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sean lee


"The following is a series of poems I have written about Koreatown and the city’s relation to myself as an Asian American writer. I believe that identity is often sold to us before we discover it for ourselves and it is our job as expressionists to reclaim what was lost in this transaction both the good and the bad. My series of poems paints Koreatown in a new light, a place that is not just the ethnic enclave weekend attraction but something that contains a seedy underbelly that makes it wholly unique. Similarly as an Asian American, I am seen as a sinless minority when in reality the complexities of my identity both the good and the bad make myself wholly and uniquely ME! My poetry celebrates Whitman's use of the overarching "I" as well as painting a new perspective on what an Asian American should be perceived as: a complete human with flaws."

Xanthosis- a yellowing of the skin due to disease

A cracked window is

Salt in the wound

Gout on the foot of

One who has walked the earth 88 times over.


Swashing amber brandy and yelling,

“I myself am the bellow of an immense beast fear me

For I fear nothing but the small.”


My mouth quivered that morning I woke

With no intention of staying.

Aiming to finish our debauchery and leave

Without a trace,

Instead we finished Jeopardy and spit in the mouth tasted like

Corn tortillas and Absinthe.


The flowing of the river, this incessant

Pounding of the head, and the frying of

Sausages leave a film on the hand unwashable by the usual wares.


Lulu works the night shift at lucky spa

Where for an extra $40, you get

A handjob and a tale about how she once killed a man with her bare hands,

Snapped his neck over a bowl of stew and used his blood as seasoning.


Sing then of a broken door and the engine that whirs

Trying its hardest to break the ice which holds it so.

Last winter we had hot chocolate.

This winter we have broken bones.


To think upon myself a dirty clause.

To say all will become is never more

And the falling petals of a winters end

Indicates that we are tired of this house.

Hanmi Bank

Fighting Charles Bukowski

Every Thursday at the Rodeo Room

20 minutes to last call,

Henry Chinaski yells at me across the bar,

“Lee you slant eyed, cheap skate, North Korean motherfucker

let’s see if the Jap in you is as smart as the Times says!”

And after finishing my drink, I go for 10 rounds of sparring with the 65 year old man

The greatest writer in the world.

Bukowski jabs right but I duck and nail him hard on the chin.

His right eye is now bleeding but ol Hank is a fucking tank and my next round of blows does nothing to deter him from landing a solid gut buster in my lower stomach.

Three pints of cervezas come close to ending back on the bar but I manage to keep them down. Now panting I nail another sucker punch on the drunken postman who now is teetering and one punch from away from completely falling over.

But the fat fuck is a lot faster than he seems, or maybe I’m not as sober as I thought, and he lands a slurry of punches to my face, my eyes, my nose, my ears, oh fuck everywhere.

Coming back to consciousness, the bar is empty and ol Hank is now playing bartender behind the counter.

“Kids these days can’t take a beating like you can Lee” and pours me a tall one.

I wanna tell him that he’s my favorite writer in the world and that I live on West Adams right by where he grew up and how I wanna start writing poetry and all about the whores, the drunks, the uglies, the nights of revelry, the fights, the fucking and the big bellied Latina I took home last week who made all the pain go away. I wanna tell him that daddy beat me too, and I didn’t cum the first time I lost my virginity and that my favorite beer is Caguama and I can’t afford Scotch. I wanna tell him that I’m a proud Angelino and I would never move out of this city, how rent control is a bitch, and how I named my cat Lydia after his wife.

But the fat bastard is behind the counter on his ass fast asleep.

The only survivor of the monolithic galleria on

Western and James M Wood

is a cautious reminder that Koreans above all else need our money to be counted


and again,

and again.

To make sure that thieving friends,

unworthy sons, or hungry poet

haven’t dared grazed the tip money Mrs. Kim earns toiling at Castle BBQ every fucking night.


Reeking of brisket she cuddles her newborn child whispering,

“Someday you’ll get me out of this mess.”

My name is Sean Lee, a musician and poet, with the artistic purpose of reworking the vices of my city as beautiful.

verbal communion


sean lee

Can you describe yourself or your personal identity with a five-word story? Why did you choose those words?

“A Constant State of Reclamation”

Living in the 21st century, one cannot escape the fact that the presence of a constant external presence shapes our own identity before we even grow into it. Before I even knew what I knew to be Asian American, I was emasculated by media and alienated by the dominant American culture which lead to me to be displeased with myself even before I knew what myself was. My life and my art is, therefore, a constant state of reclamation: reclaiming my identity as my own instead of something that was sold to me.


How does this series, as a whole, or each piece individually, represent the idea, embody, or visualize the essence of identity for you?

This collection of poems (a part of a larger series) is about recapturing Asian American identity as something to be held with pride. We are not a model minority, we have the same amount of flaws as every other culture: hypersexuality, personal vices, selfishness, and displacement. I use the extended metaphor of Koreatown: an area which outsiders see as an ethnic enclave explored only in the hopes of the taste of the exotic. By rewriting Koreatown in its actuality, I rewrite myself as an individual who possesses all the merits and flaws of those around me.


In what ways do you think your identity has been shaped by mass media and society?

I personally do not find the lack of representation of Asian Americans necessarily a problem in mass media. Rather, I believe mass media has affected me because it creates a face that I am unable ever in my life to attain. But mass media is a paradox because when I go to Korea or other Asian countries, people who look just like me are equally as masculine/feminine empowered just as their western counterparts. Therefore in this way, understanding the perspective of the geographic mass media has been crucial to my own identity formation.


Why do you create?

Because no one else will create what I wish to see but me.


Who do you create for?

Myself and those who feel wholly at place but simultaneously displaced in their environment.


How has your locale informed your identity?

South Los Angeles is a beautiful melting pot where we champion different things than other areas! Whereas outsiders might see service providers and the such as lower than themselves, we hold it to be the role model for one core value: Hard Work. I throw a monthly house show series at Adobe House Records, where I have seen local artists that are beyond the caliber of anything I have seen elsewhere in Los Angeles and in mainstream media. Where I live encourages me daily!


Have you been able to find or create a physical community where you live?

Yes! As a musician and poet, I have met many fellow creative in my area that feel as out of touch as I have. South Los Angeles, I believe, is the cultural hub for real jazz, poetry, hip hop because these are the environments that have lead to the art’s conception.


How has the Internet expanded or changed your idea of and involvement in community exchanges?

The internet has made it so we can communicate freely. While it may be conducive to negativity, communication is key to empowering ourselves.

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