“…There is a deep sense of paradox at the core of Lee Kuei-shien’s poetry. Why else would the image of “scales on the chopping block” suggest to him “a message of love”? As the poems in this selection appear to suggest, pain is to be encountered in a multitude of guises, but poetry is capable of converting it into something delicate yet engaging. The painful times in which Lee grew up no doubt contributed to this aspect of his work.
…Lee’s early work was broadly modern in conception and characterized by its combination of lyrical intensity and imagery that is evocative rather than descriptive. In a poem such as “Between Islands,” he aims to transform literal reality in accordance with the prompting and fleeting impulses of his subjective view, a view most inspired by the “in between” region of things, like the violin bow in Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem “Love Song” which creates new relationships by drawing “one voice out of two separate strings.” This seer-like tendency is also at work in Lee’s treatment of metaphor in pieces such as “Tree at Dust,” “Morning Worker,” and “Sudden Showers,” all of which borrow a feature of the natural world and imbue it with distinctly human elements.
Love is another conspicuous feature of the world that engages his poetic attention, and the selection of poems in this vein demonstrates Lee’s romantic inclinations. In “Sunlit Maples,” he regards love as a development of that powerful attraction evoked in many of us by nature (our present ecological difficulties make it clear that this response is far from universal). The passion inspired by natural beauty is, Lee suggests, transferred dynamically to the object of one’s affections…
Elsewhere, in poems such as “A Poem to You” and “Trinity,” love is declared in the most transparent terms by means of a language of undisguised rapture. A more elliptical treatment is provided in the poem “When the Fog Rolls In,” a piece concerned primarily with the paradoxical roles that distance, memory, and idealization play in the psychology of human intimacy:
when our eyes meet the focus shifts like the fog--- the farther apart the clearer our view
of its own accord, memory develops images from the negatives of longing when the fog rolls in will they blur for no reason?
…Travel is a frequent theme of these more accessible poems from the 1990s included in this selection. Lee gives no impression of being an uneasy traveler, rather, the discovery and exploration of unfamiliar places liberates him from his brooding, introspective moods. In poems such as “Midnight Sun,” which celebrates life in a Finish town, and “To Be or Not To Be,” which recollects Paris and Cairo, his tone is celebratory, positive, and even playful.
In Lee’s most recent poems, autumn provides a dominant image governing a set of intense but wistful emotions concerned mainly with loss, dissolution, and the disillusionments that come with growing old…”