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Whorled

Poetry by Ed Bok Lee

August 23, 2011 • 6 x 9 • 140 pages • 978-1-56689-278-0

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.

About the Author

Ed Bok Lee was raised in South Korea, North Dakota, and Minnesota. A former bartender, PE instructor, journalist, and translator, he studied in the U.S., South Korea, Kazakhstan, and Russia, earning an MFA from Brown University. Lee has shared his work in journals and anthologies, and on public radio and MTV, and teaches part time at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul. Lee is the author of Real Karaoke People, which was the winner of an Asian American Literary Award (Members’ Choice) and the PEN Open Book Award, and, most recently, Whorled.


Thanks to a 2013 ADA Access Improvement Grant administered by VSA Minnesota for the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, this title is also formatted for screen readers which make text accessible to the blind and visually impaired. To purchase this title for use with a screen reader please call (612) 338-0125 or email us at info@coffeehousepress.org.

Reviews

Winner of the 2012 American Book Awards

“There is a nomadic beauty to Ed Bok Lee’s Whorled, which pulses with raw political anger and vital lyricism.” Guardian

“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.” 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.” 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

“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

“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

“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. . . . His 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

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

“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

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

“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