Li-Young Lee pours words into the reader’s mind with a fluid grace that is not easily or often achieved. In this book of poetry, Rose, he focuses on his family and his Chinese heritage, though the poems are set in America. The reader comes to know the important people in Lee’s life: His mother and his grandmother, singing songs from China with tears in their eyes; his father, a painter of great skill who is slowing losing his vision; and his wife, an American woman who is trying to understand the nuances of Lee’s cultural heritage.
His style of writing is often understated and deceptively soft. The reader may not realize how powerful each individual poem is at first. Each poem builds on the one before it, with each one silently moving a little deeper into the heart of the reader. By the end of the book, you are brimming over with Lee’s images of full moons, fruits and graveyards; his childhood nostalgia of sweet persimmons; and his conversation lying naked in the wet grass with his lover.
The poems in Rose beg to be read out loud. Giving voice to the words gives life to the raw emotion with which Lee has imbibed this work. These poems are nice enough when read to oneself, but I highly recommend you find a friend and take turns reading this book out loud to each other in order to truly grasp the poignancy and the passion hidden beneath the surface of these beautifully drifting words.