Excerpts of the Interview with Li-Young Lee by Alec Marsh, p. 2.

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Marsh:
I know Emerson is a big figure for you, as he is for me, and doesn’t he say in [the essay] “The Poet” that “all poetry was written before time was” and something to the effect that the poet’s job is to write down those “primal warblings” Do you feel like you’re doing that?

Lee:
It feels as if there’s a whole realm above or below my daily waking realm and I’m trying to empty that realm of images and ideas and once I empty it I will be a more conscious individual. So it does seem to me that writing is a form of catharsis. It empties—the Buddhist or the Taoist would say—those realms. I guess maybe that’s what psychologists mean by the subconscious or the unconscious.

Marsh:
I know Jung—who read lots of Eastern thought—had the idea of the collective unconscious. He believed that as human beings we all shared fundamental memories, we had our personal memories of course, but we also had other ones, and I don’t know whether this is an Eastern idea or not, but it sounds very consistent with the kind of thing you’re talking about. Often he imaged this collective unconscious as a lake or an ocean as poets have done forever. And you empty this realm, which reminds me of a pool being emptied. Of course, then it replenishes itself.

Lee:
Right, now it seems to me that the trick is to not to feed anything back into it, but of course that’s impossible. Somehow I think a Taoist would say that the more conscious we become the emptier we become. We’re not fixated on these beings in those other realms, like I’m fixated on my father, [like] I’m fixated on my mother. But if I write enough about them—if there’s enough catharsis and I don’t recycle it back in—it becomes empty, and I can become more and more and more conscious.

Marsh:
So that when you’re talking about being more conscious, you mean forever, not just temporarily.

Lee:
Right.

Marsh:
You’ll actually have somehow reached a higher level of consciousness in yourself.

Lee:
Right, that’s my hope.

{Continued}