14. A collection of poetry: Not My White Savior: A Memoir in Poems by Julayne Lee
List Progress: 20/30 (woo hoo!)
Through my efforts to read more poetry over the last few years, I have found my preferences tend towards the pointed and direct. I want poetry that has a concrete thing to say: a topic, a point of view, an intended audience. Not My White Savior: A Memoir in Poems by Julayne Lee is absolutely pointed. Lee has a lot to say about her upbringing, about being adopted from Korea at ten months old by a conservative white family in Minnesota. She has a lot to say, and she is angry. She writes about her conflicted identity as a transracial adoptee and how the system of adoption of Korean children by white American families is deeply threaded through with colonialism, racism and abuse. It is a topic I have not read much about before and Lee paints her story with a lot of passion. The form is occasionally a bit lacking, but the collection as a whole certainly packs a punch.
As not just a white person, but a white Minnesotan, I will always have a skewed perspective on poetry like this, and I did find myself wrestling with my emotional responses at first. My instinct was to give more credit and benefit of the doubt to Lee’s white adopters, but her response to her lived experience eventually settled in. She has devoted much of her adult life to bonding with other transracial adoptees and giving organizational support (she is the co-founder of Adoptee Solidarity Korea- LA) because of how deeply her experiences impacted her. Not My White Savior as a collection is as pointed as its title, and it has to be respected for that.
The poems are not particularly crafted or comprehensive as individual pieces. Perhaps it was a side effect of me reading the collection over the course of two days, but I could not envision plucking a single poem out of the piece any more than I would pluck a single chapter out of a novel. But as a whole, they paint a rich picture.
Lee has a particular voice that certainly will not resonate with everyone, and there were points where she lost me, but I am still very glad that I read this and that I had some of my own reactions challenged. While clearly a lot of pain went into the production of these poems, the results are impressive.
Would I Recommend It: Yes.