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Oculus: Poems

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4.20  ·  Rating details ·  210 ratings  ·  42 reviews
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. O
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Paperback, 119 pages
Published January 15th 2019 by Graywolf Press
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4.20  · 
Rating details
 ·  210 ratings  ·  42 reviews


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Jerrie (redwritinghood)
As the title implies, these poems focus on the voyeuristic tendencies of humans. Watching of girls and women, particularly Asian women, as entertainment. Many center around the 1930s actress Anna May Wong. Maybe this focus detracted from the structure of the collection as it started to seem repetitive. Mao is clearly a poet of great talent, but the overall collection left me without a strong impression of like or dislike.
David J
May 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
4.5

Sally Wen Mao absolutely hits it out of the park with Oculus. It’s definitely my favorite collection of poetry I’ve read this year, even edging out American Primitive by my beloved Mary Oliver. Mao takes us on an odyssey from past to present to speculative sci-fi future and you’ll want to be there for the ride. Much like what Morgan Parker does with her experience as a black woman, Mao turns a looking glass onto her experience as an Asian American woman. Through various lenses--social media,
...more
Andrea Blythe
Jun 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
In Oculus , Sally Wen Mao blends pop culture and technology to question viewpoints — how we reveal ourselves, how we see each other, and the power structures involved in who is telling the story and who doing the viewing. All the poems in this collection are fantastic, but I was particularly enamored with a series of poems written within the perspective of Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American movie star, who time travels her way through the history and future of cinema. Through the eyes of ...more
Samantha
Apr 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This collection is so god damn smart and speculative, a well-researched commentary on technology and Asian futurism and identity and the portrayal and treatment of Asian women and Asian characters in film. I don't typically love a lot of notes in poetry books, but I was really excited to flip back and read the notes on each poem. Well thought out and put together thematically, and each poem is thought-provoking in the subject it deconstructs. Also, that cover is badass.
Stephanie
Jun 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was a random library find, and very good.


Many of these poems were interrogating Asian stereotypes in American media.
Jaclyn (sixminutesforme)

“I wrote this book for women of color. Without you, the world isn’t possible. Because of you, I keep going. I have learned this the hard way: you matter, and don’t let anyone or anything convince you otherwise.”
.
I wanted to share this quote from the acknowledgments because it serves a reminder of so many of the explorations within this collection that representation matters.
.
This is an incredibly moving and present collection, and I’d encourage you to read the author’s notes at the end of the co
...more
Melissa
Jan 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Sally Wen Mao’s poetry is both complex and relatable. It’s a collection of beautifully written, well researched, thought provoking poems. Social media, pop culture, voyeurism, race, history, technology, performance, Hollywood. Each poem is complete, many quite powerful, but taken together the collection reveals so much more.
Julie
Apr 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
I read Anne Cheng's Ornamentalism (well not the whole book but the essay where she introduces the idea) shortly before picking up Oculus. Cheng has an epigraph in the book, quoted from Second Skin. In Ornamentalism (in super rough terms), Cheng posits that the yellow woman experiences a particular type of objectification, objectification as ornament -- an aesthetic, synthetic object, as opposed to something fleshy, seductive, nurturing. The most exciting thing for me is that she says that this m ...more
Jay
May 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
How easy
it is, to shatter chinoiserie, like the Han

dynasty urn Ai Weiwei dropped in 1995.
If only recovering the silenced history

is as simple as smashing its container: book,
bowl, celadon spoon. Such objects cross

borders the way our bodies never could.
Instead, we’re left with history, its blonde

dust. That bowl is unbreakable. All its ghosts
still shudder through us like small breaths.

From the poem Occidentalism

This is one of the best poetry collections I've ever read. Intelligent and hard-hitting
...more
Katherine Cowley
Jul 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, art, history
A stunning new collection of poetry from Sally Wen Mao. In "Ghost Story" Mao writes:

When I lived, I wanted to be seen
I built this mansion of windows
for my prince and me.....

a Technicolor wilderness surrounded
us. Turquoise stags watched us shave
with electric razors. We built new barricades
between ourselves.

Ultimately, Mao's poems are about technology, about the way in which the lens changes us, frames us, distorts us, destroys us. Many of Mao's poems deal with specific events, people, and places
...more
Jessika
Aug 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, poc-author, 2019
This was a really interesting and accessible collection.
Chris Roberts
Jan 08, 2019 rated it did not like it
Verse flourishes in the air,
it surround sounds us,
the poet is mere a collector of words,
a transcriber, nothing more.

#poem

Chris Roberts, Lord God
Caroline Mao
(tl:dr; sally wen mao continues to destroy me)

Sally Wen Mao, the author of Mad Honey Symposium, takes us on a journey through landscape, history, technology, and haunting in her 2019 poetry collection Oculus. Her unique voice explores everything from American pop culture to Chinese film history in this stunning collection, which I swept through in a single evening despite how badly I didn’t want it to end.

Mao has an astonishing ability to make the smallest bundle of words leave you struggling fo
...more
Izzie
Jul 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: pl-poetry
I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the art being created in this book of poems. For me, the poems hit close to home in two ways: 1) having similar cultural ties & 2) seeing my own writing growing to have a similar style to Mao’s

I absolutely loved the juxtaposition of poems together stylistically as well as stand alone pieces. I borrowed this book from my public library but I’m excited to purchase my own copy.

