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Behind My Eyes [With CD]

4.08 of 5 stars 4.08  ·  rating details  ·  502 ratings  ·  63 reviews
Combining sensitivity and eloquence with a broad appeal, Li-Young Lee walks in the footsteps of Stanley Kunitz and Billy Collins as one of the United States s most beloved poets. Playful, erotic, at times mysterious, his work describes the immanent value of everyday experience. Straightforward language and simple narratives become gateways to the most powerful formulations ...more
Hardcover, 106 pages
Published January 17th 2008 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published January 1st 2008)
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Community Reviews

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Robert Beveridge
Li-Young Lee, Behind My Eyes (Norton, 2008)

Li-Young Lee has been one of my favorite poets for over twenty years, ever since I first picked up The City in Which I Love You in my college bookstore on a whim back in 1990. Part of the reason I'm such a fan is that Lee, while embracing the poetry-as-therapy paradigm so prevalent among bad poets, but always staying on the correct line of that other paradigm so important to poets, show-don't-tell. Thus it was that I cracked this book and started readin
...more
Noah
I couldn't quite get into this collection of poems, but I wish I could. Maybe if a better reader took me through a few of these I'd enjoy it more. As it was, I did like a few lines, like this one, from "In His Own Shadow," because I like the idea that not recognizing another master than Death is just a lack of sight:

His body throws two shadows:
One onto the table
and the piece of paper before him,
and one onto his mind.

One makes it difficult for him to see
the words he’s written and crossed out
on th
...more
Jessie
Only a few poems in this collection sing for me like those in LYL's ROSE; still, those few really sing. Mother is figured here, a nice complement to the figured, almost mythic father in ROSE; also LYL mines his immigrant experience here and reaches into his childhood in Indonesia, feeling the loss of it.

In this book are the simple, natural, monosyllabic images I find central to Lee, with those subtle twists, often in the verb, to defamiliarize: “when trees start to ache and green” (84) [I admit
...more
Gary McDowell
It's good, but it's nowhere near "acceptable." Seven years I've waited... for this? No. Some brilliant poems here, but overall I was unimpressed. Give me Rose or The City in Which I Love You anyday... Behind My Eyes only on low-confidence days.
Steven
In his fourth collection, Li-Young Lee again expertly explores issues of mortality and the spirit, writing meditative verses that are grounded in natural imagery. With each collection, Lee has deftly explored the line between the metaphysical and the physical worlds, placing the human directly in between the two, as "a blossom mortally wounded on its stem" (71), always trying to traverse the knowledge of our own mortality, and to delineate between what is temporal and what is eternal in this lif ...more
Paul (formerly known as Current)
This book (and its accompanying CD)contains some beautiful images and poems which traverse the physical and metaphysical juxtaposing the body and the voice. The body is tied to time--to parents, to history and events, to things that are lost--but the voice is active and emerges from these things.

My only criticism is that Lee has a tendency to over-explain and over-ennumerate instances. For example, in the poem "Descended from Dreamers" he presents a series of Biblical "dream" events--the sacrifi
...more
Rick
Jul 19, 2008 Rick rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: poetry
This is Lee’s fourth collection of poems and I think his best, though I have the discoverer’s fondness for his first collection, Rose. It was on a shelf in a narrow bookcase in the reception area of the Chinatown History Project that I first saw Lee’s work, pulling a copy of Rose while I waited for an appointment. Just killing time but I was so captivated that I bought the book after reading just a handful of poems. Lee investigates language and meaning, turning words this way and that until the ...more
Jen
May 04, 2012 Jen rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: poetry
I have never before read a book of Li-Young Lee's poetry but was pleased to have the chance to when I found this at one of my bargain outlets. I've been disappointed and have been reluctant to write a review. Most of the poetry is preoccupied with Christian religious ideas (which I have no connection with) and nurses obscurity. I was relieved when I looked at others' impressions here on goodreads and found out that I was not the only one who has had a problem with this book to the point of feeli ...more
Mark Eleveld
Review/interview by Mark Eleveld, published by the Chicago Sun Times, February 7, 2008


If pressed for a thesis statement on Lee’s new collection, and first in seven years, we’d say it’s a spiritual inquiry, but funny. Accessible, however, is not the right word for this fourth book from one of America’s preeminent poets. At his core, Lee has always been more exploratory than, say, Billy Collins or other cultural touchstones to whom he’s often compared. Which is not to say that the language is too
...more
Steven
Honestly, this book is probably a 3.5 star affair. Some of the poems are rather typical Li-young Lee poems. In fact, I perused it on the bookshelf at McNally Robinson and didn't much care for what I read, but then I read fellow Coldfronter, John Demning's insightful review and figured what the hell- I'll check it out via the public library.

