Whorled

Poems by Ed Bok Lee

“These poems are filled with ‘a certain historical color of light.’ They’re funny, slyly political, and gorgeous. Working with a variety of forms and modes, Ed Bok Lee rocks my socks off. I love this book.”—Sherman Alexie

August 2011
6 x 9 | 140 pages
Paperback Original

ISBN: 978-1-56689-278-0.

$16.00

Description

On the other side of the world, there is a language I have never heard
It is beautiful, and in this dying tongue, there are words for Love and God
that resemble Bread and Wing
Or another forest language in which Mother and Knife

equal Drawer and Sing
And Island Wood is somewhere Desert Milk
And Berry, elsewhere is a Door
And if you added up all these dying words, and the people who speak them

All their memories, histories, and lessons
All their gods, jokes, rituals, and recipes
If you learned and stirred them, over and again, until
each utterance became a star, a new footprint, the marrow of a poem—

In Whorled, Ed Bok Lee looks toward a global future, one where the dividing lines between state, religion, race, history, and culture have been blurred to the extent that the very idea of difference requires a new understanding. What does it mean to be a Global Citizen in an era of constant war, rampant industrialization, and ever-advancing technology? Whorled strives to give a voice to those left out with words of loss and longing, confrontation and celebration. From gambling Buddhists at a Midwest Native American casino, to a Russian rave, Lee’s ever-wandering cultural and spiritual nomads struggle to make sense of what it means to be a citizen of an increasingly homeless world.

Poets & Writers, “American Book Award” Winner

Reviews

“His poems are alternately devastating and grandstanding, word-drunk and built for speed. . . . There is another other/ in the other of every/ Another,” goes the opening poem, “All Love Is Immigrant.” It’s a beautiful poem charged with a breathtaking idea. Whorled is a book that believes love is like a superior kind of capital: It’s a force that flows into new markets, sensing absences, and fills them, whether it’s a debased kind of space or an ennobling one.” —John Freeman, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“The spirit of Lee’s poetry hovers in the paradoxical space between markers of identification and actual identity. He makes wry and rightly skeptical use of the noun cluster and the adjective train, but does so in service to something elusive, something more precious. It’s as if he glues together shards of glass to make a bottle only to celebrate what that bottle cannot hold. . . .There’s something post-Romantic about this—Lee writes frequently and without irony about love and friendship—but it is not indulgent or salvific. Even at his mooniest, Lee is more than a Matthew Arnold, a figure who cannot help but take the cacophony of the world as a personal insult. If the modern world is a problem, it’s a fascinating one, both despite and because of its crimes, both large and small, and Lee does this truth better than justice. . . .Whorled is not a book of clean lines and sharp corners, a book that’s also a box. It spills and erupts and makes a mess, but its lists expand and grow, as living things do. . . .”—Ray McDaniel, The Constant Critic

Whorled enters fearlessly into the chaos of our social, cultural, political, and familial milieu, always with an eye toward finding the beauty among the hard truths of our situations—and fighting for them.” —Rain Taxi Review of Books, Winter 2012

“In this book, Lee is the writer and traveler of not only distances but of time. His staccato free-verse style is dynamic as ever, better read aloud than in silence, with a greater maturity, and a discernible global perspective. . . . If Ed Bok Lee still carries the sense of being an immigrant, then language—the power of words is Lee’s turf, his citizenship. . . . Lee is a prolific and diverse writer.”—Korean Quarterly

“Ed Bok Lee‘s worldview is capacious. His poems seek out startlingly insightful perspectives and stories across the globe and on our very doorsteps. At times unexpectedly, his poems help us see the familiar in new ways and the unfamiliar in profoundly identifiable ways.”—Kartika Review

Whorled is a courageous attempt to portray the intricate human workings at the heart of the dusty underbelly of the American dream. . . . It is a vision of constantly shifting politico-cultural systems where nationality is just one more playing card to keep up your sleeve and even love is “immigrant”—and therefore itinerant, and unsettled. . . . Rather than merely focus on the lack and lapses of  “the System” against which the people fight, Ed Bok Lee’s Whorled poses the greater and more horrifying question: what if the absence of which we lament comes from within?”—Phati’tude Literary Magazine

