MFA adjunct takes his poetry under the microscope with latest release

MFA Creative Writing adjunct Ed Bok Lee uses the imagery of DNA to examine the identities inside us all.

Sabrina Merritt, Senior Reporter

From the molecular to the global scale, Ed Bok Lee’s poetry explores it all. Lee, an adjunct MFA professor for the Creative Writing Program (CWP), is currently celebrating the release of his latest project, “Mitochondrial Night”. Inspired by his own Koren heritage, the poetry collection focuses on familial lineage through the imagery of mitochondrial DNA. This allows Lee to examine how even the smallest of moments can lead to large insights.  

Lee, the son of North and South Korean emigrants, spent his youth in both South Korea and the midwest. Given a worldly education, Lee studied in the U.S., Russia, South Korea and Kazakhstan. Along with poetry writing, he has worked as a professor at Metropolitan State and Hamline University.  

The newest collection is published by Coffee House Press, a local nonprofit publisher based in Minneapolis. According to the press’s site, Coffee House Press prides itself on printing works deemed “too risky for commercial publishing houses.” Coffee House Press’s publications aim to celebrate diverse stories and authors typically not seen in the mainstream. This is Lee’s second work with Coffee House Press. His 2011 collection “Whorled” gives voice to global citizens in a time of war, technology and mass industrialization.   

Both works have earned positive response from critics. “Whorled” is the 2012 winner of the American Book Awards. It is  described as “pulses with raw political anger and vital lyricism” by U.S. edition of The Guardian. The Twin Cities culture magazine Mpls.St.Paul has called the Mitochondrial Night “a thought-provoking collection,” with poems that “tackle the deep-rooted, long-term effects of colonialism.” Lee himself has been honored with an Asian American Literary Award and PEN Open Book Award.

Lee is currently proving his poetry passion and ability to the graduate students of the CWP. Lee’s course is titled Form & Vision in Poetry: Grand Inquisitions and delves into the “elusive questions” found in poetry.

“How does a poem ask meaningful questions without ever literally posing one?” asks the class’s description. “What will become of life as we know it? Why does it matter if everything as we know it changes before our eyes?”

Not only will students focus these grand-scale questions throughout poetry, but the course will also look at several chapter books to compare how form impacts material.   

This MFA degree is the oldest CWP and focuses on creative writing for adult audiences. As students may spend three to seven years in the program, knowing the credentials of the faculty is important when deciding where to study.

“We are very proud to offer a full-service for undergraduates and graduates [in Creative Writing],” director Mary Rockcastle said.

This MFA program is particularly unique as MFA Creative Writing students may take twelve credits in the Writing for Children and Young Adults masters track.

“[Regular MFA Students] can work with a middle grade or young adult novelist, and get that kind of emersion,” Rockcastle said.  

“Mitochondrial Night” was released March 5 and is available for purchase on Coffee House Press’s site and the online independent bookseller, The collection spans 88 pages and retails from Coffee House Press at $13.56.