A new episode of the New Books in Poetry podcast is up, in which I get to speak with Sally Wen Mao about her book Oculus (Graywolf Press, 2019).
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 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 speaks in the voice of 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.
“I’ve tried to hard to erase myself.
That iconography—my face
in Technicolor, the manta ray
eyelashes, the nacre and chignon.
I’ll bet four limbs they’d cast me as another
Mongol slave. I will blow a hole
in the airwaves, duck lasers in my dugout.
I’m done kidding them. Today I fly
the hell out in my Chrono-Jet.”
— from “Anna May Wong Fans Her Time Machine”
You can listen to the interview here or on the podcast app of your choice.