Ed Bok Lee



“. . . Ed Bok Lee, whose insightful, exacting poems reflect the intimate ways globalization is transforming our culture and our lives.”

New York Times Style Magazine

“This is Lee's third book of poetry, and it's epic in scope, exploring everything from our cellular history to ancestral memory to the future of the human soul.”
All Things Considered

“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. In these poems, time collapses to address historic events that influence the now and the yet-to-come . . . For Lee, ‘each body is an ark’ spanning time periods and the inherited cells of whole communities that make up one’s lineage. These interconnections come through in language itself . . . ‘Nothing alive snug in its name. Even art—like a great cargo ship veering/ starboard midsea—has at some indeterminate point in the night/ become inverted and backward.’” 
—Publishers Weekly 

“Lee investigates his Korean roots and his relationship to his mother, but also, what it means to raise a young daughter in the current American climate. . . . However, the book has a much larger scope, as it also asks readers to consider what it means to be human in a long history of war, empire, and trauma, what it means to survive, and how both interconnectedness and personal responsibility play a role in shaping human civilization. . . . This collection is incredibly expansive and could benefit from multiple readings and critical analysis. 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. But it’s also a world where the speaker empowers himself as a son, as a father, and as a witness to the contemporary moment, allows himself to be immersed in love and vulnerability, and writes the poetry of a passionately engaged human being.”
Against the Grain: a place for critical and imaginative writing

“Lee’s poems about massacres, hate crimes and PTSD radiate with ‘a deeper belief in the brightness of human souls … now livid in its demand for a new kind of poetry.’ . . . Here, the fragments of a shattered past serve as a resource for the creation of new forms of living in which hope and healing don’t require forgetting. He writes, “Superstition created millennia ago can always construct a more hospitable home.” 
Star Tribune

“Place Ed Bok Lee’s Mitochondrial Night under a microscope and you’ll see cells turn to stars, the body a galaxy we never see.In this collection, poems dash from the corporeal to the celestial, from the intimacy of parenthood to the vastness of war, each gap stitched together with a theme of inheritance, DNA poking holes in every boundary—geographical, cultural, or spiritual—that humans construct. . . . Lee, always emphasizing scale, compares the experience of love with that of watching a film, before he pulls back to the stars to illustrate that intimacy of love as one shared by multitudes. Because Lee draws images from space, the comparison does not devalue love for its commonness any more than the stars for their quantity. . . . A Korean American poet, Lee incorporates themes of immigration into poems like “Super-Insensitive Species,” which parallels the birth of his mixed-race daughter against the pervading fear that invading Asian carp will take over American ecosystems. . . . In Mitochondrial Night, Lee incorporates imagery we accept to be endless—the systems of our body and of space—to explore how we create rather than find certainty. Concluding the collection, the freestanding poem “Water in Love” returns to the question of how we love, fulfilling the promise made at the end of “Metamorphosis” to move “at once forward and backward in time” (7). Like microscopes and telescopes, Lee’s collection shows how language is another tool for humans to see in part what is impossible to see in full. . . ”
Entropy Mag

“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. . . . ‘As if your epilogue were an ancient, omniscient satellite to whom // time no longer matters, and matter always exceeds the count’. . . . ‘American Men’ is a poignant reflection of a much more familiar scene of men watching football and discussing current events – in this case school shootings and racial intolerance. . . With investigation of a grief-stricken and political present threaded throughout the collection, we are forced to look at our own action and (more importantly) inaction. Lee’s 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

“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 . . .Recognition of our own lives and our connection to others is not built via casual voyeurism and exploitation but, rather, through untangling the power relations that continue to define people and place, all the while tending to histories of self, other, and home.” 
Lantern Review

“Rooted in reality, the imagistic poems tackle the deep-rooted, long-term effects of colonialism that span generations. He makes observations on molecular and cosmic levels, questioning the origin of where any of us comes from using cells and stars as his compass, exploring the interconnectedness of being.” 
Mpls St Paul Magazine

The poems in the collection are political and moving, covering topics of immigration, racism, and war. They also center on the familiar—the history created by family—discussing the line between the speaker’s grandmothers and great-grandmothers out to their daughter and unknowable future decedents. At times Lee’s lines are almost startlingly direct; in “Ode to the Poems of Any Small Nation,” the speaker says “Two of their children and several grandchildren /Will die over six decades in four wars. Their homeland to be / Divided by greed then need; starvation / Frozen inside the people’s throats / Like all family stories never to be told.” Other times, the poems incorporate ornate, stunning imagery. “Playhouse” begins with the lines “A man is binding a rooftop / he’s thatched together in dreams / from thousands of fallen strands of hair / his mother, wife and daughter / have thus far left behind.” Stylistically, the collection is experimental. There are prose poems, a poem in the shape of a pupa, a poem whose words scatter across the page like stars and a poem as the last will and testament of the artist Prince. Mitochondrial Night is a book of surprising connections, between people, timelines and topics from North Korea and modern gun violence to the songs inside DNA and the plants at the end of the world.”
The Corresponder


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

“[T]he impressive, at moments superlative, craftsmanship of Whorled, among other things, illuminates the innocence and blush of Lee's earlier work. . .There is a wizened insight and well-wrought precision of form in the movement from the exhortative in Real Karaoke People to the meditative in Whorled. Lee's deftness pulls structure and measure from that recursive, inwardly spiraling, compulsive-obsessive poetic desire…. If in Real Karaoke People, Lee observes and marks the divine in the detritus of an urban landscape, in Whorled, he has become the interpreter of that divine, attending to the rise and fall of kingdoms, and language, in the everyday."
International Examiner

‘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

“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

“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.”
The Margins, Asian American Writers’ Workshop

“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 Center

“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.”
Kartka 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

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

 “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.” 

"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….”
The Constant Critic

“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

"[Real Karaoke People] contains...searing honesty [and] tenderness...The vitality of the country, its capacity to absorb the rich and the strange is nowhere clearer."
San Francisco Chronicle

"Oh my gawd: 'The Secret to Life in America' will rip through your soul…"

“A potent voice for young immigrants and their second- and third-generation peers, poet Ed Bok Lee[’s]...galloping imagination…describes what it's like to be part of a global generation. His experiments with prose/poetry blending are bold and unself-conscious….”
Star Tribune

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

"Lee’s riffing mastery of form and imagery is nothing short of breath-taking—he weaves together hip hop, prose poem…prayer, lyricism…."
Minnesota Literature

“Prose and poems of our global and transitory America.”
Providence Journal
(Reviewers' List: TOP FIVE BOOKS of 2005)