Monday, March 28, 2016

Li Young Lee And His New Chapbook "A Word From His Song" . . .

Christal Rice Cooper

All excerpts from The Word from His Song given copyright privilege by Li-Young Lee and BOA Editions.

Li Young Lee And His New Chapbook
The Word from His Song:
“6 Billion Cells A Minute”

            From March 30th to April 2nd of 2016 legendary and best-selling poet Li-Young Lee is going to give a poetry reading at two events – the AWP 2016 Conference and the BOA Editions 40th Anniversary Celebration at the Los Angeles Convention Center and JW Marriot Los Angeles, respectively.     

Li Young Lee’s chapbook The Word from His Song will make its debut appearance at both events and will be a limited publication sold exclusively through the BOA’s AWP Book-fair booths 800 and 802. 

The Word From His Song will not be available to order online until after the AWP conference is concluded, and only for a limited time and at a limited press run.
Li Young Lee’s The Word From His Song features 18-pages of eight full-length poems, all new, beautifully designed in a letterpress cover.
The Word From His Song is the tenth installment in the BOA Pamphlet Series, which began in 1978.  The other nine titles are The Bridge of Change by John Logan; The Toy Bone by Donald Hall; Sunlight: A Sequence for My Daughter Poems by David Ignatow with drawings by Rose Graubart Ignatow; Survivors by Richard Eberhart; Armidale by Louis Simpson; Remains:  A Sequence of Poems by W.D. Snodgrass; Nest of Sonnets by A. Poulin, Jr.; Gratitude to Old Teachers by Robert Bly; and Holes the Crickets Have Eaten in Blankets by Robert Bly. 



       BOA Editions is also sponsoring its “Ideal Reading Experience” where one reader per month will be awarded a free, author-signed copy of The Word from His Song for the remainder year of 2016. 
BOA Editions Publisher Peter Conners described Li-Young Lee and Lee’s work as vital to American Poetry.  

"Since the publication of his debut collection, Rose (BOA Editions, 1986), Li-Young Lee has remained a singular, vital figure in American poetry. Because the publication and promotion of his works has been a focus of BOA’s efforts for the past 30 years, it feels fitting that on the 40th anniversary of the press, we share a selection of Li-Young Lee’s newest work in a beautiful, collectible chapbook. A work of art in every sense, this limited edition publication will be a must-have collectible for poetry readers everywhere.”

Lee’s other works are The City In Which I Love You; Book of My Nights; Behind My Eyes; The Winged Seed:  A Remembrance; and Breaking The Alabaster Jar:  Conversations With Li-Young Lee.

       Feature writer Christal Rice Cooper conducted an interview with Li Young Lee via email and telephone from February 29, 2016 to March 28, 2016.  Below is the scripted interview between Lee and Cooper.

The sparrow on my rooftop shouts,

"All roads be blessed!”

Excerpt from “The Word From His Song”

The last time we spoke was July of 2013.  What has changed in your personal life and poetry life since then?

Wow, the last time we spoke was 2013?  It feels so much longer ago than that.  What has changed?  You ask.  Well, I feel a lifetime older, and less in many ways, mostly physically.  But in important ways, I feel significant increase:  more joy, more mirth, more interest, more mystery, a deeper faith in poetry, in its practice and in its yogic dimensions, and a deeper connection to both time and to eternity.   

Also, all my life, I’ve struggled to keep death and impermanence in my radar, but lately it’s easier, less of a struggle to maintain awareness of my own transience, and that experience more and more instills in me a near giddiness and amazement at being alive, as well as greater focus, greater clarity and direction.  A flower is my organizing principle.  Love is my compass.  And as for my writing, it feels more introverted to me.  But you’ll have to tell me if that comes through.

I loved you before I was born.

It doesn’t make sense, I know.

Excerpt from “I Loved You Before I Was Born”

Can you choose one poem from The Word from His Song and tell us the step-by-step process of writing that specific poem from the moment the idea is birthed in your brain until final book form?

To be honest, I’m not able to give an honest and accurate account.  I have exactly no idea how any of these poems got written.  I suppose I could re-imagine the process for one of the poems, but I suspect that would not be free of fiction.  From inception, and throughout revision, each day, the whole process occurs in a state of heightened awareness and presence I barely remember when it’s over.

It’s just a needle I thread,

A sleeve I keep trying to mend, the spool diminishing

Excerpt from “At The Year’s Revolving Door”

How did the idea of the BOA pamphlet come into being?

