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Behind My Eyes: Poems Hardcover – January 17, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this fourth collection by the popular Lee (Book of My Nights), timely immigration issues drive such poems as Self-Help for Fellow Refugees, but Lee swiftly folds them into broader inquiries about inheritance, memory and loss: you'll remember your life, he advises, as a book of candles,/ each page read by the light of its own burning. Lee's late father appears in the light of his evangelical Christian beliefs, his mother and sister as cherished links to childhood. Biblical allusions enliven an otherwise spare verbal world, while aphorisms and spiritual advice strike a note reminiscent of Rumi: Every wise child is sad.... Every wind-strewn flower is God tearing God. Rarely subtle, Lee can nevertheless be concise: every line bears the weight of long meditation, sometimes even of wisdom. Virtues of the Boring Husband, the longest piece, is one of Lee's best: a discourse on the nature of love—ponderous but shot through with golden truths—that comes from the mouth of the sheepish partner who admits, Whenever I talk, my wife falls asleep./ So now, when she can't sleep, I talk. Lee's ringing clarity and his compelling life story have brought him uncommonly loyal readers: this volume should swell their ranks. A CD of Lee reading many of the poems is included. (Jan.)
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Review

“Accessible, enigmatic, melodic, humorous . . . profound.” — Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Luminous, deceptively simple poems.” — Times Union

“The conversations in beautifully speak the mind’s inquiring rhythms.” — Harvard Review
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (January 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393065421
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393065428
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.6 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,255,893 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 23 people found the following review helpful By D. Sumrall on May 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover
this review by Leslie Adrienne Miller was featured in Gently Read Literature ([...])--

The opening poem in Li-Young Lee's most recent collection, Behind my Eyes, ends with the lines "While all bodies share/ the same fate, all voices do not," an appropriate emphasis for a book that comes with a CD of the author reading his own poems. Lee's work falls into the interesting gap between poetry for the page and poetry in performance; though most poets writing now know their poems will have a voiced life even as they are prepared for the page first, Lee seems to understand that the spoken is essential and contemporaneous with the written. His headlong embrace of the concept of death is stopped short by the living voice, and he understands that the immortality traditionally courted in the form of the printed word is transformed wholly by the fact of poet as virtual presence.

Lee's work in this book, consistent with that of previous books, appears on the page, but lives best and longest in the ear. He knows that his voice is able to supply the rhythm, syntax and counterpoint that the lines on the page do not supply, and though these poems are adequate on the page, they are most fully realized in hearing. Most of these poems deploy their ideas in rhetorical structures familiar to sermons, political speeches, a Whitmanian insistence on patterns of parallel structure and repetition borrowed from religious texts and delivered by a charismatic figure too possessed with his mission to worry over perfection of diction, image or line integrity. Rather, Lee's poems favor aggressive juxtapositions, breath units, and syntactic parallels that drive shifts in tone and focus through the ear as well as the white space of the page.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Maureen O'Brien on September 9, 2008
Format: Hardcover
There are very beautiful poems in this collection. I have always admired Li-Young Lee's early work, and I see how he has grown here. He has always been a champion of the power of memory within; he continues exploring this theme, interfacing it with his very nimble imagination. I taught several of these poems to my students and they described the work as "soft", "naked" and "grasping", which I think is a lovely characterization of his work. The breadth of his imagination is extraordinary, and makes these poems works that can be read over and over, and still be deeply satisfying. I found the CD to be excellent, as the intimacy of his voice extends the intimacy of the poems. A great tool for teachers of poetry; Lee reads his work serenely, and with quiet and inviting emotion.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By doc peterson VINE VOICE on December 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Li-Young Lee is among my favorite poets - his voice is intensely personal, yet he frequently speaks to universal experiences. _Behind My Eyes_, as the title implies, falls more strongly in the latter category, and therefore I had difficulty connecting with his work. The themes he addresses are similar to those in his earlier work: the challenges and difficulties of immigration (and of being an immigrant), inter-generational disconnect between himself and his father, memories of his childhood and the "mundane" events of being a husband and father. These poems - of his family life - resonate most strongly with me than the others. I was disappointed, therefore that there were not more of them in this collection.

In fact, a number of his poems are unusually grim, with meditations on death, spirituality, and the personal tragedies of fleeing civil war, violence and injustice. His words remain powerful, but I found myself looking for a respite from the burden Lee shares with readers. For example, in "After the Pyre," Lee writes,

"It turns out, what keeps you alive
as a child at mid-century
following your parents from burning
villiage to cities on fire to a country at war
with itself and anyone
who looks like you

what allows you to pass through smoke,
through armed mobs singing themerits of a new regime, tooth
for a tooth ...

what keeps you safe even among your own,
the numb, the haunted, the maimed, the barely alive,
tricks you learned to become invisible,
escapes you perfected, playing dead, playing
stupid, playing blind, deaf, weak, strong,
playing girl, playing boy, playing native, foreign,
in love, out of love, playing crazy, sane, holy, debauched ...
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Robert Beveridge HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on October 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover
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 reading, I was kind of shocked. This first section crosses that line. Obliterates it, in fact. Show goes right down the tubes and tell rears its nasty head.

"'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
of the 20th Century.'

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

Seven cards apiece and the object is to not die."
("Mother Deluxe")

While the metaphor is kind of inspired, it's still the sort of thing one would expect to see on [...]. Just because William Carlos Williams stuck a grocery list in the middle of a poem and called it poetry doesn't mean everyone can do it. (And doesn't mean Williams should have in the first place, really.) In order to get through that first section, I kept telling myself that things would eventually get better. Thankfully, they did. It's somewhat ironic that Lee's strongest poems here are those where he (or his narrator) seems least sure of his own voice, as in the book's strongest piece, "Virtues of the Boring Husband":

"I just lie down beside her,
prop my head up in one hand and say,
'You know, I've been thinking.
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