*will edit to add some of my favorite lines*
George Duran
Jul 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, favorites, to-buy
I can see again after reading this book.
Lili Kim
Feb 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I’m so glad I got to meet Sally Wen Mao in person, as she explained so much of her poetry and need to have Asian women’s voices be heard. I had no idea about Afong Moy, the first Chinese woman who was caged and prodded as she was brought to the US. Nor did I know about Anna May Wong, who had to play the stereotypical Asian role and who had to die a thousand violent deaths on the big screen. I also appreciate how she talked about Ki Suk Han, who was pushed onto the NYC subway tracks and whose dea ...more
Diana  Marie
Apr 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jennifer Patino
May 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I'm in love with this collection. Each eye opening piece sings of experience. Vivid imagery, tragic history, past, present, we need these poems now. Sally Wen Mao is a voice you won't want out of your head. I highly recommend this poet. Easily my favorite poetry collection of this year.
Kerynnisa
Mar 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019, poetry
This collection took me all over the place and back & forth in time. Such a vehicle for adventure and exploration, capturing certain periods with concision and colour. I loved this so much for the sense of wonder tingled with intelligent curiosity that it invoked in me
Devan
May 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
read in lil chunks on the subway :)
Lis
May 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
i just read this whole thing out loud to myself as the best kind of treat!

it's so good. sonically, too, it makes a huge difference to really listen to it
Rachel
Aug 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Diaspora, racism, xenophobia. A unique experience by Chinese women and Chinese American women, a suffering of stereotypes, misogyny, and a history of prejudice and oppression. A heart wrenching and illuminating collection that shares an experience non-Chinese/Chinese Americans and non-Asian Americans could not truly understand. As a Jew, I've been well aware of my own experiences with stereotypes in media, how Jews in history were treated. I was able to sympathize and with some of these poems bu ...more
Kell
Aug 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, bipoc, 2018-20
I'm so hungry I gnaw at light. / It tunnels from the shadows, an exhausting / hope. (109)

Motifs of cinema, electronics, futurism, suicides, silenced voices and communities, fame, land and travel. A beautiful collection, I could have spent hours more reading the pages.

All a ghost wants is to be chained / to a place, to someone who can't forget / her. (5)

Favourites of mine:

Occidentalism
Teledildonics
Mutant Odalisque
Provenance: A Vivisection
Antipode Essay
I don't blame / the ocean for / gorging in
...more
Danielle
Jun 21, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
These poems consider technology and its effect on the relationship to the body (specifically, the bodies of Asian-American women, who have been fetishized and dehumanized through film). In "Mutant Odalisque," the speaker becomes fish-like, something to be torn open and consumed, studied and profited off of: "Do they marvel at a conquest -- / blue flesh and gills. Do they think of me as soiled / or new soil. Do they take notes in their medical / journals." These poems also explore touch in the di ...more
Caroline
Jan 28, 2019 rated it liked it
3.5 stars

Sally Wen Mao is making Asian Futurism in the spirit of her idol Janelle Monae's Afrofuturism. Some of the poems in Oculus were a little too abstract for me (in a narrative way, if that makes any sense), but there were a lot of great poems, too. I was intrigued by the examination of technology as it pertains to self-identity. A lot of the poems are highly referential, with allusions to history, cinema, art, labor, fashion, and even Pokémon. It's an interesting mash-up and I learned a lo
...more
Kaitlin
Apr 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
I loved the conceit of this, with Anna May Wong traveling through time to notice that our culture's treatment of Asian actors and Asian characters hasn't changed pretty much at all since her day. Sometimes it seemed to dive a little too far into the "Overwrought Deep Poetry" field for my liking--I prefer to keep things wry, which this collection did often but not throughout. But I actually thought the most beautiful poem in the collection was "Lavender Town"--which, yes, is absolutely about the ...more
Andy Oram
Apr 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literature
Mao's phrasing, imagery, and general inventiveness are exquisite, and her specialty of cyber and high tech references is engaging and amusing. I am less impressed with her references to the history of East Asians in film (the notes at the back of the book are somewhat helpful), with her obvious puns and plays on words, with with some mildly didactic, lecturing passages. On the other hand, one of my favorite sequences of poems in the book were homages to Nam June Paik, a famous video artist whose ...more
Brittany
Jul 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this menagerie of poems. So many of these poems reflect on perspective, race, sexism as well as transformation. In some poems, Mao writes in the perspective of an Asian actress from the 1920s as she time travels and comments on each phenomenon or decade. Other poems reflect on technology transforming us into the other that so often follows people of color. An excellent collection that forces our hand to look in the mirror and find our monsters within.
Jason
Aug 07, 2019 rated it it was ok
1) Forlorn
2) Plundering
3) Eloquent
Enjoyment: 2

This two-star rating reflects the elusive - although beautifully seductive and haunting - nature I left feeling from this thought-invoking collection. For those, like myself, who may find it helpful in experiencing poetry to have a roadmap for balance and gravity, Mao provides "Notes" at the end of the book. Reading these notes first or along with corresponding poems offer useful context.
Gwendolyn
Jan 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Another great selection from the Rumpus Poetry Book Club. I particularly like how Sally Wen Mao explores Hollywood depictions of Asians and Asian Americans, never shying away from the uncomfortable truths. Mao’s poetry is challenging in the way good poetry should be, and I learned a lot while reading through this collection (especially by looking up the pop culture references I was unfamiliar with).
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Sally Wen Mao is the author of Mad Honey Symposium (Alice James Books, 2014), the winner of the 2012 Kinereth Gensler Award. Her work has been anthologized in The Best American Poetry 2013 and the Pushcart Prize Anthology. She has a forthcoming book, Oculus, out from Graywolf Press in 2019.
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“Every day I try to fight my own
brokenness. But once you are forgotten,
it's not so bad: a heart broken
joins another chorus.”
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