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Summer Tales 2021

Summer Tales is a virtual community for students taking classes remotely. It promises short mental breaks from coursework through reading and social interaction, two fool-proof methods of distraction.

Why Should You Read This Poem?

Li-Young Lee evokes a coming-of-age between two cultures through the three of the most intimate aspects of cultural identity––food, family, and language.

The Poem: Persimmons, by Li-Young Lee


"Some things never leave a person:
scent of the hair of one you love,
the texture of persimmons,
in your palm, the ripe weight."

Excerpt from Persimmons, by Li-Young Lee  



Persimmon, in Li-Young Lee’s poem, is both a food and a word: an English word for a Chinese food, a product of two cultures much like the speaker of the poem. The poem tracks a coming-of-age tale through an associative logic, bringing together the feeling of foreignness in an elementary school classroom, connecting with a first love, and caring for an aging parent through the motif of the persimmon.

Talking Points - Reflection Pool

  1. What connects all of these memories (apart from the motif of the persimmon)? What’s the picture of the speaker that you get from this poem?
  2. In addition to food, this poem seems to be really interested in words––why might this be? Pick a moment like the speaker’s confusion of “fight” and “fright,” or his reaction to the teacher’s “Chinese apple,” or teaching his girlfriend Chinese: what does this moment reveal about the speaker’s relationship to language (English, Chinese, or language in general)?

About the Author

"Li-Young Lee was born in Djakarta, Indonesia in 1957 to Chinese political exiles. Both of Lee’s parents came from powerful Chinese families." "Influenced by the classical Chinese poets Li Bo and Tu Fu, Lee’s poetry is noted for its use of silence and, according to Alex Lemon in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, its “near mysticism” which is nonetheless “fully engaged in life and memory while building and shaping the self from words.” Though sometimes described as a supremely lyric poet, Lee’s poems often use narrative and personal experience or memories to launch their investigations of the universal." Excerpt from the Poetry Foundation Bio

Li-Young Lee at Rutgers Libraries


Poetry Breaks: Li-Young Lee Reads "From Blossoms"


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