Friday, June 16, 2017

Li-Young Lee and Poetry about Fathers

I fell in love with the poetry of Li-Young Lee when I read his debut collection Rose. Published in 1986, the book won the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Poetry Award. In the foreword that he wrote for Rose, Gerald Stern said that when he first came across Li-Young Lee’s poetry, he “was amazed by the large vision, the deep seriousness and the almost heroic ideal “reminiscent more of John Keats, Rainer Maria Rilke and perhaps Theodore Roethke than William Carlos Williams on the one hand or T.S. Eliot on the other.” Stern added that what characterizes Lee’s poetry “Is a certain humility, a kind of cunning, a love of plain speech, a search for wisdom and understanding…”

Stern also wrote in his foreword that the “father” in contemporary poetry “tends to be a pathetic soul or bungler or a sweet loser, overwhelmed by the demands of family and culture and workplace.” He said that the father in Lee’s poems isn’t anything like that. He said the “father” in Lee’s poetry is “more godlike”–and that the poet’s job “becomes not to benignly or tenderly forgive him, but to withstand him and comprehend him, and variously fear and love him.”

Lee’s second collection, The City in Which I Love You (1990), is a remembrance of the poet’s childhood…and his father. Writing in Publishers Weekly, reviewer Peggy Kaganoff said the book’s poetry “weaves a remarkable web of memory from the multifarious fibers of his experience.”

For Father’s Day, I have selected some poems from Li-Young Lee’s Rose and The City in Which I Love You to share with you.

Excerpt from Eating Alone

Once, years back, I walked beside my father
among the windfall pears. I can’t recall
our words. We may have strolled in silence. But
I still see him bend that way-left hand braced
on knee, creaky-to lift and hold to my
eye a rotten pear. In it, a hornet
spun crazily, glazed in slow, glistening juice.

It was my father I saw this morning
waving to me from the trees. I almost
called to him, until I came close enough
to see the shovel, leaning where I had
left it, in the flickering, deep green shade.

Click here to read the rest of the poem.

Excerpt from The Gift

To pull the metal splinter from my palm
my father recited a story in a low voice.
I watched his lovely face and not the blade.
Before the story ended, he’d removed
the iron sliver I thought I’d die from.
I can’t remember the tale,
but hear his voice still, a well
of dark water, a prayer.
And I recall his hands,
two measures of tenderness
he laid against my face,
the flames of discipline
he raised above my head.
Had you entered that afternoon
you would have thought you saw a man
planting something in a boy’s palm,
a silver tear, a tiny flame.

Click here to read the rest of the poem.

Excerpt from My Father, in Heaven, Is Reading Out Loud

My father, in heaven, is reading out loud
to himself Psalms or news. Now he ponders what
he’s read. No. He is listening for the sound
of children in the yard. Was that laughing
or crying? So much depends upon the
answer, for either he will go on reading,
or he’ll run to save a child’s day from grief.
As it is in heaven, so it was on earth.

Click here to read the rest of the poem.




Some old photos of my father, Sigismund R. Drabik (1912-1984): Polish Immigrant, American Citizen, World War II Veteran


NOTE: I am having trouble with Blogger this morning. I can't figure out why there are whited-out areas on this post.
The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Carol's Corner.



Carol said...

My father has been gone for more than twenty years, and yet I still remember, vividly, the feeling of him holding my hands, and digging out a splinter, or the way his eyes crinkled when he laughed. These poems made me cry.

Jane @ said...

Your father reminds me of my own grandfather, who was also a Polish immigrant and WWII veteran! He was at times a difficult man, incredibly stubborn, fiery-tempered and strong-willed, but he was an absolute doll with his beloved grandchildren, who he doted on and adored. He left us a few years ago, and left a real hole in all of our hearts.

Mary Lee said...

My father was distant in my childhood, and just when we were beginning to create an adult relationship, he died of cancer. I do have strong memories of him in his chair, reading, reading, reading. The only time he read aloud was The Night Before Christmas on Christmas Ever. I can still hear his voice when I read that book!

About blogger -- the next to the last tool at the top of a post you're drafting is a red T with a little x. Highlight text you've pasted into a post and click on that tool to remove all formatting.

Elaine Magliaro said...

Carol, Jane, and Mary lee,

Thanks for your comments. My father could be difficult at times--but he had suffered a traumatic childhood. He was born in 1912. His parents came to America when he was about eighteen months old. They left my father behind in Poland with his grandmother--who passed away at some point before he came to this country in 1921. My father's parents were not warm and loving toward him. His father was an especially stern individual to whom I had no emotional connection. I didn't shed a tear when he passed away.

Although my father was not a terribly warm individual, I always knew he loved me...and he took great joy spending time with my daughter Sara. Unfortunately, he passed away a few months before she turned five.

jama said...

Thanks for sharing these beautiful and poignant poems. Enjoyed seeing all the pics of your father. I'm blessed that my dad is still with us -- he will be 103 in November!

Kay said...

Thanks for sharing these breath-taking poems. I love the specificity that still seems universal.

Anonymous said...

I could not have said I knew the poet from his name... but as soon as I started each poem, I knew them. Such exquisite construction. Thank-you so much for reintroducing me. And for sharing the photos of your father. Sepia photos seem to exude an extra layer of enchantment.