Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Dean and I went to hear Li-Young Lee at Seattle Arts & Lectures last night. He is an interesting character: very self-effacing, non-linear in his thinking and presentation. I was put off a little by the shtick he does, fumbling about with his papers at the lectern, not sure what he is going to read, starting and stopping and unable to speak a complete thought. Maybe he thinks it helps put him and the audience at ease? I find it annoying. Still, I loved many of the poems, and also his discussion of the concept of "I and Thou."

He didn't read one of my favorite poems from the book though:

Mother Deluxe

"We can't stay where we are,
and we don't know where else to go,"

is the first card my mother deals. We're playing
her deluxe edition of "Memories
from the 20th Century."

"Dead Baby," "Mystery Bundles," "Cleansing by Sacrifice."

Seven cards apiece and the object is not to die.

"Exodus," "Eyes Snatched Away,"
"Superstition at the Side of the Road."

All cards are good or bad depending on how you play them.
"Defeated by Wings," "Eating Forbidden Blood."

No card possesses inherent value.
"Among the Lepers," "Burial by the Solo River,"
"The Extracted Oil."

Every player begins in bondage.
Every player eventually dies. Everybody plays
whether they know or don't know they're playing.

Maybe this isn't a game.
Maybe it's World Evening News.

Maybe this time I'll rescue my mother.
I can't tell if I thought that or if she said it.

-- Li-Young Lee
from Behind My Eyes

Maybe this isn't the news.
Maybe this is a dream God is having
and somebody should wake Him.

Good boat, first boat, old boat. Mother,
my first night with you lasted nine months.
Our second night together is the rest of my life.


Brian Campbell said...

Great conclusion!

I've heard this stuff about him before. Has it become an affectation? Funny, the man is so self-assured in interview.... we are all so uneven, aren't we?

Collin said...

I like his work but I don't think he's a very good reader.

Kelli said...

Hi Peter,

Good to see you and Dean last night! You both look so great.

Anyway, we felt the exact same way about the fumbling poet. It felt very much like an act, almost as if he was trying to create this persona of the charming, fumbling, poet who is a little daydreamy, prepared, but not, confused, but highly intellectual.

I heard his read at Skagit and while I enjoyed the reading last night, I felt it had a lot less energy and interest than his Skagit reading.

It would be interesting to go the Portland reading and see if he does the same routine.

Neil Aitken said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Neil Aitken said...

Sounds very similar to the off-site reading he gave in NYC for the Asian American Writers' Workshop during AWP. His reading manner did strike me as a little odd, as he tends to comes across much more articulate and assured in his interviews.

Still loved his work, and was especially intrigued by the I/Thou discussion.

RJGibson said...

Good lord. He's still doing that? He did that 10 years ago when I heard him read in grad school too.