Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hila Ratzabi Review: BEHIND MY EYES by Li-Young Lee

In the current issue of Valparaiso Poetry Review (Spring/Summer 2010: Volume XI, Number 2) Hila Ratzabi reviews Li-Young Lee’s latest collection of poetry, Behind My Eyes.


Li-Young Lee’s lustrous fourth book of poetry, Behind My Eyes (Norton, 2009), flickers, like fading lamplight, at the limits of language. The spiritual center of the book hinges on two axes: the horizontal (the body’s experience of, and in, time) and the vertical (the mind’s unbounded access to the realm of dream and, therefore, timelessness). At the point of their convergence, language attempts to give voice to the impossible duality of being. Lee is not only one of our best contemporary poets of the sacred; he is an authentic mystic, in the classical sense of the mystic who uses language to access a realm beyond language. Lee does not merely peer at the edge of the unknown; he enters it, as though it were a familiar room in a childhood home, and returns to report. Confounding dichotomy, Lee calls into question the division between beginning/end, birth/death, past/future, man/woman, body/mind. Borders melt; language opens. These poems approach the very edge of the ineffable, that which cannot be articulated.

Though the speaker in one poem claims, aphoristically, “Thinking is good. / But living is better,” these are thinking poems, and the preceding lines serve more as a reminder than a statement of fact. Surreal, dreamlike, anti-logical, the poems in this collection are suspicious of flesh, and seem to spring out of a disembodied mind. In “Immigrant Blues,” the speaker, “confused about the flesh and the soul,” in conversation with his lover over the phone, asks: “Am I inside you?” This confusion, and subsequent conflation of body/soul, presumes that speaking to the lover is synonymous with physical intimacy.

Dialogue between lovers dramatizes the constraints of speaking. A “he said/she said” motif drives many of the poems, deeply embedded in a Lacanian framework, in which gender difference symbolizes the tension between (male) speech and (female) speechlessness. “Sweet Peace in Time” enacts this difficultly. The male, obsessed with language’s precariousness, continually asks the female: “What if by … you mean … but I mean …” The dialogue reads like two simultaneous monologues in which the lovers talk at each other, unable to find a common language. The male does not trust language, stating: “To speak is to err. / Words name nothing. / There are no words,” and later, “We should give up / trying to speak or to be understood. / It’s too late in the world for dialogue.” Yet the female never questions language; she declares faithfully: “Home, speech is the living purchase / of our nights and days.” Speech, to her, relates to home and time—to being at peace with the physical world. The male, on the other hand, emphasizes the instability of speech. It reminds him of the power of death, characterized as a muting force: “Death creates a blind spot,” i.e., death instigates a temporary forgetting which negates the requirement to speak and muffles the voice that in life is bound to the body. Only in death will the man be freed from having to speak. Then, in the most Lacanian formulation in the book, the male states: “Man is a secret, blind to himself. / And Woman … Woman is …” The man associates Woman with pure being; this explains why she has no need, like the man does, to question language. She speaks out of true self-knowledge of her physicality; while the man, “blind to himself,” can never get past his awareness of death, and consequentially, focuses on the faultiness of speech.

Enamored with the lure of language—its tease of meaning—the speaker in Lee’s poems sees language everywhere. This rapture with words figures most prominently in “Lake Effect,” where nature is equated with language. The “he said/she said” refrain from earlier poems morphs into the more personal “She said/I said.” The male and female speakers pile on metaphors: “She said ‘The lake is like an open book, / day like the steady gaze of a reader.’ // I said, ‘The day is a book we open between us, / the lake a sentence we read together …’ ” The male flips the female’s metaphors (transferring “book” from “lake” to “day”), extending and unfolding meaning. “Book” later becomes “voice,” and “The lake keeps changing its mind” (the lake a stand-in for the speaker). This changing mind ripples throughout the poem like shifting light on water: everything is a potential metaphor for something else; meaning is never stable.

The tenuousness of communication embodied by male/female dialogue also comes into play in Lee’s depiction of mother/father figures. His formulation of an origin myth underlies his conception of the human being’s place in the world. Central to Lee’s personal genesis story, his portrayal of mother/father archetypes picks up on a trope from his previous collection, Book of My Nights (2001). The parental figures in Book of My Nights take on primordial significance, and they reappear in Behind My Eyes as part of a group of thickly layered symbols and metaphors of the speaker’s inner life. Like the male/female lovers, the parents signify a breakdown in meaning . . .

[Visitors are invited to read the rest of Hila Ratzabi’s review of Behind My Eyes and urged to examine all of the works in the current issue of Valparaiso Poetry Review.]

1 comment:

Maureen said...

A very fine review of a poet whose work I began reading, with great admiration, last year. Thank you.