Observations from a Li-Young Lee Reading

Tonight I went to Li-Young Lee's poetry reading at Brookline High School. It's been a while since I've been to a reading held by an established poet, so having a night out to listen to poetry was a gift.

Here are my observations.

1. Not many minorities present. Whenever I go to a reading, it is the first thing I look for when I enter the room. Habit, I guess.

2. Coincidently, the reading was held in the MLK Room. It was comforting watching Li-Young at the podium with King's portrait in the background.

3. Li-Young was perfectly charming. He told a story about how he's on a poetry tour and rather than packing and repacking clothes when he's home, he's wears the same dirty clothes over and over again. He was reluctant to take his jacket off because his shirt was dirty, and he was wearing pajama bottoms.

4. Li-Young read amazing new work instead of older pieces. His soothing voice compliments the poems so well. His subjects tend to focus on duality, of growing up Chinese, and raising a mixed-race family.

5. One of the quotes that stayed with me was, "I feel that I have found the recipe that makes my life work." We should all be so lucky.

6. Listening to Li-Young's work makes me want to write longer poems. I've always had trouble sustaining an idea longer than a page, but maybe I'm ready to try something new and different.

I was hoping to find a poem online that he read at the reading--no such luck. But I did find this one, which offers a taste of the work he read tonight. Enjoy!


When I lay my head in my mother’s lap
I think how day hides the star,
the way I lay hidden once, waiting
inside my mother’s singing to herself. And I remember
how she carried me on her back
between home and the kindergarten,
once each morning and once each afternoon.

I don’t know what my mother’s thinking.

When my son lays his head in my lap, I wonder:
Do his father’s kisses keep his father’s worries
from becoming his? I think, Dear God, and remember
there are stars we haven’t heard from yet:
They have so far to arrive. Amen,
I think, and I feel almost comforted.

I’ve no idea what my child is thinking.

Between two unknowns, I live my life.
Between my mother's hopes, older than I am
by coming before me. And my child's wishes, older than I am
by outliving me. And what's it like?
Is it a door, and a good-bye on either side?
A window, and eternity on either side?
Yes, and a little singing between two great rests.

—from Book of My Nights


deirdre said…
This poem just gave me goosebumps. Beautiful.
twitches said…
I love Li-Young Lee. Thanks for reminding me about him. Many new books for me to buy - I'll add his to my list!
January said…
I believe Li-Youn has a new book coming out next year.
Bug said…
Thanks so much for sharing this. I love the part abuot him being in his PJs. So cute! And the quote in #5 is beautiful, as is the poem.
I love his "Book of Nights"--even just the concept behind it, before I opened the cover had me. Sounds like a beautiful night, well spent.
paris parfait said…
Gorgeous poem and thanks for the glimpse into the poetry reading! I saw a man in Paris walking down the street wearing pyjamas today - but he wasn't doing anything glamourous like reading poetry.
bb said…
Oh this reminds me that I should be going to poetry readings...sigh.
(Where do I get myself some extra hours in the day!!!) Hope you had a great time!

(and I'm eagerly waiting for Li-Young Lee's Bloodaxe publication, out in Britain next February :-)
Susannah said…
Oh i am so jealous! i would have loved to hear him talk... what a treat! x

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