Of Things Past

Illustration for TIME by www.dannyallison.co.uk

Family, exile, ethnic violence: all have dominated American poet Li-Young Lee's quietly probing, impressionistic poetry since the publication of his first and widely acclaimed volume, Rose, in 1986. Lee's maternal great-grandfather, the would-be dictator Yuan Shikai, was the first President of the Republic of China, while the poet's father briefly served as Mao's personal physician. The family fled the Chinese civil war for Jakarta — where Lee was born in 1957 — and were forced to move again, in 1959, after his father landed in jail during the course of one of Sukarno's anti-Chinese pogroms. This gritty...

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