What Kind of Poems Are Your Cells Writing?

by tjbeitelman


I recently came upon this interview of the poet Li-Young Lee. In it, he answers a lot of good questions:

  • Why did you want to quit writing poetry?
  • You equate your father with your love of poetry, because he used to read to you from the King James Bible. How did that affect your love for words or for the music of words?
  • Do you recall when you started taking yourself seriously — if you did at one point — when you started looking at your poems as poems? Did it come from the encouragement of a teacher?
  • I notice that in your new book you ask a lot of questions. For instance, you say: “What does my death weigh?” “When will I be born?” “What have I done with my God?” To whom do you think these questions are addressed?
  • I read in an interview that you stopped using the word “God” and started using the word “Universe.” 

I was particularly interested in this exchange. It seemed to exactly address — or at least echo — the creative questions I’m considering these days, and what I like about Lee’s attitude is that it celebrates the questions, raises that process of asking such questions to something that transcends mere intellect, something that is simultaneously and primarily physical and spiritual. Therefore: yogic.

Chang: In regard to writing poetry, Stanley Kunitz, said, “You have to move into areas of the self that remain to be explored, and that’s one of the problems in maturing as a poet. By the age of fifty, the chances are that you’ve explored all the obvious places. The poems that remain for you to write will have to come out of your wilderness.” By wilderness, he means the untamed self, all the chaos behind the locked door. Do you feel that you’ve explored all the obvious places or that you have more to discover?

Lee: Well, I feel both. I do feel that, as a yoga that one practices, writing poems is like any meditative path. You move through your own psychology, and then you move beyond your psychology. At that point it gets a little rough, because you have to posit something beyond your own psychology toward that which your psyche is embedded in. That adventure is, I think, an infinite proposition. That, to me, is the real wilderness. Beyond species-specific, beyond gender-specific, beyond culture-specific, what kind of poems are your cells writing? What kinds of poems come out of the space that is our bodies?

Yes. What kinds? Here’s to all of us finding out…