Liu is Asian American, and he often refers to writers from the classical Chinese past, and occasionally to Buddhism. He was raised a Mormon, and while there are direct references to the Mormon faith in his work — some not too kind — a more generalized religious sensibility pervades almost all his poetry, giving even the simplest poems a metaphysical longing. Liu is also one of our best-known gay poets. The anthology he edited, Word of Mouth: An Anthology of Gay American Poetry, sets standards against which other thematic anthologies should be measured. His own poems are often frankly and vividly erotic. At their best, they can combine the erotic and the religious in a sensuality that borders on ecstasy.
Although these themes are certainly important, they are not the measure of his achievements. Not yet forty, Liu has become adept at the use of understated images to express emotional states. In his recent fourth collection, Hard Evidence, he includes this tiny poem, "Legend":
| No sign that you were coming after me. |
An hour glass tipped over. That spine
I cracked on a book of sex discarded
under the bed. Knives left untouched
in the cutlery block. Only that sound
of apples falling into an empty well.