Poetry by Ed Bok Lee
March 5, 2019 • 6 x 9 • 88 pages • 978-1-56689-532-3
Poems that trace paths through time, genealogy, and geography, locating the generational legacy of history.
Taking mitochondrial DNA as his guide, Lee explores familial and national legacies, and their persistence across shifting boundaries and the erosions of time. In these poems, the trait of an ancestor appears in the face of a newborn, and in her cry generations of women's voices echo. Stories, both benign and traumatic, travel as lore and DNA. Using lush, exact imagery, whether about the corner bar or a hilltop in Korea, Lee is a careful observer, tracking and documenting the way that seemingly small moments can lead to larger insights.
From Mitochondrial Night:
he explained, in the tradition
so the ancestors won't be so lonely.
Because spirits need us
more than we need them.
And for hours
they’ll listen to anyone
About the Author
Ed Bok Lee is the author of Whorled (Coffee House Press) and a recipient of a 2012 American Book Award and the Minnesota Book Award in Poetry. Lee is the son of North and South Korean emigrants—his mother originally a refugee from what is now North Korea; his father was raised during the Japanese colonial period and Korean War in what is now South Korea. Lee grew up in South Korea, North Dakota, and Minnesota, and was educated there and on both U.S. coasts, Russia, South Korea, and Kazakhstan. He teaches at Metropolitan State University in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Other honors include the Asian American Literary Award (Members’ Choice Award) and a PEN Open Book Award.
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Praise for Mitochondrial Night
Finalist for the 2020 Minnesota Book Award in Poetry
Book Riot, “50 Must-read poetry collections of 2019”
Chicago Review of Books, “The Best New Books of March 2019”
“Winner of an American Book Award and a PEN/Open Book Award, Lee strikes a dizzying balance between the organic and the cosmic, the intimate and mythological.” —Publisher’s Weekly
“Like mitochondrion, from whence this exhilarating book’s title comes, the poet’s eye and spirit are ubiquitous, examining and probing the tangled bloodlines of our social and political networks, and the parasitic heft we are exerting on the world’s chest. Formally protean and polyphonic, the poems change shapes and registers in a thrilling and often poignant chase after their truth. Ed Bok Lee’s Mitochondrial Night is a thrilling book by a gifted poet at the height of his powers.” —Khaled Mattawa
“The ‘new kind of poetry’ Lee forges is wide-ranging and hefty, with long poems knitting together exhaustive description with philosophical assertions while chronicling the past, examining the present and imagining the future.” —Star Tribune
“There is a connection between the lofty stars and the microscopic building blocks of life. Lee weaves these threads throughout the collection, tapping into the ways in which we deal with the universality of life. . . Mitochondrial Night is an emotional and inquisitive investigation into the human condition that might just bring us one step closer to understanding our inescapable humanity.” —Rain Taxi
“In Mitochondrial Night, Ed Bok Lee takes us on an intimate journey through space and time, introduces us to people and places we have and have not met, to center us in our humblest humanity. Lee is a shaman, he rides with his pen into the vast darkness of our pasts, centers us in our present, and then makes the fearless leap into the imagined, the predestined future. He looks to raise from the dead the spirits of wars lost, wars long forgotten, the wars being waged now, and he does so with a light, lonely hand. This collection is explosive; it shatters the boundaries of self in the service of art.” —Kao Kalia Yang
“A thought-provoking collection that dives into the immigrant and refugee experiences of Lee’s parents as he envisions his daughter's future. Rooted in reality, the imagistic poems tackle the deep-rooted, long-term effects of colonialism that span generations.” —Mpls.St.Paul
“The literary history of travel writing is also full of spectacular and critical turns, thanks to work by Monique Truong, Bani Amor, and Karen Tei Yamashita, among others, that confronts the legacies of empire, decolonizes tourism, and repurposes the genre to gather up communities forcibly split and scattered. Mitochondrial Night is a dazzling continuation of this project.” —Lantern Review Blog
“Lee’s work is intuitively strong; the poems are well-crafted into a series of masterpieces that build on each other, creating a larger master work that reveals a world made up of individuals who endure, survive, and connect.” —Against the Grain
Praise for Ed Bok Lee
“There is a nomadic beauty to Ed Bok Lee’s Whorled, which pulses with raw political anger and vital lyricism.” —The Guardian
“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.” —Li-Young Lee