Monday, August 9, 2021

Karen An-hwei Lee

Karen An-hwei Lee is an American poet, novelist and translator. Her first poetry collection, In Media Res (Sarabande Books, 2004), won the Norma Faber First Book Award and the Kathryn A. Morton Prize. She has translated the poetry and prose of twelfth century Chinese poet Li Qingzhao in her book Double Radiance (2018), and she has published two science-fiction novels. She is Provost and Professor of English at Wheaton College.

Lee’s fourth poetry book, Rose is a Verb: Neo-Georgics (2021), has just appeared from Wipf & Stock/Slant Books. Virgil’s poetic sequence Georgics is one of the inspirations behind these “Neo-Georgics” which reflect on relationships between the planet, the human, and the divine. Eric Pankey has said of this new collection, “ In the midst of such an innovative poetry, such a radical experimentation, what a surprise it is to find this kind and confident guide to take us on this journey. I cannot resist her pure and radiant voice, cannot help but follow where she leads.” Pankey's allusion to Dante is not lost on us.

The following poem first appeared in Christian Century.

Songs of Comfort

The friendly cellist with a big heart, a long-time resident
of a neighboring town where I grew up, who received
bouquets from the flower shop where I trimmed roses,
said his favorite thing to do after returning from a trip
was grocery shopping, savoring the essentials of small life
away from the airports and applause: buying milk, fruit
like blessings of solace: bread, tea, local honey in a jar
slow, lovely as sarabandes, those songs without words
aired in isolation through the pandemic. After his dose,
Yo-Yo Ma plays an impromptu concert for others waiting
in the fifteen-minute interval after the shots to monitor
allergic reactions. Masked, he lifts his cello out of its case,
perhaps his favorite one named Petunia, then tightens
the horsehair bow adroitly. The cello, with its mellow
notes of melancholy mingled with hope, fills the hall,
like the light at the end of the tunnel, the residents say.
Light at the end of the tunnel. I know it must be true
because I would never put this trite sentence in a poem
otherwise. God is waiting for us to pay attention:
God is waiting in the light.

Posted with permission of the poet.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock.