Lee Ann Roripaugh
Poet / Writer / Professor / Editor
". . . the silvered piercing which leaves a hole that’s sometimes a wound, sometimes an aperture through which we fill ourselves with light"
Advance Praise for Dandarians (Milkweed Editions, 2014)
“What happens when verbicide meets genocide? In Dandarians, Lee Ann Roripaugh’s brilliant fourth book, the poet’s lovely, lyrical wordplay reveals its origins in political and familial dissent. Roripaugh guides readers through dangerous territory, where clouds ‘dervish off the sagebrushed plains’ and ‘strangeness makes me a moving target.’ Here’s the clash of cultures written on the body of a daughter: ‘Prismed through the scrim of my mother’s Japanese accent, I think dandelions are Dandarians . . . when I tell you I’m an alien . . . I am, of course, mostly joking.’ Reading feels like breaking rules, rules that separate us from others: ‘Do you have a permission tree? Is it blooming?’ Believe this poet when she tells you what she knows.”
—Carol Guess, author of Darling Endangered and Doll Studies: Forensics
"In her fourth collection, Dandarians, Lee Ann Roripaugh mobilizes the Japanese haibun to investigate the dialectic of trauma and care that gives rise to a particularly luminous poetic sensibility. There is the culture shock of the mixed-ethnicity child who inherits her Asian mother's mispronunciation of "dandelions," transforming one invasive species into an interplanetary race of 'Dandarians.' ('If you're not careful,' writes Roripaugh, 'I'll take over your garden'). There is also the trauma of abuse, of a woman forced 'to repeat the things that were done to me that I have no names for yet.' And yet the compound fractures of history are continuously mended by the grace of this writer's wit—'I love the word antimacassar, though I have no use for antimacassars themselves'—and her openness to the shocks of beauty that surround us. Who else could see a caterpillar dangling from its silk thread as 'a showgirl in the Ziegfield follies straddling a glittering sliver of moon'? Dandarians is a work of beauty and resilience: the beauty of resilience, and the resilience of beauty."
—Srikanth Reddy, author of Facts for Visitors
"Pleasure and danger and recollected frustration, the prismatic color of the Great Plains, the allure of exoplanets and the generative powers that wait in a child’s solecisms and mispronounciations: those are only some of the ‘favorite things’ (as Coltrane did not put it) in Lee Ann Roripaugh’s best book yet, a takeup of prose poems and lyric essays at once exuberant about tomorrow, about the sexy detail all over the visible and audible world, and serious about childhood, about her family’s tough yesterdays. Here are pages to cherish simply for the way they make up words, or put words together (fish solfège!) but here, too, is the resonant voice of a newly confident author: Roripaugh’s associations, juxtapsitions, recollections, digressions take her from purple riverbanks to stark regret and back to present-day starshine: ‘I’ll take over your garden,’ the poet promises. You’d do well to let her in.”
—Stephen Burt, author of Belmont
"I am completely in awe of and in love with Lee Ann Roripaugh's Dandarians, of the perfection of her images, the intensity of her language, the glittering and gorgeous union of these two. I stall and stutter, a willing captive to her phrases. She writes, 'Sun’s cold high beam glaring everywhere—ricocheting off snow, stretching sky’s dome like a taut blue balloon, sluicing in through every window.' There is so much to say that this book is about; there is so much to say that this book does. I loved reading about Roripaugh’s linguistical mishaps, of her experiences, so akin to mine, of being a half. I loved being a Dandarian, enmeshed in Roripaugh’s Dee Asters."
—Jenny Boully, author of The Body: An Essay
Praise for On the Cusp of a Dangerous Year (Southern Illinois University Press, 2009)
"On the Cusp of a Dangerous Year is a finely woven tapestry of needful utterance, of naming and living, and we are always mindful that each poem in this provocative collection is indeed a made thing. Lee Ann Roripaugh is astute at weaving the sensibilities of the east and west, giving us shapes on the page that hold breath and breathless music. Here, in this lustrous domain, the underworld becomes heaven. Or, at least, heavenly. On the Cusp of a Dangerous Year transports the reader to a place where one is compelled to reckon with the basic truth of things, but always through a rich, musical language."
—Yusef Komunyakaa, author of Warhorses: Poems
“The poems in Lee Ann Roripaugh’s intimate pillow book shimmer and glitter, blurring the line between text and image. . . . Moths, spiders, cats, clouds, gumballs, ladybugs and lovers are woven into a vibrant pattern that juxtaposes the delicious with the illicit, the still life with the quick silverfish, the imperious antennae of ants with the furred curve of a peach. . . . Desire, along with its many disguises and tricks, is the hard, fierce center of this gorgeous canticle to earthly love.”
—Maura Stanton, author of Immortal Sofa
"Lee Ann Roripaugh's poems create a true book of seeing. Her poems show us the way toward redemption as they fill these pages with a life of discovery and meaning."
—Ray Gonzalez, author of Consideration of the Guitar: New and Selected Poems
“On the Cusp of a Dangerous Year is an especially telling title for Lee Ann Roripaugh's masterful third collection; the poems again and again return to those transformative moments when acute lyric description gives way to a similarly acute self-appraisal; and where the poet's argument with the world gives way—momentarily, but always convincingly—to sensual astonishment.”
—David Wojahn, author of Interrogation Palace: New and Selected Poems 1982–2004
“Lee Ann Roripaugh's On the Cusp of a Dangerous Year is a gorgeous, vibrant, and playful collection, filled with keen insights on everything from insect life to human chagrin to the measures of heartbreak. These poems delight and devastate with their incredible range of detail, their intensity, and their compassion.”
—Bich Minh Nguyen, author of Stealing Buddha's Dinner
Praise and Reviews for Year of the Snake (Southern Illinois University Press, 2004)
“‘Does this mean each moment is an astonishment?’ Lee Ann Roripaugh’s question is answered over and over again with a resounding ‘Yes!’ in this stunning new collection, Year of the Snake. Out of the shimmer and sparkle of the insects and fish she remembers with such jeweled precision, she recreates her childhood in Wyoming in one exquisite poem after another. A child of two cultures, Japan and the American West, Roripaugh looks back in amazement at the details of her lost world of hummingbirds, snakes, Nanking cherries, falling stars, and antelope jerky. As she comes to understand the unappeasable hunger that drove both her and the Yellow Monarch out of paradise, her adult yearning is transformed into spiritual resurrection.”
—Maura Stanton, author of Glacier Wine
“This is Lee Ann Roripaugh at the height of her powers. Precise and unforgettable images about family and community make these poems sing and stay with you days after you have gently put the book down. She is a ‘fish with a third, wide eye’ delivering unflinching truths. I believe that Roripaugh is one of the dozen or so best poets writing in America today.”
—Nick Carbó, author of Secret Asian Man
“Lee Ann Roripaugh’s book is one of the strongest, most illuminating volumes in [the] Crab Orchard Award series. Year of the Snake, Roripaugh’s second book, is full of surprises and bristling imagery and line work, and it contains a fascinating sequence of poems on numerous varied topics. . . . When Roripaugh reveals more than the poem might hint at upon first reading, she keeps going, and it is a joyous ride to experience each and every line.”
—The Bloomsbury Review
"Maura Stanton's blurb for this book accurately labels Roripaugh's style as "jeweled precision." Check out her tree frogs: "Slippery, muscled / bodies emerald bright, / their bulbous fingers / were sticky and clever- / swivel of gleaming, / prehistoric eye and tender / palpitating bellies." Consonance of m, l, and d in muscled and emerald; assonance of short i and schwa in fingers and swivel; alliteration in prehistoric and palpitating; end rhyme of clever and tender—subtle, almost invisible effects. Roripaugh's poems, while meticulously crisp in craft, always emphasize heart: our inevitable human connections."
