“Lee’s poems bend towards light, towards a higher grace beyond words. Here is a collection of wise, heartfelt, honest poems that feel like songs, sad songs you play alone at midnight to remind your soul to live. Yes. Live. It will be one of my new travel bibles to take on the road, to comfort me when I get weary, to remind me that what we are doing is priceless and soulful and necessary as prayer. Bless you, Lee, for this beautiful music.”
– Ishle Yi Park, author of The Temperature of This Water
I had the honor to meet Lee Herrick at an adoptee artist event in Berkeley, CA a few years ago. After hearing his poetry reading, I was hooked. As an artist and adoptee, I am also inspired by his honest poetry and the comfort of his adoptee experiences we both share. My favorite book is This Many Miles from Desire. Amy Uyematsu, author of Stone Bow Prayer ” said, “Lee Herrick’s debut collection, This Many Miles from Desire, makes you stop and think about everything you’ve assumed before. As a Korean adoptee, Herrick stretches, deepens, and illuminates our previous notions of mother (both maternal and national identity), father, God, lover. The poems which emanate from the poet’s Fresno home to journeys to Seoul, China, Southeast Asia, Latin America, radiate a lovely sensuality grounded in an earthy, humbling wisdom. In the book’s closing lines, Herrick talks about the sacred–as in ‘the moment when she touched / your bare arm for the first time, her fingers / like cool flashes of heaven’.”
I reached out to Lee for an opportunity to share his work and promote his upcoming reading in Minneapolis, MN.
Jared: Have you heard of the Land of Gazillion Adoptees blog?
Lee: Yes. I’d heard of the Land of Gazillion Adoptees blog through various Facebook channels.
Jared: Can you give us a quick background and current situation catch up? What do you like about teaching? What do you like about performing?
Lee: Quick background: born in Korea and raised in California. College and graduate school was in California. Traveled extensively in my late-twenties and thirties—Korea, China, Laos, Cambodia, Viet Nam, Thailand, and some of Latin America: El Salvador, Guatemala, Bolivia, Mexico, Belize, Peru. I am a big sports fan. And I love live music.
My current life situation? Approaching my twentieth year of teaching writing at the college level, my sixth year of parenting, and my first return to Minneapolis in three years. I’m happy about all of it. Blessings abound.
I love teaching for many reasons, primarily because I love language and the impact it can have on a person, a group, or a culture or society. I like being part of a student’s progress. Teaching gives me the chance to be a small part of one’s higher education, which can potentially be a transformative experience.
Performing? I don’t think of myself as a performer as much as a reader of my work, but I do like the sonic effect of a poem when it is read aloud. I like changing the way I read a poem because then the poem itself can change—on the page, it is somewhat static, but with each reading, by me or someone else, the poem and its meaning varies. I also like meeting new readers of my work and meeting new people in general.
Jared: Do Minnesota adoptees stand out in a unique way?
Lee: I think so. The large numbers are only a small part of the picture, though. I am awed by the creative talent, and dare I say, the coolness of the adoptees I know there. So smart. Progressive. I wonder if they feed off and get inspiration from each other. I’m not sure. But I feed off it and am inspired by it. Playwrights, poets, scholars, social workers and artists—and that’s just scratching the surface.
Jared: Do you have any new books/projects coming up? Do you have website to see your work?
Lee: I recently completed my second book manuscript, Gardening Secrets of the Dead. I will be sending it out to more publishers soon. Your readers can visit my website: leeherrick.com. There are sample poems, audio recordings, interviews and press articles, and more. I have readings and projects lined up through 2012. I will be reading as part of a National Endowment for the Arts project on literature and democracy in mid-2012, and in early 2012 I will be writing a short play (or a long prose poem of sorts) based on interviews with California residents on the theme of hunger. The playwright has asked a handful of poets to write these pieces, and they will be performed by professional actors and local non-actors. I am also writing poems, which will become my third book manuscript, I hope.
Jared: Can you offer any advice you young budding poets?
Lee: Read everything. Travel and pay attention. Laugh like hell. Be attentive to suffering, your own and that of others. Love revision and helpful criticism. Contextualize rejection. Read what you love and what you loathe. Write. Read the work of your contemporaries and of the generations before you. Go hear some poetry. Write.
Jared: Any other adoptee artists we need to know about?
Lee: A short, incomplete list, across genre: Nari Baker, JooYoung Choi, Deann Borshay Liem, Tammy Chu, Jane Jeong Trenka, Kim Suneé, Nicky Schildkraut, Katie Leo, Beth Kyong Lo, Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, Sun Yung Shin, Molly Gaudry, Sun Mee Chomet and Jared Rehberg, just to name a handful. As a poet myself, I have to say I deeply cherish the work of poets Jennifer Kwon Dobbs and Sun Yung Shin. Amazing poets.
