Sentient Stones by Susan McCaslin

In Sentient Stones, poet Susan McCaslin reflects on the nature of stones and the ways humans have used them, and been affected by them, through history. The 18 poems in the chapbook cover a range of themes, referencing mythology, history, geology, and personal experience. Often with sly humor woven into the content or title, the poems provide both enjoyable lyricism and an invitation to philosophical musing.

Some of the poems touch on stones’ use as building material. “Stones’ Mysterium” contemplates the Great Pyramid of Giza and its construction, while “Consider Machu Picchu” takes us high up in the Andes to contemplate the title work. “Pictographs Floating in Granite” look at stone-as-backdrop, where stones play host to pictographs in Pitt Lake. Here,

Deep time storytelling remains veiled in unknowing
protected by erosion and the rub of time
Yet silent, these images speak

As the title Sentient Stones suggests, some poems question whether stones are “alive” in some way or at some level. “Stone’s Lyre,” for example, contemplates a stone

singing the harmony of the world
plucked on the strings of its spiraling

where the fires from which it burst
in mathematical intervals of sound

break from beyond time
re-sounding as pure gold

The poem “Rocks vs Stones” comments on the differences between the two as a geologist might explain them, while at the same time noting the way we tend to blur the lines when it comes to literature.

In some poems, stones become a springboard to other musings, as in “Rocks & Stones Don’t Bluff,” which begins by talking about meteorites, then takes us to the stars:

When we peer into space through Gaia’s skirts
stars in faraway solar systems

may have already disappeared
into fathomless black holes

“Quantum Stones” describes

Stones still and evanescent, waves and particles
here and there, locally embedded
while abroad in the emptiness of space

disappearing, returning
singing canticles
to our paradise ears

Poems like “Stones in Bowls” and “Marvellous Stones” simply celebrate stones for themselves—the pleasure they give us as we enjoy how they feel and look, and the memories a collection of stones might evoke. As someone who, as a child, gathered stones whose appearance or texture intrigued me, these poems had particular resonance.

When I first encountered McCaslin’s chapbook, I wondered how much there was to say about stones. As the poems in Sentient Stones demonstrate, the answer is “more than you might think.”

Sentient Stones is part of Raven Chapbooks’ Publisher’s Indigo Series for 2023. The book is bound using the Japanese Stab Binding technique, and the dark blue Grosgrain ribbon used for this task complements the cover artwork. Presented in a 6 ½ inch by 8-inch size and printed on quality paper, Sentient Stones is an attractive artifact that invites us to contemplate the wonder of a natural phenomenon many of us take for granted.

Susan McCaslin is a Canadian poet, essayist, editor of two poetry anthologies, scholar, and children’s author residing east of Fort Langley, BC.