Book Review: The Undressing by Li-Young Lee

tuTitle: The Undressing
Author: Li-Young Lee
Published: 2018
Genre: P
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 96
Source: Library
Date Read: March 25, 2018
Grade: A
Synopsis: The Undressing is a tonic for spiritual anemia; it attempts to uncover things hidden since the dawn of the world. Short of achieving that end, these mysterious, unassuming poems investigate the human violence and dispossession increasingly prevalent around the world, as well as the horrors the poet grew up with as a child of refugees. Lee draws from disparate sources, including the Old Testament, the Dao De Jing, and the music of the Wu Tang Clan. While the ostensive subjects of these layered, impassioned poems are wide-ranging, their driving engine is a burning need to understand our collective human mission.

Review: It’s not often poetry makes me cry, but this collection did. I thought the love poems were beautiful, but then I got to the ones about his family and Indonesia and wow. Those were reminiscent of Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds Vietnam-set poems. There’s so much pain and love in them that it hurts to read them but it’s impossible to stop. I also liked the religious elements sprinkled throughout the book, which I didn’t expect to find. I’d recommend this book to anyone. I’ve never been that great at analyzing poetry, so I won’t even try. This is the best book I’ve read so far this year.

Favorite Poems/Lines:

  • “The Undressing” (13-26)
    • Nothing saves him who’s never loved.
      No world is safe in that one’s keeping.
  • “Spoken For” (29)
  • “I Loved You Before I was Born” (31)
    • I give you my blank heart.
      Please write on it
      what you wish.
  • “God Is Burning” (50)
  • “Love Succeeding” (54-55)
    • May the child never forget the power of the small.
      May the man never wake a stranger to himself.
  • “My Sweet Accompanist” (56-57)
    • A boy becomes a young man in an instant.
      But not before he learns to say yes to life
      is to say yes to death.
      To say no to death
      is to say no to living.

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