Talking Words

Award-winning poet visits Honors College classroom

By Max Blue, USF News Posted Wed, 01/29/2020 - 13:51

How can you stay positive in fraught political times? How do you find your way in the world? Poet Li-Young Lee offers this suggestion: you write your way through.

The Honors College brought Lee to USF in the fall. He visited Professor Dean Rader’s Global Poetry class and also gave a reading on campus.

Lee has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. His books of poetry have won the Whiting Award, the American Book Award, and the William Carlos Williams Award, among others.

“Lee has cultivated a body of work that is steeped in the immigrant experience,” said Rader.

“I read Lee for the first time last fall, for my first Honors College course. I’ve been fascinated by his work since then,” said Sarah Medley ’21, a double major in English and performing arts and social justice. “The mission of the Honors College being global humanities and a global education –– Lee speaks to that in his writing.”

Poetry as Beacon

During his visit to Rader’s class, Lee engaged students on topics ranging from metaphysical to editorial. A major topic of discussion was the individual’s place in society, a conversation in which Lee touched on Christianity, Greek philosophy, tai chi, and mathematics.

Ultimately, Lee said, poetry can be a beacon to help writers and readers find their way through life.

He read to the class a recently published poem and discussed the writing and editorial processes. He then invited students to help him edit a new poem — and he read the edited version that night at his public reading in the Del Santo Reading Room.

“[Lee’s visit] made me think about how to be an individual, but also part of a collective,” said biology major Mike’l Gregory ’22.

Rader said Lee’s work feels particularly current because of national and global conversations about immigration and race. “Poetry is a way to ask timely questions that go beyond policy or rhetoric,” Rader said.