Jared: What event do you have in Minneapolis?
Lee: I will be reading and signing copies of my book at The Loft in Minneapolis on Wednesday, November 9 at 7:00 p.m. There is also an open mic! I will also be speaking at a university the next day, but that is mainly for the students on campus.
Jared: When was your last visit to the twin cities? Any highlights?
Lee: My last visit to Minneapolis was in 2008. There were many highlights of that trip—meeting the poet Sun Yung Shin, meeting so many vibrant writers and artists and readers, the cake that poet Byran Thao Worra brought to our reading, visiting The Loft for the first time (which I consider a mecca of the literary arts), the snow, and an amazing Thai restaurant.
Jared: Have you been back to Korea? Do you have any memorable highlights?
Lee: I have been back to Korea twice, once in 2001 and again in 2008. There are many memorable parts of these trips for me, but the first impressions and consequently some of the most lasting memories are of the sensory detail—what the cities smelled like, the food and the drink, the malls and the alleyways, the sounds of the cities and towns and their residents, the pace, the people. Of course, I also met some very dear friends–and when I first set foot in Daejeon, the city where I was born, a very powerful and strange feeling came over me. I’m not chomping at the bit to return, but I hope to spend some time in Korea again soon.
Lee Herrick’s Biography
Lee Herrick was born in Daejeon, South Korea and adopted at ten months. He is the author of This Many Miles from Desire (WordTech Editions, 2007). His poems have been published in ZYZZYVA, Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, Berkeley Poetry Review, Hawaii Pacific Review, Many Mountains Moving, The Bloomsbury Review, MiPOesias, and others, including anthologies such as Seeds from a Silent Tree: Writings by Korean Adoptees, Hurricane Blues: Poems About Katrina and Rita, and Highway 99: A Literary Journey Through California’s Great Central Valley, 2nd Edition. His essays have been published in Korean Quarterly and college textbooks, and he has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and was a 2000 Los Angeles Poetry Festival Award finalist. He is editor of New Truths: Writing in the 21st Century by Korean Adoptees, for Asian American Poery and Writing.
He has traveled throughout Latin America and Asia, backpacking through El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, Peru, Bolivia, Cambodia, Thailand, South Korea, China, Viet Nam, and Laos. He has given readings at venues in Korea and across the United States, including New York City, Chicago, Minneapolis, El Paso, Los Angeles, Fresno, Berkeley, and San Francisco.
He received his Master’s Degree in Composition and Rhetoric from California State University, Stanislaus and served on the Board of Directors of the English Council of California Two-Year Colleges for six years, and he is the founding editor of the literary magazine, In the Grove. He teaches at Fresno City College in California.
This is from Lee’s poem, Korean adoptee returns to Seoul:
…a Korean adoptee smelling Seoul
for the first time in the thirty years?
The first night back, I dream about birth
rights and death dates, birthdates and love
lost somewhere over the Pacific.
The first night back, I dream in that hotel room
behind the temples about a birth scenario.
I dream about the woman whose body bore me,
right here in this city thirty years ago, where
that same vendor flapped the newspaper
at the flies on the durian, eighteen years after
the Korean War when Russians took the north
Americans took the south, below the thin line
that served as the new border. Maybe
she was thirty and I took too much from her
busy life and she could not imagine death
so she left me on the steps of a church.
Maybe she was sixteen, and
I was heavy on her heart and on her back
so heavy that in her dreams, I could sink
quietly, in a lake.
Have I mentioned this to you?
Have I mentioned how downtown Seoul
collides with the horizon, how I could smell
pieces of Fresno even here at the barbecued squid
vendor’s five foot business, how close Pyongyang
feels when I am in Fresno among the blossoms,
the cement, and the hopeful ones like me and you,
counting on tomorrow being good?
Have I mentioned how Seoul is a city
in which I have loved and been loved, left and been
left, a city in which I found green plants raging
out of the earth, trees reaching toward the sun
with such vertical precision you’d think God,
yes, God had been involved in the planting?
I should mention how the sun tries to blaze there
like the sun tries to blaze here, how the son
finally rests having been home and smelled the city
and its possessions: the garlic fields, the rice fields,
and the woman’s hands mixing
the kimchi into the egg
How his heartbeat sounds as if it is saying life
life life life deep like the water
that connects these two cities
and the light breeze that blows in between.