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Awakening to histories personal and social, Conversation Among Stones is a meditation on memory and identity.
Through fields of wild grass, restless seascapes, and cities tinged with sand, Willie Lin's debut collection of poetry questions what can remain and what must be pared away in our search for truth. Conversation Among Stones speaks both to the inanimate—misremembered histories, photographs, the dead—and to the voices in our daily lives that reverberate with disagreement and confusion. Punctuated by doubt and resistant to easy transformations, these poems listen and revise. With striking restraint and simultaneous abundance, these poems attempt to reconcile the desire for answers with the necessity of not knowing.
Turn by turn, this collection catalogs moments of approach, fervor, and strife and carries us into a profound quest for understanding: “And that was one conviction: / that we must be to one another / what the world is not / to us.”
Excerpt from "Spring in Virginia"
You can choose
to have a secret or a sister. Some piano music, sawbuzz
on the verge of drowning out
what you’ve recovered
of yourself. The crude animals
are incapable of learning, except
by instinct. The man is a man
no worse than other men. But we want
our women more lithe,
with the simple mercy of a mouthful of bread.
There are worse ways to be a person.
I was speaking for myself.
Praise for Conversation Among Stones
“Willie Lin's debut poetry collection is everything one wants from a collection whether it be a debut, sophomore, or late career poet's publication. Each poem—I mean each poem—is immediate, energetic, complex yet accessible, and masterfully composed. Lin at once reveals and withholds, brings us into the imagined world while residing in the objective world. While these poems are plainly spoken and unadorned, they are also full of fresh and vivid imagery. Poem-to-poem, this is a knock-out collection. And I look forward to the next and next and next book.”
— Martha Rhodes, author of The Thin Wall
“This marvelously ordered book by Willie Lin catalogs the ways and whys one comes to be. Her poems burrow slowly out of a fate irrevocable as ‘bees locked in amber,’ emerging hungry for self-imbued purpose, a task of a life that can be shared. ‘I want to give you a truth—not wing or hook— / that belongs to only you.’ And what beauty, what ‘goodly weight’ in this specific form of the truth: a gift to return to many times.”
— Philip Matthews, author of Witch
“To read Conversation Among Stones is to enter a precisely reasoned universe of thought and held objects. Being in the world and turning toward knowledge are linked: it is through the things and beings of the world that knowing happens. Willie Lin's specificity of vision gives us waxwings and gallstones and a ‘corrugated blue bicycle shed,’ green walnuts and the brightness of persimmons. In these poems of knowing and unknowing, Lin offers a way ‘to see in full what you've understood only in profile’ through attention that verges on grief. But attending to the world may deliver bewilderment, rather than certainty. As in dreams, proportions shift and metamorphoses take place. Migrations happen. Breakage occurs. Willie Lin's poems offer us the twinnedness of could-be and might-have-been with is, the bewildering promises of religious practice, and the vital mystery of one's parents' early lives. These beautiful, solemn poems are radiant with the precision of Lin's language and the clarity of her images.”
—Éireann Lorsung, author of The Century
“The quiet of Willie Lin’s poems is deceptive, masking a profound doubt that she wields like a gleaming knife. The doubt of memory, the doubt of love and knowledge, the doubt of the self, and above all, the doubt of language. Such doubt inscribes her lines with a bewitching ferocity, as this ambitious poet writes into and against the elusive truths of experience, filling the mouth with ‘salt, a stand of trees, ink’ and ‘ordinary sorrow.’ Most remarkable about Conversation Among Stones, though, is how Lin brings us closer both to language’s inscrutability and to the devastations that ‘[meet] silence with silence.’ I loved how this book made me wonder and doubt and feel more, which is to say Lin’s gifts as a poet dares us to risk breaking our hearts, as she so cannily observes ‘When you read, you are full / of someone else’s sadness.’”
—Jennifer Chang, author of Some Say the Lark
“Willie Lin’s Conversation Among Stones lingers among memories, sorrowful mysteries, and the sacred, elemental images of dreaming and living. These poems rumble with light and shadow, certainty and smoke. They drift and flow, blossom and burn with ‘ghostly illuminations.’ I am struck by the force and breadth of her lyricism—and I am beyond grateful to share in their devotion: let us all ‘make something of suffering;’ let us all ‘rise, shrug off…form [and] imagine.’”
—R.A. Villanueva, author of Reliquaria
Publication Date: 11/07/2023
© BOA Editions, Ltd. 2023