Lee Herrick: A global voice


Li-Young Lee, author of The City in Which I Love You and Book of My Nights, says of Lee Herrick’s poems, “The universal sadness, almost Sufi-like, and the timeless compassion these poems articulate make it possible for a reader to believe that any “I” must include the whole world, inside and out, bliss and pain, broken and whole. I love these poems.”

Lee Herrick is a poet, a teacher, an editor…a child of the world. Born in Seoul, South Korea and adopted at eleven-months-old, he and his family moved to Modesto in 1977 from Danville. He has traveled throughout Latin America and Asia, backpacking through his native South Korea, as well as El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, Peru, Bolivia, Cambodia, Thailand, China, Viet Nam, and Laos. He currently teaches at Fresno City College and lives in Fresno with his wife and daughter. His mother, father and sister still live in Stanislaus County.

He attended Stanislaus Union Elementary School, Prescott Junior High, Davis High School and Modesto Junior College; then earned a Bachelor’s degree in English and literature and a Master’s Degree in Composition and Rhetoric from California State University Stanislaus.

“I began to fall in love with English and literature, and … played on the soccer team” at MJC, Lee says. “I began my teaching career in Stanislaus County…teaching part-time at Modesto Junior College and Merced College. I also taught at CSU Stanislaus in the Summer Bridge Program, which was one of the most rewarding teaching experiences of my life.”

While working at MJC he met Dan Onorato, who became one of his faculty mentors, and has “always held him in high regard.”

Besides teaching Lee has written and published a large body of poetry. His first poem was published in CSUS’ poetry anthology, Penumbra, and his newest work, This Many Miles from Desire, was published by WordTech Editions in June. His poetry has been printed in many journals and included in anthologies such as Seeds from a Silent Tree: Writings by Korean Adoptees, Hurricane Blues: Poems About Katrina and Rita, and the new edition of Highway 99: A Literary Journey Through California’s Great Central Valley, scheduled for fall release. He is co-authoring a composition textbook called Outside In: Writing To and From the Center, forthcoming from Prentice Hall. He also has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

“Lee is a poet of exceptional control and breathtaking grace, who is unafraid to go for the leaps of word and heart,” says Lorna Dee Cervantes, author of Drive: The First Quartet: New Poems, 1980-2005. “This …poet will keep poetry alive.”


After Hurricane Katrina—A Poem for the Living and the Dead

You can live by the water and still die of thirst.
I said you can live by the water and still die of thirst
or the worst nightmare come true:
that body of water taking over the bodies.
Sometime, tonight, see which echoes most—
a whisper or a scream. Make it something beautiful,
like, we will endure or Yes, I love you. Sometime,
tonight, think of water—how it purifies or terrifies,
cleanses, gives and takes away—think how fast
some things can rise—water, fear, the intensity of a prayer.
Officials in New Orleans said they want to save the living.
I hope they do. But I hope they can also honor the dead.
On Bourbon Street, there were over 3,000 musicians employed
on any given day. Last night, before I fell asleep,
I imagined what a thousand saxophones
would sound like if they all played together—
one thousand saxophones, different songs,
different tempos, Dixieland, Miles Davis.
Maybe it would sound like birds or bombs,
planes or preachers praising the Word
on a hot Sunday and the congregation saying Amen,
some people whispering it, some people screaming it.
Maybe it would sound like lightning tearing
open the sky or a thousand books slammed shut after
a horrible conclusion, or a thousand children crying for their
mothers or fathers. Last night, I thought, how far
would a thousand saxophones echo from New Orleans or Biloxi?
Would we hear them in Fresno? Could we imagine the sound?
Could Baton Rouge Could Washington D.C.?
I don’t know what I should tell you.
But I feel like the saints are marching.
They are singing a slow, deep, and beautiful song,
waiting for us to join in.


The blues is what mothers do not tell their sons,
in church or otherwise, how their bodies forgave
them when their spirits gave in, how you salvage love
by praying for something acoustic, something clean

and simple like the ideal room, one with a shelf
with your three favorite books and a photo
from your childhood, the one of you with the
big grin before you knew about the blues.

I wonder what songs my birth mother sang in
the five months she fed me before she left me
on the steps of a church in South Korea.
I wonder if they sounded like Sarah Chang’s

quivering bow, that deep chant of a mother
saying goodbye to her son. Who can really say?
Sometimes all we have is the blues. The blues means
finding a song in the abandonment, one

you can sing in the middle of the night when
you remember that your Korean name, Kwang Soo
Lee, means bright light, something that can illuminate
or shine, like tears, little drops of liquefied God,

glistening down your brown face. I wonder
what songs my birth mother sings and if she sings
them for me, what stories her body might tell.
I have come to believe that the blues is the body’s

salvation, a chorus of scars to remind you
that you are here, not where you feared you would be,
but here, flawed, angelic, and full of light.
I believe that the blues is the spirit’s wreckage,

examined and damaged but whole again, more full
and prepared than it’s ever been, quiet and still,
just as it was always meant to be.