If poetry aspires to the condition of music, Karen An-hwei Lee’s magnificent poems begin there. Lee returns us to the sources of the lyric—song, praise, prayer, and lament—and gives new life to old forms. In the midst such an innovative poetry, such a radical experimentation, what a surprise it is to find this kind and confident guide to take us on this journey. I cannot resist her pure and radiant voice, cannot help but follow where she leads.
~ Eric Pankey, author of Owl of Minerva
Part Book of Hours breviary, these “georgics” for our imperiled planet, and, by extension, our imperiled souls—these primordial poem-prayers—speak in, from, and into a language that is less a human possession and more an articulation of the animate earth itself. Lee speaks “mottled sadness of icewine”; she is fluent in “slurry of moonlight, “ “delirious plazas of stardust,” “oyster-moss, gold-black cadenza / of noons, of brassy squash blossoms / loaded with pollen cargo.” She channels “shot-glasses of daylight” and “epidemics, fruit-bat fever.” But this is not just gorgeous lyricism. Toggling with agile and prodigious intelligence and passion among mathematics, science, theology, mythology, color theory, and genetics, she italicizes our particular human culpability in matters of sexism, racism, ageism, and especially ecology. These poems are petitions raised in question and in praise of “this rogue biomass heating / nearly half a degree / a century,” and of all of the flora, fauna, and human denizens for whom the earth provides an island home.
~ Lisa Russ Spaar, author of Orexia
Similar to the inclusion of myths with invocations to Greek and Italian gods in Virgil’s Georgics, Karen An-hwei Lee’s Rose Is a Verb: Neo Georgics makes allegorical requests for the biblical Jacob’s shrewd husbandry when she writes, “Teach us to strip fresh-cut branches of alba poplar, / . . . where herds come to drink,” so that “future generations” will be “streaked and spotted as figurative grains or stars.” Other beautifully versed paraphrases, such as “A moth-and-rust world of stockpiled possessions” question the roots of “happiness.” The everblooming lexicon throughout Rose Is a Verb is itself mimetic of Virgil’s symbolic bugonia—order and birth out of chaos and death, where even the most abstract of Lee’s language seems somehow imbued with revelation from the persona of her poetic sage.
~ Claude Wilkinson, author of Marvelous Light
In this new millennium, the need for instructions on how to live are as essential as they were in our prehistory. Once again Karen An-Hwei Lee reinvigorates the language with her reexamination of the Georgic mode with her Neo-Georgics—she poses essential questions about who we are and what we offer to the world. These incredible hybrid poems explore the physical and the divine, beckoning the reader to come to a knowledge that is both understanding and ecstatic. Rose is a Verb is the kind of breathtaking inquiry necessary for us in a time of ultimate questions.
~ Oliver de la Paz, author of The Boy in the Labyrinth