Basically there are a lot of poems about his father, some poems with his mother thrown in for good measure, and a lot of spiritual/God contemplation poems. Ok
...more
Paul
Let's see and hear what rests and runs behind these eyes and ears. Let's see and hear if this simple thought experiment works in and out of breath's heart and mind: In and out of my heart and mind rests and runs this breath, these (analogical) limited lines of thought: Li-Young Lee is for and to poetry like Hayao Miyazaki is for and to anime. Beautiful. Breathtaking. Earthly. Familial. Fatherly. Heavenly. Hospitable. Interstitial. Motherly. Mystical. Universal.

I used to listen to the CD recordin
...more
Helen Chung
Li-Young Lee's poems are thoughtfully written and immersed in biblical language and story. The poet was born in Indonesia to Chinese parents, and the family fled to escape anti-Chinese sentiment, settling in the U.S. in 1964. Lee's father became a Presbyterian minister.

Here is a paragraph lifted from the Poetry Foundation blog's bio on the poet: "Lee has said that he considers every poem to be a “descendent of God.” When asked about flawed poems by Poets and Writers, Lee explained: “There are g
...more
Ginna
Mar 01, 2013 Ginna marked it as to-read
Jeff Oliver posted this poem along with the AK lit happenings calendar. I'm always hungry for more of Lee's poetry -

To Hold

So we’re dust. In the meantime, my wife and I
make the bed. Holding opposite edges of the sheet,
we raise it, billowing, then pull it tight,
measuring by eye as it falls into alignment
between us. We tug, fold, tuck. And if I’m lucky,
she’ll remember a recent dream and tell me.

One day we’ll lie down and not get up.
One day, all we guard will be surrendered.

Until then, we’ll go on
...more
John Struloeff
I enjoy Li-Young's poetry. He has a controlled, steady, mystical voice -- in person and on the page. I heard him read a number of these poems when he was at Stanford. At his craft lecture, he talked about the connection between words/utterance and breath. Breath in, breath out. You can't do both at once -- it's a steady swing, back and forth, controlled, meditative. Sometimes certain poems or lines are confusing -- a bit too abstract and mystical -- but when he's good, he's good. I find myself r ...more
Tracy O
Sep 28, 2008 Tracy O rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone
Shelves: poetry
I start to roll my eyes in consulting conversations when someone uses the phrase "robust resources" or in design discussions when someone refers to the "integrity of the materials," or in poetry articles when I see the term "spaciousness". These phrases must have meant something real when they were fresh, but they are such cliches I have to shy away from using them. But, spaciousness is the best description for this poetry. I had more room in my head after I read the book. Beautiful rhythm and l ...more
Nina
I have been waiting for a new Li Young Lee book for a long, long time. I read the poem "Persimmons" in high school and it was the first poem I really fell in love with. Around that time I found 4 or 5 of his poems from Rose and The City in Which I Love You that I read over and over again for years - I just found them deeply moving (and still do). That said, there were some poems in this new collection that were equally amazing. Unfortunately, there were others that really disappointed me - they ...more
Hai-Dang Phan
At the Li-Young Lee reading I eagerly attended the other week, I sat next to a professor of mine, who after we greeted each other, said to me, "I thought Lee's not your style." She was referring, I think, to my disfavor of the Billy Collins School of Poetry, the bite-sized lyric poem bursting with laughing and crying, filled with morsels of worldly wonder and self-knowledge. I took it as a mock-accusation and at the time could only muster a short, "But I do like his poetry. And besides, I think ...more
Michael
I found this to be rather disappointing. The language is often slack and/or clichéd. Some of the writing here is sub-undergraduate.

I do like his subject matter, but I don't think he does it justice here. It's his least successful attempt at mysticism-poetry, because mentioning "God" and "the soul" a million times isn't enough.

To be fair, there are some good poems, and some good spots in otherwise bad poems, However, all in all, this is a shockingly lazy collection, especially considering how m
...more
Hayley
Jun 08, 2011 Hayley rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Lovers of contemporary poetry, any readers
Recommended to Hayley by: Graduate School Professor
I can't think of many other words that come to mind when I read this besides "moved," "Rivers," and "memory." I don't even think all three of them necessarily make sense in this context. What I mean to say is that Lee's poetry not only brings the past alive in each poem, but in the reader as well. I was particularly enraptured by "Sweet Peace in Time" and "Living with Her." Additionally, some of them walked the line between 'funny' and 'pensive'- like "Virtues of the Boring Husband," not that Le ...more
Kasey Jueds
I think I am, somehow, not in the right mood for this book. I am a huge Li-Young Lee fan, and I'm in the middle of a collection of interviews with him, published by BOA, which is inspiring and centering and wise. But this book... hmmm. I can't seem to enter into the poems the way I'd like; I stay on the surface, emotionally. A few of the longer poems feel somewhat pretentious to me, without the depth and transparency I love in his work. There are a few, though, too, that drew me in powerfully, a ...more
Kevin Fanning
A poem is such a tiny thing that strives to contain the entire universe. If one poem hit the target, that would be enough for a lifetime. So it's astonishing how perfect and lovely and stunning fulfilling so many of these poems are.