—Vince Gotera North American Review
Praise and Reviews for Beyond Heart Mountain (Penguin, 1999)
"What lyrical gems. Poems like diamonds faceted with the Japanese-American diaspora, our lives scattered and thrust into Lee Ann Roripaugh's utterly exquisite canvas of sky and pen."
—Lois Ann Yamanaka, author of Heads by Harry
"Lee Ann Roripaugh's poems are stunningly beautiful evocations of a time and place that exists now only in memory; yet is so vividly portrayed that one feels as if her internment experience is one's own. I strongly recommend these wonderful poems."
—Ai, author of Vice: New and Selected Poems
"Lee Ann Roripaugh's sharp, pungent lines are a delight."
—Arthur Sze, author of The Redshifting Web
"Beyond Heart Mountain is a stunning book of poems. Feeling and experience arise with a direct clarity out of these chiseled poems. Her language combines wide nuances of feeling with memorable portraits of love, suffering, and deprivation. This is particularly so in the central section, which is a kind of spoon river anthology of the Japanese internment camp in the U.S. during World War II. But this is true throughout Beyond Heart Mountain. Delicacy and toughness coexist in the language here. Sharp observation and rich feeling offered up like jewels in the palm of your hand."
—Joseph Langland, author of Selected Poems
"What unusual combinations poet Lee Ann Roripaugh creates—the sharp imagery of haiku for an antelope hunt, the origami of a peony with a tornado warning. Encounters between Japanese and American experience—from a bi-racial childhood, the concentration camp at Heart Mountain, Hiroshima—give rise to poems that are hilarious, endearing, vivid, lovely, and sometimes break your heart."
—Mary Crow, author of I Have Tasted the Apple
"Many poets have sought to reconcile war's irreversible alteration of the normal course of human lives and memories. In this debut narrative triptych, selected by Ishmael Reed for the National Poetry Series, Roripaugh manages to bring a history she never experienced through her own past, to her present self. The first section is written from the perspective of a young Vietnam-era girl trying to piece together a multiple identity from within a small Wyoming town. The icons of her Japanese heritage—dolls, bells, music, and food—are a source of pride and confusion: "I'm half-and-half, and I hide/ in the house, listen to my parents'/ music. Outside on the pavement/ a tsuzumi drum, accompanied by suzu,/ temple bells, coming from their/ bedroom—the chime on my father's/ typewriter." The second section, "Heart Mountain, 1943," tells the stories of 10 Japanese prisoners held at the Heart Mountain internment camp, weaving together polyvocal narrative fragments that talk to the reader (and each other) across the stark walls of the cell blocks. Part three of the book includes poems told from the perspective of an older and self-assured woman who has embraced the cultural contrasts of her complicated ancestry, and can now separate the shadow of war from her own psychic and personal growth: "...leaf prints etched in black mold, like/ the pattern of/ a kimono found burned into/ a woman after/ Hiroshima, and it is almost/ too beautiful, / too horrible for me to bear." Such images may not, finally, reconcile war and grief with aesthetics, but the book's drive toward clarity and strength is often moving."
"Ishmael Reed's choice for this year's "National Poetry" series is easy to like: a first collection born, like its author, from the union of a United States military man and a Japanese woman during World War II. Roripaugh, who is also a pianist with a performance degree from Indiana University, convincingly re-creates her mother's war-bound world in clear, concise free verse, fusing classical Japanese poetic imageryAchrysanthemums, the moon, kimono sleevesAwith the violence of war, occupation, and internment in the United States: "She says/ oysters make them, when there's/ sand or gravel under their shells./ It hurts. And the more it hurts/ the bigger the pearl." American racism and cruelty is detailed in "Heart Mountain, 1943," a long first-person narrative about an internment camp; in the prose poem "Chrysanthemums," the poet's mother recounts childhood koto lessons cut short by war. Other narrators are ghosts, or spirit-lovers, a classical Japanese conceit that resonates in light of recent history. But most of all these are the poems of a girl in the land-locked American West, where an Asian American may be treated only slightly better than a Native American, and squid in a sink smells like a lost country. This is a fine first collection."