Saturday, October 20, 2007

Li-Young Lee

Here's an interview with Li Young-Lee that I particularly enjoyed. Thanks to Pris for pointing this one out. Li Young-Lee is one of my favorites. The whole interview I found fascinating, but this part particularly leapt out at me:

Chang: 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?

Lee: I don't know. There's the poet, the audience, and the poet's—I'll call it daemon, but I mean that in the strict Greek sense. I think they meant something like divinization; the gods could demonize or possess you. And it seems to me that the poems and poets that I love all participate in this tri-axial relationship with the audience, the poet, and this third party. In Emily Dickinson, it would be the Master. Rilke's angels. Lorca's duende. Whitman's America. Ginsberg's mother. With the ancient T'ang Dynasty poets it would be the Universe. Then there's the poet; then there's the audience. If any of that relationship is missing, it seems to me that the poems are less rich. I don't know who's talking to whom. The service that poetry renders is that it manifests or demonstrates demonization. Divinization, let's use that word. I think that's the greatest service that a work of art can do.

It's a transcendent relationship finally. But you're alienated by your transcendence. I was recently talking about the duende, and everyone was talking about how nice it is—how wonderful and rich—forgetting that when Lorca talks about the duende, he talks about how you wrestle in it and that it kills you. And we know that, historically, all encounters with the divine leave you, on the one hand, enlarged—expanded, enhanced—and on the other hand, crippled. Like the story in the Old Testament. When Jacob wrestles God, he goes from being Jacob—which is the name of a person—to being Israel, which is the name of a multitude. He becomes enhanced and enlarged. But God cripples him. And In the Eastern tradition, there are always these things about getting your head cut off because a god visited you. Rilke says, "Every angel is terrifying." The human countenance is threatened or even shattered by the divine countenance, but at the same time, the divine countenance makes us more fully who we are.

1 comment:

brian salchert said...

Given my theological roots and
subsequent encounters and wrestlings,
this is essential knowledge.
My thanks to Li-Young Lee,
and my thanks to you.
I plan to read the interview and
also visit poeticinspire.