him on some points of his positions that he's been taking, but I'll happily go on record saying that if nothing else, he's been INTERESTING, and that really does count for a lot in my book, compared to any number of others who've just sat nestled in their own particular secluded towers navel-gazing, numbing us with their awful works.

12:56 PM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Hey Bryan,

Yes, Li-Young Lee is interesting indeed. And it's not just because of his looks. He has the whole performance going on. It's what makes him a hot commodity in the poetry circuit.

9:29 PM  
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