The Poetry Concierge Recommends: Rose, by Li-Young Lee

[The Poetry Concierge is an occasional feature here on Rosemary and Reading Glasses wherein I select a poem, poet, or book of poems for individual readers based on a short questionnaire. Come play along! Read the introductory post here, my first recommendation here, and then email me at: rosemaryandreadingglasses [at] gmail [dot] com. ]

This week, our pilgrim in search of poetry is Cecilia, who writes about life, reading, and parenthood at Only You.


1. When you read fiction, who’s your go-to author?

I have more than one! Junot Diaz, Kazuo Ishiguro, Jhumpa Lahiri, Charlotte Bronte

2. If you read nonfiction, which subjects are most likely to interest you? (cultural history, science, biography, memoir, survival stories?)

memoir, personal essays, history, psychology

3. If you were stuck on a desert island for a week, which five books would you bring to keep you entertained?

This is How You Lose Her (Junot Diaz) and Me Talk Pretty One Day (David Sedaris), for the comfort factor (re-reads by two of my go-to authors); Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro) because everyone’s been telling me how amazing this book is; In the Blood by Lisa Unger (I have never read her but this sounded good, as something fast and entertaining); and Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth (Warsan Shire), a book of poetry I haven’t yet read but want to.

4. If you were on a five-year mission to Mars, which five books would you bring to keep you sane?

One comfort book: Me Talk Pretty One Day (David Sedaris) and four books that have been on my to-read list: Middlemarch, either Anna Karenina or The Golden Notebook, Life After Life (Kate Atkinson), and The Mayflower & The Pilgrims’ New World (Nathaniel Philbrick)

5. What kinds of questions are most likely to keep you up at night? (death, the nature of love, politics, environmental issues, meaning of life, end of the world, justice and injustice, etc?)

Closer to home – the meaning/purpose in life, how I’m doing as a parent

The bigger picture – human rights, civil rights

6. If you’ve read poetry before, what have you liked? What have you disliked?

I’d only read an excerpt but I was completely blown away by the writing in Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth by Warsan Shire.

We studied quite a bit of poetry during high school but it was never one of my favorite subjects. I think that my early education in poetry reinforced my fears that poetry is impossible to decipher and difficult to access. A couple of exceptions were Robert Frost and Edgar Allen Poe, whom I did enjoy.

[Sidebar: Never Let Me Go is amazing, and everyone should read it.]

From Cecilia’s list of go-to authors, I got the sense that writing that deals with the immigrant experience is important to her, as well as writing that focuses on the interiority of its characters. One name leapt to mind, and stayed with me as I read the rest of Cecilia’s answers: Li-Young Lee.

photo (77)Li-Young Lee’s poetry is intensely lyrical and personal. Born in Indonesia to Chinese parents who fled China for political reasons, Mr. Lee came with his family to the United States in 1964. His family (especially his father and his wife) plays a major role in the poetry of Rose, his first collection, which I’m recommending for Cecilia. “The Gift” and “Persimmons” (frequently anthologized) are the second and third poems in the book. In “Persimmons,” the speaker remembers:

In sixth grade Mrs. Walker
slapped the back of my head
and made me stand in the corner
for not knowing the difference
between persimmon and precision

This startling, painful memory forms the foundation of the poet’s exploration of life in two cultures, and how the senses tie us to memory. In fact, because of this poem, I remember the very first time I saw a persimmon in a market, and what it felt like to cut into it at home.

In “The Gift,” the speaker remembers his father pulling a splinter from his hand. It’s one of the most beautiful poems about parents and children that I’ve ever read.
Cecilia, I hope you’ll find poems you love in Rose. Thanks for writing in!

Would you like the Poetry Concierge to make a recommendation for you? Check out the introductory post, and send your answers to the questionnaire, along with the name and/or blog you’d like posted with the reply, to rosemaryandreadingglasses [at] gmail [dot] com.

5 thoughts on “The Poetry Concierge Recommends: Rose, by Li-Young Lee

  1. Nice choice! I love Li-Young Lee’s work. His descriptions are so clear and the emotion is so honest, I feel as though the poems are my own memories.

  2. Pingback: No Joke: The Poetry Concierge Returns – Rosemary and Reading Glasses

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