Oculus: Poems (Paperback)

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Staff Reviews

Sally Wen Mao’s Oculus is a masterfully pieced together book of poems. Language is at once precise, playful, sharp, and twisting like a knife. Mao turns her lens toward race, the past, the future, the super computer, the eye, and light. At times verging on the realm of science fiction, Mao’s poems hurtle the reader through time and space, particularly in one sequence involving Anna May Wong, the first Chinese-American movie star, and a time travel machine. These poems were a pleasure to read and I have found myself thinking of them often since finishing the book. Anyone who loved Tracy K Smith’s Life on Mars will enjoy these poems.  Review by Katie Foster.

— From Oculus by Sally Wen Mao


A brilliant second collection by Sally Wen Mao on the violence of the spectacle—starring the film legend Anna May Wong

In Oculus, Sally Wen Mao explores exile not just as a matter of distance and displacement but as a migration through time and a reckoning with technology. The title poem follows a nineteen-year-old girl in Shanghai who uploaded her suicide onto Instagram. Other poems cross into animated worlds, examine robot culture, and haunt a necropolis for electronic waste. A fascinating sequence spanning the collection speaks in the voice of the international icon and first Chinese American movie star Anna May Wong, who travels through the history of cinema with a time machine, even past her death and into the future of film, where she finds she has no progeny. With a speculative imagination and a sharpened wit, Mao powerfully confronts the paradoxes of seeing and being seen, the intimacies made possible and ruined by the screen, and the many roles and representations that women of color are made to endure in order to survive a culture that seeks to consume them.

About the Author

Sally Wen Mao is the author of a previous poetry collection, Mad Honey Symposium. Her work has won a Pushcart Prize and fellowships at Kundiman, George Washington University, and the New York Public Library Cullman Center.

Praise For…

“Stunning, expansive. . . . [Oculus] marks Sally Wen Mao as one of the most compelling, provocative poets working today. . . . Mao’s language beautifully encompasses both the natural and technological worlds, infusing both with humanity, and offering a crystal clear vision of the ways in which our culture corrupts and consumes those who don’t fit within it seamlessly.”Nylon

“Sally Wen Mao’s poetry is at once speculative, sharp, lush, and precise. . . . Oculus tackles distance and exile, technology and time––several poems are told through the filter of a time-traveling Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American film star, which is all I needed to hear to zoom through space and time wherever she asks me to.”Literary Hub

“The poems in [Oculus] consider the detritus and delirium of digital life. . . . Whether wayward spirit or nefarious satyr, Mao’s narrators and characters inhabit the sense of oculus as eye-opening, a transformative door.”The Millions

“[In Oculus] Mao manifests images of robots, electronic waste, Instagram-uploaded suicides, casting a suspicious glance on the perpetually-growing nature of technology.”Electric Literature

“[In Oculus] Mao discusses the dehumanization of women of color by offering them protection: blurred images, new armor, grounds and oceans to bury and lose themselves in. . . . A victorious and worthwhile review.”The Arkansas International

“[Oculus] is a book consumed first and foremost with the impact of the spectacle on those of us for whom representation is both rare and often rapacious: women of color.”Anomaly

“[Sally Wen Mao investigates] a technology-subjugated world in take-no-prisoners language. . . . Raw and impressive. . . . A strong second collection from a rising poet.”Library Journal

“Reading Oculus is like being given the gift of sight. . . . the possibility of being restored to who we could be, and who we could be next.”—Alexander Chee

Oculus is a stunning and mesmerizing journey. . . . and it is brilliant. Mao’s is a consistently inspiring and exciting voice."—Morgan Parker

“Both scalpel and flood, poems of brooded, subtle syntax that build and accrue toward inevitable and stifling ferocity. Mao’s work reclaims for itself an acidic possibility.”—Ocean Vuong

“I simply trust no other poet to confront and fracture notions of Empire more deftly—and with such élan—than Sally Wen Mao.”—Aimee Nezhukumatathil

“A tour-de-force, a rousing ride.”—Marilyn Chin

Product Details
ISBN: 9781555978259
ISBN-10: 1555978258
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Publication Date: January 15th, 2019
Pages: 96
Language: English