cover image Breaking the Alabaster Jar: Conversations with Li-Young Lee

Breaking the Alabaster Jar: Conversations with Li-Young Lee

Li-Young Lee. BOA Editions, $19.95 (191pp) ISBN 978-1-929918-82-9

This book pairs celebrated Chicago poet Li-Young Lee-whose most recent book, 2001's Book of My Nights, received the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America-with a wonderful variety of interviewers, resulting in a delightful series of Q&As. Unfortunately, only three of four excerpts of Lee's work are included; fortunately, the interviews stand on their own nicely. Playing off such interlocutors as PBS's Bill Moyers, fellow poets Anthony Piccione and Stan Sanvel Rubin, and an audience of Indiana University students, Lee emerges not only a serious, accomplished poet with a well-developed sense of aesthetic and philosophy, but also a skilled conversationalist with a warm sense of humor. Whether describing his family's journey from the highest levels of Chinese society to rural America (with a stopover in Indonesia) or explaining the differences between Western and Eastern concepts of past, present, and future, Lee is endlessly fascinating. Knowing Lee's work isn't necessary to enjoy the book, but its exclusion may prove frustrating, as readers will almost certainly want to pick up a few verses before the end.