I Will be a Question Mark – Image Journal Interviews Li-Young Lee

American Poet Li-Young Lee

American Poet Li-Young Lee

from An Interview with Li-Young Lee

LYL : The word quest is in that word question. I feel as if I’m going to live my life as a giant question mark. I’m just going to live open, ready to encounter whatever God puts in front of me next. I have fewer and fewer answers. I feel like I know less and less.

Last year my son told my wife, “When we were younger, Baba had a lot of ideas he would talk to us about. As time has gone on, he talks to us less. And he’s become a lot warmer and seems more mellow.” I wanted to give them a lot of ideas. But the older I get, the more I realize I don’t know anything. There are no ideas to give. If I can just love them straight from my soul…. I don’t know who they are. I don’t know why they’re here. I don’t know why any of us are here. I’ll just live that question. My whole life will be a question. I will be a question mark.

Image: And poetry helps you do this?

LYL: I think so. When I come to the page to write the poem, I have to surrender everything. You have to accomplish a kind of deep yin quality—openness, yielding, getting out of the way so that the poem can come in. And that is a way to practice my life.


 Li-Young Lee interviewed by Paul T. Corrigan in Image Journal,  Autumn 2015

Whenever my poetry begins to feel too wordy and cut off from my experience I pull out the poetry books of Li-Young Lee. His spiritual immediacy and winged metaphors get me flying again. A perfect example is this gem of a poem, this love poem to God:

One Heart

Look at the birds. Even flying
is born

out of nothing. The first sky
is inside you, open

at either end of day.
The work of wings

was always freedom, fastening
one heart to every falling thing.

Li Young Lee (1957 – ) from Book Of My Nights, BOA Editions, 2001

Lee has been in my heart a lot lately as I have been using his poem After the Pyre frequently in a new writing adventure I use in my poetry workshops. In particular the arresting line: what kept you alive
all those years keeps you from living. When I put myself in the speaker’s voice in that line I am forced to look at my life in a new and challenging way. Lee is not afraid of these kinds of challenges.

My appreciation of Lee was placed in focus today when I followed a link to a new interview with Lee in one of my favorite literary magazines – Image Journal out of Seattle. To view the interview click here. The interview was vintage Lee and expresses so cogently the urgency of his spiritual seeking in a world he sees as saturated with God.

I am in transit from Madrid to Entebbe, Uganda for the Kahini Poetry Festival today so that’s why this post is short. But please, do read the interview and I would so appreciate your comments on it!


One Comment

  1. helen Thomas
    Posted October 2, 2015 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    So powerful! So clear. … So profound.

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