Mitochondrial Night By Ed Bok Lee

Published by Coffee House Press

Ed Bok Lee’s third book of poetry, Mitochondrial Night, moves fluidly through history and the present, uniting the past with the deeply personal. The poems in the collection are political and moving, covering topics of immigration, racism, and war. They also center on the familiar—the history created by family—discussing the line between the speaker’s grandmothers and great-grandmothers out to their daughter and unknowable future decedents. At times Lee’s lines are almost startlingly direct; in “Ode to the Poems of Any Small Nation,” the speaker says “Two of their children and several grandchildren /Will die over six decades in four wars. Their homeland to be / Divided by greed then need; starvation / Frozen inside the people’s throats / Like all family stories never to be told.” Other times, the poems incorporate ornate, stunning imagery. “Playhouse” begins with the lines “A man is binding a rooftop / he’s thatched together in dreams / from thousands of fallen strands of hair / his mother, wife and daughter / have thus far left behind.” Stylistically, the collection is experimental. There are prose poems, a poem in the shape of a pupa, a poem whose words scatter across the page like stars and a poem as the last will and testament of the artist Prince. Mitochondrial Night is a book of surprising connections, between people, timelines and topics from North Korea and modern gun violence to the songs inside DNA and the plants at the end of the world.–Anna-Derey-Wilson

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