New Books in Poetry: Oculus by Sally Wen Mao

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 OculusSally 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.


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Poet Spotlight: Ashley Miranda on surrealism, pop culture, and navigating trauma

Ashley Miranda is a latinx poet & teacher from Chicago. Most of their work is an exploration of mental health, gender, and trauma. Their poetry collection Thirteen Jars: How Xt’actani Learned to Speak was recently published by Another New Calligraphy. They have a chapbook, dolores in spanish is pain, dolores in lolita is a girl, which focuses on sexual abuse and reclaiming Dolores Haze, published by Glass Poetry. Their work has been previously featured by Yes, Poetry, Rising Phoenix Review, MAKE magazine, and other publications. They tweet impulsive poetry and other musings @dustwhispers and you can learn more about their work at agirlaloof.com.

Tell us a bit about your new chapbook, dolores in spanish is pain, dolores in lolita is a girl.  What is the collection about and how did it come into being?

The collection is primarily focused on navigating sexual childhood trauma and how pop culture compresses and complicates dealing with trauma. It’s partly a critique of pop-cultural reimagining of Lolita/Nymphets/Dolores Haze and an attempt to navigate the gravity of sexual trauma, how it reaches out and resonates, ripples into everything you see.

I first started working on poems without a clear idea of a chapbook about two and a half years ago. At first, I started with responses to Lana del Rey’s Lolita and the shop Dolls Kill, which featured a Lolita-inspired collection, both referencing Nabakov’s Lolita. Despite my love of Lana, I had an inherent issue with the idea of inhabiting Lolita in a positive light. And that’s grown. Commercialization of ‘Nymphets’ is growing – from clothes, to songs, to lipsticks. As someone who has dealt firsthand with that trauma, I felt immensely troubled by how normalized and sexualized young children were becoming through the media they were consuming.

From there, the chapbook realized itself. I wrote about trauma a lot, though I wouldn’t call myself a ‘trauma’ writer. It surfaces in my work because it needs to at times. Because I feel that the aftermath, the triggers, the PTSD, the mental health, the way others and I see the world are important. I wanted to voice that in my poems. I eventually began critiquing the novel Lolita, which is a novel that I have a hate-love relationship with and I have immense empathy for Dolores Haze, who is often an afterthought despite being the epicenter of the sensual representation of a ‘lolita’. Some of my poems are directly in response to lines describing Lolita, some poems are response to rape culture, some a response to strength. Whatever strength that those who have survived such events can capture.

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Poet Spotlight: Steven Withrow on formal and speculative verse

Steven Withrow

Steven Withrow is a journalist, poet, storyteller, and teacher from Falmouth, Massachusetts. His poetry books for children are It’s Not My Fault (Bloomsbury, 2016) and A Poem Is a Chameleon (self-published, 2019). His first speculative/weird poetry chapbook, The Sun Ships & Other Poems (self-published, 2019), includes poems appearing in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Star*Line, Dreams & Nightmares, Spectral Realms, Eye to the Telescope, and Epitaphs: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers. The title poem was a 2016 Rhysling Award nominee from the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association.

How did you get started as a writer? What keeps you writing?

I started writing stories, poems, and plays in elementary school and have never stopped. My first “professional” work was a stage adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time in sixth grade in 1986. The more I read and the more I learn about literature, the more I want to write. It’s a mixture of envy of good writing by others and a desire to make something that holds together even for a short time. I love the sculptural aspects of verse as much as the communicative aspects of poetry.

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Culture Consumption: April 2019

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, games, and podcasts.

Books

The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane AndersCharlie Jane Anders is now an author whose books I will buy instantly and without hesitation. Her second novel, The City in the Middle of the Night, is about humanity striving to survive on a tidal locked planet, where the same side of the plant is always facing the sun. The humans who have left the mothership have developed ways to exist in the twilight, close enough to the day to garner some warmth without burning, far enough from the night to keep from freezing. In the city of Xiosphant, the people’s lives are strictly regulated according to circadian rhythms — straying from routine or stepping out of the rules even a little bit can result in severe punishment. Sophie, a young student from the dark side of town, discovers this herself when her upper class friend Bianca steals a few food dollars. Sophie takes the blame and finds herself sent to her death in the night, where the temperatures are subzero and the dark landscape is rife with deadly wildlife. But she survives the dark with the help from a surprising and unexpected new friend.

The world building in The City in the Middle of the Night is fascinating, with portrayals of how different people approach the harsh reality of this world with dwindling resources. I imagine a vast amount of research went into understanding the science behind life surviving on a tidal locked planet, from how the atmosphere would work to the weather conditions, to the evolution of life on the world. It’s captivating.

At the heart of this story is the deep intimate relationships between the characters, the love and heartbreak that comes from being emotionally invested in another human. There is a great need to feel connected to another person, a need that is sometimes confounded by an individual’s own misperceptions in how they see the other person and how the other person may see them. Sometimes these issues can be worked through over time, reaching a point in which the relationship can be strengthened and healed despite the betrayals and misunderstandings that came before. Sometimes time reveals all the ways the relationship has been broken from the start, with love feeling more like a chain than a bond. I think this book beautifully explores all the various aspects of these relationships. It’s a strange, beautiful book.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: April 2019”

Journeying the Devil’s Road

Devil's Road Film
Still from The Devil’s Road in Baja California.

Saturday night, my sister and I dressed to the nines to attend the private screening of The Devil’s Road: A Baja Adventure at the Rio in Santa Cruz. Directed by J.T. Bruce and produced by Todd Bruce and Bri Bruce, the feature-length documentary film is a family affair and a fantastic achievement.

The Devils Road premiers to a sold out theater.
The Devils Road premiers to a sold out theater.

After learning that their family is descended from Edward Goldman — a naturalist who along with Edward Nelson made a journey through the Baja peninsula cataloging the regions unique flora and fauna — J.T. and Todd decided to reconnect with the past by making their own journey through Baja on rented motorcycles. The film parallels the adventures of both Nelson and Goldman and J.T. and Todd, as they make their way through the arid deserts and beautiful landscapes of the Baja. The movie reveals some of the interesting plant and animal species native to the area, as well as sharing a bit on the culture of the people living there.

In the Q&A session that followed, the team mentioned that the documentary cost around $20,000 including the two expeditions to Baja (along with various other expenses). “We did it pretty cheap,” explained J.T. “Originally, we planned to have a chase car that would follow us with supplies. We also wanted to have a third rider, and we wanted Bri to be down there more — but we just had to keep cutting the fat off the trip to keep it within budget. We made it happen.”

One of the motorcycles used in the cross-Baja journey was displayed at the premier.
One of the motorcycles used in the cross-Baja journey was displayed at the premier.

I thoroughly enjoyed the film and it’s even more impressive considering the micro-budget the Bruce team was working with. I hope The Devil’s Road continues to get attention as the team starts to share the doc with festivals and other venues. Check out the trailer below.


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