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“Weijia Pan writes with verve and transforms the personal into cultural history. Motherlands is a remarkable debut.”—ARTHUR SZE
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Winner of the 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.

Publish Date
8.5 × 6 × 0.5 in
10 oz

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
  • “How intimate and personal the vast forces of history—history of country, family, art—become in Motherlands, Weijia Pan’s striking debut. In one poem, Pan tries to leave China a voicemail; in another, he imagines a grandfather home from guerrilla war, being handed a broken bowl. Wit and empathy inform these poems, and a love of music and poetry—as well as a time-taught sense of the precariousness of peace, of a time when ‘an invisible hand’ might grab his shoulders, to say: ‘Are you Weijia? Something’s happened. Come this way.’”

    Dana Levin
    author of Now Do You Know Where You Are
  • “In Motherlands, Weijia Pan recalls the China of the past and the United States of his present—and the vast connections between them, connections that exist as much in deep history as they do in immediate consciousness. In poems at once intricate and expansive, Pan considers the fact of displacement and the vagaries of translation, as re-creation, transformation, betrayal. Here, he finds opportunity in portraiture and music to consider both global injustice and the most delicate nuances of feeling. ‘Time’s time’s timestamp,’ he writes, ‘which means that time keeps its own records.’ And what records these are—imagined in brilliant poems by an essential young poet.”

    Kevin Prufer
    author of The Fears
  • “In Weijia Pan’s brilliant first collection, Motherlands, the personal is political—and imaginary. And historical. But also, made entirely from our collective moment in the world. Contemporary environments blend temporally with great thinkers and artists of the past. Pan and his speakers are in a deep and deeply felt conversation with time itself. And Pan captures these complexities in language with so much crackle and verve, so much strange and surprising energy, with such animated stories and interesting information, that I couldn’t put the book down. Motherlands is a singular accomplishment by one of the most dynamic new voices in contemporary poetry.”

    Erin Belieu
    author of Come-Hither Honeycomb