Li-Young Lee on Poetry

The Summer 2004 issue of Rattle contains a wonderful interview with Li-Young Lee. Among the gems are this passage about wholeness:

…what I really love when I read a poem is the visceral experience of a sense of wholeness … every poem is a portrait of the speaker, right? So if my experience of that speaker is a kind of integrated, a deeply integrated but at the same time highly differentiated psyche … then I get a real sense of satisfaction, a sense somehow that in the poem the intellectual function is informed of the emotional function and they are both informed of the erotic function and the erotic function is informed of the spiritual function. Sometimes I have a problem when I read a poem that’s just the mental function, it seems uninformed of the physical functions or the emotional functions or the spiritual functions. Or even a poem that is just the spiritual function working overtime but uninformed of the other functions. So what I love is a poem that somehow posits, proposes, a condition of wholeness.

which seem to echo and extend a lot of my own thoughts and beliefs about engaging both heart and mind in poetry as the fullest realization of the art. And also this wonderful passage:

We’re living in a time when the word “sincere”, and I didn’t know this, is suddenly a bad thing. I don’t get it. I heard a poet say to me, “Oh, I hate sincerity.” And I thought, oh, what do you like? Insincerity? I don’t get it. … What do they mean by that? And then I was talking to a poet and I said to her, “Well, for me, poetry is a form of disillusionment, right? It frees you of your illusions in order to uncover the condition of the all which we are constantly in the midst of.” And she said, “Well, I don’t like to be disillusioned.” “Why? You want to be illusioned?” … I mean, Hollywood gives us illusions. People Magazine gives us illusions. TV gives us illusions. But I think art gives us reality. And the reality that’s uncovered is so rich. Maybe that’s what it is–it’s not only rich and beautiful but it’s terrifying, too. So maybe we can’t stand abundance. we can’t stand abundance and so we keep making models of scarcity. … I want to be disillusioned. When I first read the poets that I love, I thought, wow, you mean, this is real existence, this is somebody speaking truthfully about my own experience of the all. And I just don’t want to live in illusion. …

which speaks so beautifully to me about my own ever-unfolding relationship to poetry as disillusionment and a kind of deliberate antidote to the illusion-making of mass media. I find reading Lee’s words on the power and importance of poetry almost as invigorating and renewing as reading his poems. What a remarkable man.