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Between Islands
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Between Islands

Poems by Lee Kuei-shien
Translated by Simon Patton
2005, 64 pages, Paperback.
AACP Review
About the Book's Creators

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“…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…”

excerpted from Translator’s Introduction by Simon Patton

Reproduced here with permission from the publisher Pacific View Press.

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AACP Review

A powerful poetry book currently available only through HERE!

Between Islands contains 28 poems written by Lee Kuei-shien (2002 Nobel Prize Literature nominee) in traditional Chinese and translated to English by Simon Patton. This bilingual collection will touch souls…old and new, far and near!

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“This is an excellent introduction to a veteran poet from Taiwan. A world traveler and translator of poety and culture, Lee Kuei-shien speaks to readers with passion and clarity. A welcome addition to contemporary Chinese poetry in translation.”

---Michelle Yeh,
Professor of Chinese at University of California, Davis

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About the Book's Creators

About the Author

Lee Kuei-shien, a major poet in Taiwan, was born in Taipei in 1937 to a family that farmed in the region. He began publishing poetry in 1953, although his first collection, Estuary, did not appear until ten years later. Balancing the careers of writer and engineer, he received a degree in chemical engineering in 1958, and went on to devise new industrial equipment, publish a book on patent law, and even found a magazine for inventors. Lee’s work allowed him to travel widely, and after learning German he began publishing translations of early 20th century German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, as well as the contemporary German novelist Gunter Grass. Along with a steady output of his own poetry, Lee has constantly expanded his international literary interests, publishing an anthology of modern Indian poetry and translating into Chinese European authors such as Italian poet Salvatore Quasimodo and French philosopher and playwright Jean Paul Sartre. In addition to this work, he has produced a large body of literary criticism.

One of the founders of the Taiwanese PEN, Lee became its president in 1995. Multivolume collections of his poetry, translations, and essays have been published in recent years, and in 2002 he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature.

About the Translator

Simon Patton was born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1961, and earned a doctorate from the Department of Asian Languages at the University of Melbourne in 1995. He has published numerous essays on Chinese literature both in English and Chinese. Patton teaches Chinese at the University of Queensland, and is a translator and coeditor of the China domain of Poetry International Web at

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