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Poetry

Motherlands

Poems
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Winner of the 2023 Max Ritvo Poetry Prize, this engrossing debut interrogates history, identity, and the power of poetry to elucidate both.
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Winner of the 2023 Max Ritvo Poetry Prize, this engrossing debut interrogates history, identity, and the power of poetry to elucidate both.

Motherlands opens with a child drawn early to poetry. “In summer I write. Two lines at a time, two vying souls / running up the wall.” The collection follows this speaker-poet through a childhood in post-Maoist China and an eventual move to the United States, laying bare cultural and linguistic tensions in both historical and modern settings. He cites Chinese laborers toiling in American factories—an echo of the brutalities endured by those who constructed the Transatlantic Railroad—and speaks to anxieties around belonging, assimilation, and identity. “If I forget one character a day,” he writes. “I will have forgotten Chinese / by the end of 2042.”

In these attentive, imaginative poems, Weijia Pan questions the artist’s duty—his duty—as a chronicler of truth, especially through issues of displacement and global injustice. What can the poet do but observe? And yet, in unpacking ancestral traumas connected to Maoist China and modern-day bigotry exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, he still finds himself turning to art as a way to understand both the self and the world at large. Through elegant juxtapositions, Pan crafts an emotional world that is at once regional and universal—Li Bai and Du Fu sit alongside Glenn Gould and Sviatoslav Richter, pepper used to bless new roads is repurposed in the mace used against protesters, two languages compete on a single tongue. Lyrical and visionary, this collection embodies poetry’s capacity to ground us, teach us, and change us.

Keywords
Louise Glück; classical music; juxtaposition
ISBN
9781639551132
Publish Date
Pages
96
Dimensions
8.5 × 5.5 × 0.5 in
Weight
10 oz
Author

Weijia Pan

Weijia Pan is the author of Motherlands, selected by Louise Glück for the 2023 Max Ritvo Poetry Prize.

Praise and Prizes

  • “From his father’s ‘flip-flops making a broken ragtime on the street’ to playing a Liszt étude that evokes Stalin marking death warrants with non-photo blue pencils, Weijia Pan writes with verve and transforms the personal into cultural history. Motherlands is a remarkable debut.”

    Arthur Sze
    author of Sight Lines