I don't know how Li-Young Lee is able to connect so completely with life on such a deep emotional level, but I'm thankful that he's doing it.

His early stuff was so good, and he's just getting better and better. It's absolutely stunning.

I got this from the library but
...more
meeners
. . . I found you at dawn
sitting by the open kitchen window.
You were sorting seeds in a plate.

And if you were praying out loud,
I'll never tell.

And if you were listening to the doves,
and if their various whoo-ing, and coo-ing,
and dying in time,
are your earliest questions blown back to you
through the ragged seasons,

and if you've lived your life
in answer to those questions,
I'll never tell.

Your destiny is safe with me.
Your childhood is safe with me.
What you decide to bury is safe with me.
Robyn Groth
A gossamer anvil. An evanescent mountain.
Kirsten Kinnell
I loved this-- just not quite as much as Book of My Nights. It traces a wider arc stylistically, sometimes more ephemeral sometimes more lucidly narrative. I like both extremes, but the swinging between them caused the collection itself to seem less centered. Nevertheless, Lee's themes of his childhood immigration to the States and the tangible yet mysteriously just-out-of-sight, nearly tidal, influence of God and his parents-- these themes come more sharply into focus in this collection.
CX Dillhunt
I have read this book three time; incredible mix of prose poetry at its best (Virtues of the Boring Husband), memoir (Secret Life, The Shortcut Home), and mysitical/magical (The Lives of a Voice, My Favorite Kingdom, Station) to name name six of my favorite rereads in a book that really defies categorization. Doves, water, sister, mother, father, apples, light, dark crawl as words bigger than life through the poems tying them together, knotting into your mind.
Tasha Swinney
I have read this and listened to the CD countless times. So often, in fact, that I've been known to quote it randomly and insanely often. I personally think that this is Lee's best work. Favorites include "Virtues of a Boring Husband," "Immigrant Blues," and "Dying Stupid." But really, the whole damn book is good. I'm going to just start giving this book away as Christmas presents. I don't care if you don't want it, you're GETTING IT.
Stephen Kiernan
Lee is one of my favorite living poets, but this is not my favorite of his books. He spends many poems on the notions of art and the immortality of voice, and he resorts too often to a kind of surreal list-making in the place of imagery, narrative or metaphor.

Yet the collection is redeemed by several astonishing poems to his wife, and to the transcendent power of their love. Those poems will hook you and hold you and echo inside you.
Celeste
Overall I was disappointed with Lee's new book of poems because I felt that many of them were rushed, not as sifted through emotionally and articulated as clearly as his prior work, and I mean all of his prior work. There were a few gems, yet most of those explored some pretty common tropes for him - his relationship with his parents and his "foreign" ancestry. I hope his next book is less harried.
Michael
Sep 27, 2008 Michael rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: lindsey, silas
A great book of poetry, and Lee's voice is amazing (I saw him speak and listened to parts of the CD). I've heard from friends that this book isn't as visual/tangible as his others, and that these poems are too quick to arrive at their "truths," so I imagine his earlier books are better. But this is a really good read, and I strongly suggest Lee to anyone who likes poetry.
Ann Michael
I love most of the poems in this book, although a few missed the mark.
What I like about it is that Lee's quiet, measured poems have, over the years, shown a mind and heart that is maturing. These pieces are the work of a man my own age--a person who is doing life-review in an entirely different way from the earlier poems, and whose questioning continues unabated.
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Li-Young Lee is an American poet. He was born in Jakarta, Indonesia, to Chinese parents. His great-grandfather was Yuan Shikai, China's first Republican President, who attempted to make himself emperor. Lee's father, who was a personal physician to Mao Zedong while in China, relocated his family to Indonesia, where he helped found Gamaliel University. His father was exiled and spent a year in an I ...more
More about Li-Young Lee...
The City in Which I Love You Rose Book of My Nights The Winged Seed: A Remembrance Breaking the Alabaster Jar: Conversations with Li-Young Lee

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