“Bao Phi and Ed Bok Lee . . . comprise a local vanguard of Asian American literature, as poetic in their demolishing of stereotypes as they are determined.”—Minnesota Monthly, Artists We Love in the Fall 2011 Arts Preview

“All of the rawness of South Minneapolis streets enlivens the page. Lee never shies away from uncovering racial hierarchies, offering an uncompromising view of America, contradictions and all. Once again, Lee seeks a large canvas for his poetry. His second book, Whorled, encompasses global issues like the worldwide loss of culture and language.”—Minnesota Daily

“Lee’s exceptional Whorled is . . . a jolting gaze focused on today’s 21st-century global citizen, uprooted and unleashed. . . . Like his 2005 debut Real Karaoke People, Lee again provides searing ‘oh-my-gawd’-moments that will rip through your soul.”—BookDragon (Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program)

“Drawing from a well of personal experience, empathy and his fine-tuned imagination, Bok Lee sketches vivid characters caught on the fulcrum of history, where political machinations and cultural currents far outside their control meet. . .  [H]is poems offer a reader: naked humanity and sensuous use of language, alluring melancholy and unvarnished insight and undercurrents of tempered fury and compassion that color his every word.”KnightsArts (The Knight Foundation)

“Sometimes a poem stops you in your tracks. Today I had that experience while reading Ed Bok Lee’s new collection Whorled.”—Marianne Combs, MPR

Whorled [is] an inquisitive, powerful, global exploration of identity, thrumming with insight and taut phrasing.”—City Pages

“These poems are filled with ‘a certain historical color of light.’ They’re funny, slyly political, and gorgeous. Working with a variety of forms and modes, Ed Bok Lee rocks my socks off. I love this book.”—Sherman Alexie

“These poems work in powerful concert to give body to an entire world of beauty, terror, loss, grief, and joy. The strength and magnetism of Lee’s voice come from his mind’s profound awareness of a person’s embeddedness in a context simultaneously personal and archetypal; social, historical, political, and cosmic. The self that emerges from these poems, sometimes as an archaeological find, sometimes as a mode of being proposed to face the complexity of our present life on earth, is characterized by a serious soul, a great broken heart, and a wild imagination. . . . What a moving read is Whorled.”—Li-Young Lee

“Elias Canetti remarked that a great writer must be for and against everything in the present time.  In ways few Americans have attempted, Whorled takes on that challenge, deepening the reader into true soul work, grief and love for our human fragility.  In poem after poem, Lee vividly explores knots of intersecting histories that connect the globe’s peoples in ways we have yet to take in and imagine.”—David Mura

“Atavistic arias and hip-hop haiku, memoir and mash-up, poetry and prose, Lee has serious game. Who else works with a lens this wide, this gracefully? Whorled will piss you off, crack you up, and leave you haunted by one of the most soulful love letters to language itself that you’ll ever read. ‘All love is immigrant,’ says this book rich with destinations, each one opening our hearts wider to the miracle of having an entire world to call home.”—Dobby Gibson

“Where Lee’s work shines, though, is in his ability to draw grace from the most forlorn, even squalid, scenarios, and his careful attention to voice. The various friends, overheard strangers, lovers, and family members that populate his poems sparkle with the full roundness of life.”—Asian American Writers’ Workshop’s The Margins

Paper Darts, interview with Lee

Excerpt

From “Whorled”
Dear speaker in a future age,
when only a handful of tongues remain
I write this to you as a song,
even as I know it won’t do

Even as I know the words I speak are devastation
I don’t expect you to understand
But I want you to know
there is another language in which I dream

Multimedia

Ed Bok Lee, with Bao Phi, On Minnesota Public Radio’s All Things Considered (9/23/11):

Video: Ed Bok Lee reads “Ode to Bruce Lee” for MN Original

Video: Ed Bok Lee reads at Global Poetry Festival

Video: Ed Bok Lee reads “Thrown”

Additional Information

Type

Paperback, Poetry Pack