Diary of Use

J. Vera Lee, who also publishes as Jee Young Lee, was born in Seoul, Korea, and grew up in Meadville, Pennsylvania. She was educated at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Washington. She lives in Honolulu, Hawai'i with her son and husband, and is currently at work on a novel about translating Emily Dickinson's poetry into Korean.

Several poems from this book have appeared in the following: American Letters & Commentary, Chicago Review, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, and Poetry Daily.

About the Cover Image: "Because of a friend's persuasive insistence, I reluctantly signed up for Instagram around September or October of 2012. Unexpectedly it became a consistent thread among my sabbatical activities. At minimum it has proven to be a great way to maintain my basic camera capture skills in framing and such. At best, I hope, at the end of my sabbatical, to edit it down to a small portfolio or book. The Vera Lee cover is one of these images." Gaye Chan

Diary of Use
By J. Vera Lee • 2013 • $16
Cover Image by Gaye Chan
Cover and Interior Design by Allison Hanabusa


J. Vera Lee’s first book Diary of Use begins with a list of first lines that itself forms a series of poems, for example, “Days will bloom in captivity / We look for repetition / I mistook a shadow / My brain waters like an eye.” She makes a field of visual meditation, focusing on vivid details, thinking with-not through-them. The effect is of images constantly pushing forward and then unravelling, a discursive imagism that gets at accident, loss, and creates “momentary stays against confusion” (Frost).

Advance praise for Diary of Use:

“In Diary of Use, J. Vera Lee’s poems entangle and untangle themselves with and from the world they abide in. They arrive and take up residence in a place between nature and culture, fate and chance, simplicity and complexity. To say Lee’s poems are “at home” in either term of such oppositions is to miss their point: these poems are adrift—a drift of elements, an elemental drift—and find their path as it is being cleared by the poems themselves.

Later, drifting as softly as possible,
bumping against street
curbs rather
or guards, you
have been

If you’re willing to wait, these poems will meet you along their own path.”
—Paul Naylor, editor of Singing Horse Press and author of Jammed Transmission, Playing Well With Others, Arranging Nature, and Poetic Investigations: Singing the Holes in History

“Spare and suggestive, the poems in this first book, written in a solitary air, make strange the banal. Read these self-conversational poems to experience how an ear primed for sonic pleasure can cobble together images both palpable and fantastic as it attends to its first task, scoring melodies with words.”
—Gerald Maa, editor of The Asian American Literary Review

“Each entry in Diary of Use consists of a quiet surreal force that feels so near and remote at once but always acutely in sync with the fractures of language, memories, loss. J. Vera Lee documents in each entry a tiny world of curious beauty and intoxicating chatter, a crystallized world of incompleteness.”
—Don Mee Choi, author of The Morning News is Exciting and translator of Princess Abandoned and When the Plug Gets Unplugged

from Diary of Use:

The waves are suede cutlets,

or an inability to mean water- but is wet

snow a primitive
of open melon?

At the window, a robin might render
a branch;

for a mouth, moss freezes around the gills,
shredded at
a lust for fur: My poems

are baby suicides
fogging the cinched plastic

nipples of bags with little breaths.

It’s worse when I lay one to rest, the
long mink tail, moist
for a mouth