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The Milton Measure

Bingham Writer Li-Young Lee Visits

by on Thursday, March 8th, 2012
On February 29th and March 1st, poet Li-Young Lee, this spring’s Bingham Reader, spoke at Milton. After reading his poetry at an extremely well-received Wednesday assembly, he visited English and writing classes, and sat down to speak to The Milton Measure over lunch. During the assembly, Mr. Lee read his poems “Self-Help for Fellow Refugees” and “The Undressing,” which was unfinished.
His poetry and persona thoroughly appealed to the audience. As a child, Lee remembers his parents reciting to him poems they memorized during their own childhood in China, sparking in him a love of poetry. He did not start writing poetry until he was in college at the University of Pittsburgh, after a tumultuous family journey—which features prominently in his poetry—in which he travelled from China to Indonesia to the United States. At the University of Pittsburgh, a teacher suggested he try poetry after the teacher felt the prose of his essays resembled poetry. Even today, the similarities between prose and poetry figure prominently in his ethos. “I think it’s possible there’s no such thing as prose,” he says. “Prose is just poetry, but the person was too lazy to break the lines where they should be broken.”
Many of Lee’s poems focus on his family and childhood. While Lee was born in Indonesia, his family is fully Chinese, and had a storied history in the country until they fled the country. After Lee’s father faced persecution in Indonesia, the family left for the United States, where Lee has lived ever since. Despite spending an extensive part of his childhood outside of the US, Lee has only written poetry in English. Since then, Li-Young Lee has firmly established himself in the poetry community, renowned for his poetry collections Rose, The City in Which I Love You, Book of My Nights, and Behind My Eyes.
While at Milton, he left a lasting impression with students, who flocked to hear him speak again and again, class after class.  Li-Young Lee was this year’s second Bingham Reader, following Rick Moody, who elicited a more subdued response this past fall.

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