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Book of My Nights - BOA Editions, Ltd.

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Book of My Nights

By: Li-Young Lee

Availability: In Stock

Regular price $14.50

About This Title


“Our bodies look solid, but they aren't. We're like a fountain. A fountain of water looks solid, but you can put your fingers right through it. Our bodies look like things, but there's no thingness to them.” Such is the metaphysical preoccupation of Li-Young Lee's long-awaited third volume of poetry, Book of My Nights - a collection of 35 lyrical nocturnes which mark a shift in the poet's work towards a more hermetic mode. Where Rose and The City in Which I Love You confront childhood memories and the generational anxieties attendant to them, Lee surrenders much of his familial obsessing for a transfiguring kind of introspection.


"As the title portends, Lee endures sleeplessness to contemplate the self's urge for total presence. And as with the two volumes that precede it, Lee arrives at his revelations through a pliant, twining syntax and an archetypal diction. Nights, those 'black intervals,' become a kind of threshold, a fugitive and elusive place where Lee interrogates himself as in the poem 'From Another Room': 'Who lay down at evening / and woke at night / a stranger to himself?' In 'Degrees of Blue' the poem yawns open into a dream-like setting: 'At the place in the story // where a knock at the hull wakes the dreamer / and he opens his eyes to find the rowers gone, / the boat tied to an empty dock, // the boy looks up from his book…' Indeed, the stillness and quiet and repetition of 'night' fill Book of My Nights with provocative instants of self-transcendence."

—Rain Taxi

"Passionate and profound, Lee's third collection charts the mid-life ontological crisis of a speaker who 'can't tell what my father said about the sea... from the sea itself,' and finds himself unmoored without that strong male voice. Lee's father was a personal physician to Mao Zedong, who took the family to Jakarta (where Lee was born) in the '50s. As Indonesia began persecuting Chinese citizens and his father was imprisoned, Lee's family left the country, spent five years moving from place to place in Asia, and arrived in the U.S. in 1964. (These events are described in The Winged Seed, Lee's American Book Award-winning memoir [reissued by BOA in 2013].) Lee has ever been concerned with questions of origins, but in the 11 years since the publication of his last collection, memories of childhood answers furnished by father, mother, and siblings now fail to assuage the poet's 3a.m. doubts. Yet he does not trust himself to formulate answers on his own in these 35 nocturnes, and the father seems to be missing or dead. The poet's tightly wrought, extraordinarily careful and finally heart-wrenching responses finally boil down to one ultimate cry: 'Where is his father? Who is his mother?' The complex permutations of these fundamental inquiries and their unsatisfactory answers construct a space in which knowledge and redemption, if never quite attained, always seem possible. Lee is never faced with sheer emptiness; his 'silence thunders,' a vocal presence to which Lee's speaker responds, 'declaring a new circumference/ even the stars enlarge by crowding down to hear.'"

—Publishers Weekly

Heir to All

What I spill in a dream
runs under my door,
ahead of my arrival
and the year's wide round,

to meet me in the color of hills
at dawn, or else collected
in a flower's name
I trace with my finger
in a book. Proving

only this: Listening is the ground
below my sleep,
where decision is born, and
whoever's heard the title
autumn knows him by
is heir to all those
unfurnished rooms inside the roses.

© BOA Editions, Ltd. 2001