Interview w/ Li-Young Lee • Poet “The City In Which I Love You” “Rose” “Book of My Nights”

SM: If the world is a place of portals and doors, where do the important doors go?

LYL: I would guess that the “important doors” open onto self-knowledge, knowledge of who we are. But then, maybe all doors lead too self-knowledge, if our minds are ready to see that. For isn’t it true that how we encounter, how we react and relate to what’s on the other side of the door will determine the impotance of the event even more than what’s on the other side (a rose, a duck, a tiger, a peanut, a naked man with a leaf blower, a woman with her hair on fire riding a winged violin, an Arab, a Jew, a yellow man, a black man, a hillbilly, a brother in arms, an armed brother, a bottle of Glenfiddich, a pencil, a pile of money). And so the outcome of our encounter stands as testimony and evidence of who we are, our true identity.
All doors open onto ourselves. Where is there to go?

SM: : If you had to draw a picture of a room full of all tomorrow’s ghosts, what would you be sure to include in the portrait?

LYL: It seems to me that any tomorrow is only truly a tomorrow, and not just a repeat of today, if there are no ghosts in the room. A room swept of ghosts, even the ghost of our wishing for tomorrow, is the only possible tomorrow. Otherwise, it’s just today all over again, and not even that, since it’s just yesterday all over again, same thought-habits, same mistakes, same fixations, some prejudices, same preconceptions, same faulty assumptions about reality and ourselves and others, same ignorance. The only possible tomorrow, then, a true tomorrow, is a true today. Maybe humankind has not yet witnessed a true tomorrow or today and too much of our existence is recycled echo and shadow, ghost upon ghost and no real encounter. Maybe the words “tomorrow” and “today” have nothing to do with the 24-hour cylce, as though on one side of the twenty-fourth hour is still today, and one second beyond the twenty-fourth hour is tomorrow. Maybe those two words are names of states of mind we have yet to manifest on the planet. Maybe they name a state of mind not haunted by ghosts.

SM: When was the last time you took a good long look at the sky?

LYL: Last night. No, this morning. No, wait, this evening, a few moments ago, right before I sat down to write these answers. I’m very happy you reminded me. Your question makes me realize our blessed human state.

SM: What’s the first thing you thought when you woke up today?

LYL: Where’s Donna?

SM: When was the last circumstance in which luck was on your side?

LYL: Right now, this moment, I feel lucky. This exchange with you feels lucky, since it gives me a chance to ponder some pretty crazy, deep, wierd, wide-ranging issues I might not otherwise entertain.

SM: In your opinion, where are the world’s best secrets kept?

LYL: In God’s heart, where the big bang was born.

SM: Up to this point, how has the passage of time treated you?

LYL: I was about to say that Life has treated me with great leniency, kindness, and love, so far. But then I realized your question wasn’t how “Life” has treated me but how “the passage of time” has treated me. So I have to say “the passage of time” has treated me exactly the way it has treated everyone. I done got old. Can’t do the things I used to do. Cuz I’m a old man. Can’t drink the way I used to. Can’t love the way I used to. Done got old.

SM: What’s your first reaction to the sight of a man who looks nearly identical to you?

LYL: Spooked interest.

SM: What was the last circumstance in which you found yourself that you could not comprehend entirely?

LYL: Working at a poem earlier this afternoon. I couldn’t tell why or what or how I was doing. I couldn’t tell what a poem is, what is its value, what am I trying to say, am I trying to say anyhting, is something else wanting to speak through me, am I listening to the right words, what does a line-ending punctuate that commas and periods don’t, what is poetic consciousness and how is it different from mundane consciousness, what does the practice of poetry have to do with human evolution?

SM: Please describe your smile to someone who’s never seen it.

LYL: Crooked-toothed, embarrassed, drool dripping down my shirt.

Li-Young Lee
Li-Young’s Listing on Amazon