Welcome to our new regular column, in which a poet features a specific poet or poem that made an important impression or change of direction for his or her work. In our first post, KSPS Vice President Danni Quintos discusses “Persimmons” by Li-Young Lee.
Lee’s entire debut collection Rose was extremely formative for me as a young writer, trying to claim “poet” as a title for myself. The poem, “Persimmons,” was one I read over and over. The way that Lee weaves together memory and language, forgetting and confusing words, and the very specific otherness of being Asian American; I was enthralled and I felt so seen. Lee was the first Asian American poet whose work I read. I love how this poem uses the persimmon to connect seemingly unconnected subjects: getting words confused (persimmon and precision, wren and yarn), forgetting and reciting a language that feels out of reach, feeling othered in grade school, and the tenuous relationship between the speaker and his aging father. From memory, this poem seemed so long because of how Lee is able to render so many moments and histories in a small space. When I return to this poem, it’s like looking at old photos: I am there in the image and Lee guides me, using the persimmon as a lifeline; helping me, as the reader, surface for air between each memory.
Once, in the cellar, I found two wrapped in newspaper,
forgotten and not yet ripe.
I took them and set both on my bedroom windowsill,
where each morning a cardinal
sang, The sun, the sun.
We publish short articles in which a poet features a specific poet or poem that made an important impression or change of direction for his or her work. Contact Matt Birkenhauer for any ideas you may have for this, or to send him a draft of an article.