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Behind My Eyes [With CD]

4.06  ·  Rating Details ·  699 Ratings  ·  72 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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Rick
Apr 12, 2008 Rick rated it really liked it
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
Jessie
Apr 01, 2008 Jessie rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
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
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
Paul
Aug 12, 2008 Paul rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, favorites
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
Noah
Aug 17, 2011 Noah rated it it was ok
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
Steven
Mar 05, 2008 Steven rated it really liked it
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
Helen Chung
Jul 26, 2012 Helen Chung rated it really liked it
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
Oct 26, 2010 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
Jan 04, 2009 John Struloeff rated it really liked it
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 12, 2008 Tracy O rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 30, 2007 Nina rated it really liked it
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
Jennifer Collins
Feb 19, 2016 Jennifer Collins rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Lee's poems are consistently stunning, pulling together careful observation, powerful language, and graceful moments in any given line and stanza. Falling into his work is something like journeying into another space and another mind, his poems are each, from beginning to end, so carefully constructed. And yet, they seem effortless, and they are readable and engaging. Few poems in this collection are not stand-outs, and in most collections, any of these poems would leap from the pages and demand ...more
Hayley
Jun 08, 2011 Hayley rated it it was amazing
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
Kevin Fanning
Apr 15, 2008 Kevin Fanning rated it it was amazing
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
Meg
Mar 21, 2015 Meg rated it it was amazing
From BECOME BECOMING

"...All of Time began when you first answered
to the names you mother and father gave you.

Soon, those names will travel with the leaves.
Then, you an trade places with the wind.

Then you'll remember your life
as a book of candles,
each page read by the light of its own burning."

Some books can withstand the closer scrutiny of a second reading. Some books demand this. BEHIND MY EYES is a new book no matter how many times it is read. It is always relevant, always raw, always tender.
Kirsten Kinnell
Jan 02, 2010 Kirsten Kinnell rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, poetry-modern
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
Aug 26, 2009 CX Dillhunt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Gary McDowell
Jul 03, 2007 Gary McDowell rated it liked it
Shelves: ho-hum
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.
Cathryn Cofell
Aug 02, 2011 Cathryn Cofell rated it liked it
While for me, not as powerful as his earlier books, getting to hear him read those poems trumps every other book I own (ie; all of them). Now, if I can just figure out how to teleport his body to the passenger seat of my car for the full 3-d experience!
Xiaowei
Aug 25, 2015 Xiaowei rated it really liked it
I relate so much to Lee's intricate feelings as an immigrant. The experience of trauma, the problem of language, etc are all at core of the immigrant identity. Lee also manages to transform his everyday experience into astonishingly moving and romantic symbols. A pretty good job.
Susan
Dec 01, 2015 Susan rated it it was amazing
Beautiful. Also, if you enjoy Li-Young Lee's work, it is very worthwhile to look him up on YouTube to see videos of his poetry readings.
Monica Snyder
Oct 15, 2016 Monica Snyder rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Word art.
Sherry Elmer
Mar 14, 2017 Sherry Elmer rated it really liked it
In his poem, “Virtues of the Boring Husband,” Li-Young Lee writes:
 
“Maybe love for God amounts
to the Beloved returning
the Lover’s gaze.
 
And out of that look and looking back,
All of our notions
Of space, home, distance,
Beginning, end, recurrence,
Death, debt, fruition, number, weight
Emerge; all are issue
 
Of that meeting between
Lover and lover, our souls’ intercourse
With what it loves.”
 
If this is love for God, or at least a form of it, then Li-Young, with his keenly observant eye, repeatedly shows
...more
Jen
May 04, 2012 Jen rated it it was ok
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
Dec 06, 2012 Mark Eleveld rated it liked it
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
Nov 12, 2007 Steven rated it liked it
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 (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
Michael
Aug 12, 2007 Michael rated it it was ok
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
Kasey Jueds
Mar 05, 2013 Kasey Jueds rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
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
meeners
Oct 13, 2012 meeners rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
. . . 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.
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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...

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“SELF-HELP FOR FELLOW REFUGEES

If your name suggests a country where bells
might have been used for entertainment,

or to announce the entrances and exits of the seasons
and the birthdays of gods and demons,

it's probably best to dress in plain clothes
when you arrive in the United States.
And try not to talk too loud.

If you happen to have watched armed men
beat and drag your father
out the front door of your house
and into the back of an idling truck,

before your mother jerked you from the threshold
and buried your face in her skirt folds,
try not to judge your mother too harshly.

Don't ask her what she thought she was doing,
turning a child's eyes
away from history
and toward that place all human aching starts.

And if you meet someone
in your adopted country
and think you see in the other's face
an open sky, some promise of a new beginning,
it probably means you're standing too far.

Or if you think you read in the other, as in a book
whose first and last pages are missing,
the story of your own birthplace,
a country twice erased,
once by fire, once by forgetfulness,
it probably means you're standing too close.

In any case, try not to let another carry
the burden of your own nostalgia or hope.

And if you're one of those
whose left side of the face doesn't match
the right, it might be a clue

looking the other way was a habit
your predecessors found useful for survival.
Don't lament not being beautiful.

Get used to seeing while not seeing.
Get busy remembering while forgetting.
Dying to live while not wanting to go on.

Very likely, your ancestors decorated
their bells of every shape and size
with elaborate calendars
and diagrams of distant star systems,
but with no maps for scattered descendants.

And I bet you can't say what language
your father spoke when he shouted to your mother
from the back of the truck, "Let the boy see!"

Maybe it wasn't the language you used at home.
Maybe it was a forbidden language.
Or maybe there was too much screaming
and weeping and the noise of guns in the streets.

It doesn't matter. What matters is this:
The kingdom of heaven is good.
But heaven on earth is better.

Thinking is good.
But living is better.

Alone in your favorite chair
with a book you enjoy
is fine. But spooning
is even better.”
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“Have You Prayed”

When the wind
turns and asks, in my father’s voice,
Have you prayed?

I know three things. One:
I’m never finished answering to the dead.

Two: A man is four winds and three fires.
And the four winds are his father’s voice,
his mother’s voice . . .

Or maybe he’s seven winds and ten fires.
And the fires are seeing, hearing, touching,
dreaming, thinking . . .
Or is he the breath of God?

When the wind turns traveler
and asks, in my father’s voice, Have you prayed?
I remember three things.
One: A father’s love

is milk and sugar,
two-thirds worry, two-thirds grief, and what’s left over

is trimmed and leavened to make the bread
the dead and the living share.

And patience? That’s to endure
the terrible leavening and kneading.

And wisdom? That’s my father’s face in sleep.

When the wind
asks, Have you prayed?
I know it’s only me

reminding myself
a flower is one station between
earth’s wish and earth’s rapture, and blood

was fire, salt, and breath long before
it quickened any wand or branch, any limb
that woke speaking. It’s just me

in the gowns of the wind,
or my father through me, asking,
Have you found your refuge yet?
asking, Are you happy?

Strange. A troubled father. A happy son.
The wind with a voice. And me talking to no one.”
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