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Quiet Night Think

9781770416253 | Poems and Essays
Published by ECW Press, April 2022

"One function of the poet at any time is to discover by his own thought and feeling what seems to him to be poetry at that time," writes Wallace Stevens. In Quiet Night Think, award-winning poet Gillian Sze adds her voice to Canadian literature and expresses her own definition.

Written during the remarkable period of early parenthood, Sze's new maternal role urges her to contemplate her own origins, both familial and artistic. Comprised of six personal essays, poems, and a concluding long poem, Quiet Night Think takes its title from a direct translation of an eighth century Chinese poem by Li Bai, the subject of the opening essay. Sze's memory of reading Li Bai's poem as a child marks the beginning of an unshakable encounter with poetry. What follows is an intimate anatomization of her particular entanglement with languages and cultures.

In her most generically diverse book yet, Sze moves between poetry and prose, mother and writer, the lyrical and the autobiographical, all the while inviting readers to meditate with her on questions of emergence and transformation: What are you trying to be? Where does a word break off? What calls to us throughout the night?


⌘ Winner of the 2023 Pat Lowther Memorial Award
⌘ Jury Selection for the 2022 Grand Prix du livre de Montréal
⌘ Finalist for the 2022 Quebec Writers' Federation's A. M. Klein Prize for Poetry
⌘ Selected for The Globe & Mail's The Globe 100: The Best Books of 2022
⌘ Selected for CBC's Best Canadian Poetry of 2022
⌘ Selected for Australian Book Review's Books of the Year 2022.

Available online and hopefully at your local bookstore.

Some kind words:

[T]he true power of the book lies not in any one genre or subject, but in the spaces between them - the spaces in which Sze unearths unexpected connections and meaning ... Sze's spare, unflinching lines draw our attention to the in-between moments of life, the concentric circles of becoming.


A highly accomplished, beautifully modulated, hybrid collection of meditations, essays and poems. Cultural traditions, roles, customs, rituals, and languages are explored in the context of pregnancy and birth, which occasions the "quiet night think" of the title. That phrase could also describe the shifting modes of this collection: here it is night, there day; here quiet, there activity; here is deep thought, there deep feeling. Acutely observed images are imbued with feeling, deeply resonant. The world is seen and heard, felt, tasted and smelled, from water chestnuts to moonlight to the small gesture of a father's aching hands.


Straddling the line between prose and verse, essay and autobiography, the author looks at the creative process, maternity, and her relationship with Chinese culture. Entering into a constant dialogue with an 8th century Chinese poem, the mother and writer invites us to reflect upon two realities that are sometimes difficult to reconcile. Her expansive, generous writing leads readers to question the origins that shape our existence.


Quiet Night Think is a stunning work. Gillian Sze has "the acrobatic ear" and a generous mind. To be a mother, a daughter, a writer, a self - through reflection and poetry, essay and remembrance, these fragile threads carry one another in profound, transporting ways. I know I will return to this extraordinary book again and again.

—MADELEINE THIEN, author of Do Not Say We Have Nothing

In Quiet Night Think Gillian Sze both explains and reenacts the piercing clarity of the poets that came before her, and bore her. She carries on their boldness in these spare, elegant pieces: bold because spareness brings with it the great risk of misunderstanding. But it also holds within it an enormous amount of trust and goodwill, that the reader can and will breathe into the gaps, and fill them with knowing. This is an act of love, and readers will be grateful for Sze's beautifully brave work.

—THEA LIM, author of An Ocean of Minutes

Quiet Night Think by Gillian Sze is a collection of finely observed poems and invitingly associative essays, in which Sze muses on language, translation, and individual words, across English, Mandarin, and her family's dialect, Hokkien.


Throughout the book, in poetry and prose, Sze deals with the process of loss - whether in the process of translation or in the move from one life stage to another - and finds that losing something can also mean gaining something new.


Sze draws on emotion-imbued imagery from nature, daily observations and intellectual investigations, punctuated by intimate, often heart-rending glimmers that captivate all the way to the book's end.


Quiet Night Think is the result of Sze's attempt to capture the belly of her life on the page; an attempt to see, like the parting of a curtain, what is illuminated and what lives in the dark. It is a beautiful exploration of form and identity - of disappointment, of appreciation, of language. Of the everyday moments that offer absolute grandeur, if we would simply look longer.


[Quiet Night Think] fulfills the promise implied by the title, offering a deeply moving exploration of the writer's relationship with Li Bai's work, Chinese literature, and the ideas of home and nostalgia. The book also delves into so much more: it's a nuanced and multi-layered reflection on origins, poetic craft, and the creative process, explored through and alongside topics like heritage, nature, and motherhood.


Sze allows us to come to our own conclusions, to take part in the making of meaning and transform in our own ways, rather than telling us exactly what to think. All of this makes the collection an excellent companion for our own quiet nighttime contemplations.