Book of My Nights

Book of My Nights

4.5 2
by Li-Young Lee

The long-awaited new poetry collection from one of the world's most acclaimed young poets.


The long-awaited new poetry collection from one of the world's most acclaimed young poets.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Passionate and profound, Lee's long-awaited third collection charts the mid-life ontological crisis of a speaker who "can't tell what my father said about the sea... from the sea itself," and finds himself unmoored without that strong male voice. Lee's father was a personal physician to Mao Zedong, who took the family to Jakarta (where Lee was born) in the '50s. As Indonesia began persecuting Chinese citizens and his father was imprisoned, Lee's family left the country, spent five years moving from place to place in Asia, and arrived in the U.S. in 1964. (These events are described in The Winged Seed, Lee's American Book Award-winning memoir of 1995.) Lee has ever been concerned with questions of origins, but in the 11 years since the publication of his last collection, memories of childhood answers furnished by father, mother and siblings now fail to assuage the poet's 3 a.m. doubts. Yet he does not trust himself to formulate answers on his own in these 35 nocturnes, and the father seems to be missing or dead. The poet's tightly wrought, extraordinarily careful and finally heart-wrenching responses finally boil down to one ultimate cry: "Where is his father? Who is his mother?" The complex permutations of these fundamental inquiries and their unsatisfactory answers construct a space in which knowledge and redemption, if never quite attained, always seem possible. Lee is never faced with sheer emptiness; his "silence thunders," a vocal presence to which Lee's speaker responds, "declaring a new circumference/ even the stars enlarge by crowding down to hear." (Sept. 15) Forecast: A favorite on course syllabi, Lee should sell strongly and steadily with this long-awaited new collection. TheWinged Seed, first published by S&S, is available in paperback from Ruminator Books, the Minnesota house (and review) formerly called Hungry Mind. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
"A wilderness of `who' and `why'" a line from one of the poems in this slim volume by Indonesian-born poet Lee (Winged Seed), who won the Lamont Poetry Award of the Academy of American Poets in 1990 well describes the work as a whole. "What is the world?" "Who am I?" These questions and others are at the core of each poem. "Does anyone want to know the way to Spring?" he asks. Lee's poems are riddled with puzzles reminiscent of Zen koans. Meditative, ungrounded, and vaporous, they are almost metaphysical and require the reader to proceed slowly. Strong images of the poet's mother and of a dead brother abound. Lee's work is also concerned with the transition from one continent and culture to another he and his family fled to the United States when Lee was a small child after his father spent a year as a political prisoner of President Sukarno. These poems can be a challenge, but they will reward the persistent reader. Judy Clarence, California State Univ. Lib., Hayward Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

BOA Editions, Ltd.
Publication date:
American Poets Continuum Series , #68
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.40(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


There's nothing I can't find under there.
Voices in the trees, the missing pages
of the sea.

Everything but sleep.

And night is a river bridging
the speaking and the listening banks,

a fortress, undefended and inviolate.

There's nothing that won't fit under it:
fountains clogged with mud and leaves,
the houses of my childhood.

And night begins when my mother's fingers
let go of the thread
they've been tying and untying
to touch toward our fraying story's hem.

Night is the shadow of my father's hands
setting the clock for resurrection.

Or is it the clock unraveled, the numbers flown?

There's nothing that hasn't found home there:
discarded wings, lost shoes, a broken alphabet.

Everything but sleep. And night begins

with the first beheading
of the jasmine, its captive fragrance
rid at last of burial clothes.

A Table in the Wilderness

I draw a window
and a man sitting inside it.

I draw a bird in flight above the lintel.

That's my picture of thinking.

If I put a woman there instead
of the man, it's a picture of speaking.

If I draw a second bird
in the woman's lap, it's ministering.

A third flying below her feet.
Now it's singing.

Or erase thebirds,
make ivy branching
around the woman's ankles, clinging
to her knees, and it becomes remembering.

You'll have to find your own
pictures, whoever you are,
whatever your need.

As for me, many small hands
issuing from a waterfall
means silence
mothered me.

The hours hung like fruit in night's tree
means when I close my eyes
and look inside me,

a thousand open eyes
span the moment of my waking.

Meanwhile, the clock
adding a grain to a grain
and not getting bigger,

subtracting a day from a day
and never having less, means the honey

lies awake all night
inside the honeycomb
wondering who its parents are.

And even my death isn't my death
unless it's the unfathomed brow
of a nameless face.

Even my name isn't my name
except the bees assemble

a table to grant a stranger
light and moment in a wilderness
of Who? Where?


Excerpted from Book of My Nights by Li-Young Lee. Copyright © 2001 by Li-Young Lee. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Meet the Author

Li-Young Lee was born in 1957 in Jakarta, Indonesia, of Chinese parents. In 1959 his father, after spending a year as a political prisoner in President Sukarno's jails, fled Indonesia with his family. Between 1959 and 1964 the Lee family traveled throughout Hong Kong, Macau and Japan, until arriving in America.

Li-Young Lee's first poetry collection, Rose, won the New York University's 1986 Delmore Schwartz Memorial Poetry Award. His second collection, The City In Which I Love You, was the 1990 Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets. His third collection, Book of My Nights, was awarded the 2002 William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America.

In September 2006, BOA Editions published Breaking the Alabaster Jar: Conversations with Li-Young Lee, edited by Earl G. Ingersoll. This book collects the best dozen interviews Li-Young Lee has granted since the 1986 publication of Rose, including the 1988 interview with Bill Moyers on his The Power of the Word series. Breaking the Alabaster Jar contains new insights on Li-Young Lee's aesthetics, history, and various philosophies. Breaking the Alabaster Jar is an invaluable companion to Li-Young Lee's previous award-winning poetry collections.

Li-Young Lee currently lives in Chicago, Illinois, with his wife Donna and their two children.

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Book of My Nights 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
i enjoyed the surreal journey i took when reading this collection.