Peter Conners and I have wanted to do a BOA project for quite some time.  When BOA’s 40th Anniversary came around, the idea of a chapbook came up.  I don’t know who thought of it, but I’m so happy we’re getting it done. 

How would you describe these eight poems?

The best I could do.

In your previous books you’ve written mostly at night, with the focus on your father and struggled with insomnia as indicated in “Folding A Five Cornered Star So The Corners Meet.”  Did you experience the same things in The Word from His Song? 

Well I seem to be working around the clock these days, and with greater glee.  I can’t wait to get to it when I wake up, and find it hard to part with when I’m exhausted and ready to take a break.  I don’t know what’s going on, but I feel something like a greater and greater surrendering to the impulse of writing, a more immediate answering to the call of the imagination.  

It must be the stars’ insomnia.

And I am their earthbound descendant

Excerpt from “Folding A Five Cornered Star So the Corners Meet”

What poem is your favorite and why?

On any day, I have a different favorite poem, but it’s never one of my own.

In “Hidden Hearing” the poem is about God.  Who is God to you now?

God is my true nature and identity, my origin and my destiny.   

Last night I dreamed of voices in a grove.

Ladders reaching from the ground into the branches.

Excerpt from “Hidden Hearing”

In “Leaving” you mention the trees outside your window.  When you look out that window today what do you see, hear, taste, smell?

Well, I’m about 500 miles away from that window at the moment, and won’t be returning to that window for a few more months.

Each day, less leaves

In the tree outside my window

Excerpt from “Leaving”

You are going to AWP in Los Angeles AND you will give a reading to celebrate BOA 40th anniversary.  What is one (and I know there are many) thing you will talk about, and how do you prepare yourself for such two great appearances?

On the one hand, I don’t prepare at all.  I never plan to say anything or do anything.  On the other hand, I’ve been preparing all of my life since I see everything, everything I do in my life as an opportunity to practice greater presence and awareness.  Whether I daily succeed or not in that practice is almost beside the point.  The point is the practice.  Giving a public talk is just one more opportunity to practice. 

I must know how to bless

And how to receive blessing.

Excerpt from “Treasure Uncovered”

Your books are all different but at the same time with the same theme.  I feel this is true of The Word from His Song.  Do you agree?  And what makes The Word from His Song different from your previous works? 

I guess each book would have to be different, since I’m not the same even from one moment to the next.  I mean, even my body is changing at something like 6 billion cells a minute.  You, as an objective reader, may be in a better position to tell me how these poems are different from my other work. I can only tell you what I wish and hope for.  I hope they are simpler, deeper, truer, more sincere, and less “literary.”  But I don’t know if, in fact, they are so.   

Of all these things,

words weigh too much, yet not enough.

Excerpt from “Why Are You Awake?”


Li Young Lee in 2015


Jacket cover of The Word from His Song

BOA Staff.
Peter Conners is far right standing.

4, 5, and  and 15.
BOA Logo

The Bridge of Change by John Logan

The Toy Bone by Donald Hall

Sunlight: A Sequence for My Daughter Poems by David Ignatow with drawings by Rose Graubart Ignatow;

Survivors by Richard Eberhart

Armidale by Louis Simpson

Remains:  A Sequence of Poems by W.D. Snodgrass

Nest of Sonnets by A. Poulin, Jr.

Gratitude to Old Teachers by Robert Bly

Holes the Crickets Have Eaten in Blankets by Robert Bly.

Peter Conners
Copyright granted by Peter Conners

Jacket cover of Rose

Jacket cover of The City in Which I Love You

Jacket cover of Book of My Nights

Jacket cover of Behind My Eyes

Jacket cover of The Winged Seed:  A Remembrance

Jacket cover of Breaking The Alabaster Jar:  Conversations With Li Young Lee

Artwork by Christal Rice Cooper

Li Young Lee on November 2013.

Donna Lee and Li-Young Lee.  The couple have been married since November of 1976 and have two sons ages 31 and 32.  They reside in Chicago, Illinois.

Peter Connners
Copyright granted by Peter Conners

Photoshop by Christal Rice Cooper 

Artwork by Christal Rice Cooper


Top Left, Melissa Hall, Director of Development and Operations
Top Right, Jenna Fisher, Director of Marketing and Production,
Sitting Peter Conners, Publisher
© CITY Newspaper © Mark Chamberlin


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