This is Sally Wen Mao's Typepad Profile.
Join Typepad and start following Sally Wen Mao's activity
Join Now!
Already a member? Sign In
Sally Wen Mao
Recent Activity
This is my sixth and final posting for the APIA Poetry and Interview Series. I am grateful to the Best American Poetry for offering this platform on your blog—thank you. I am ending with Tarfia Faizullah, a fast-rising star and author of Seam (Southern Illinois University Press), a devastating book, one I’ve read many times though it’s still hot off the presses. Tarfia will be reading in New York City with me, along with two of this week's featured APIA poets, Cathy Linh Che and R.A. Villanueva, this Friday, May 30th, 8PM at the Asian American Writers Workshop (110-112 W 27th Street, Suite 600) as part of a debut piñata ball. This reading/dance party will serve as my book release launch for Mad Honey Symposium—it’s a celebration of Cathy Linh Che’s Split, Tarfia Faizullah’s Seam, and R.A. Villanueva’s Reliquaria, all collections published this year, the year of the horse. If you’re in New York City, be sure to make it out! There will be piñatas, dancing, snacks, beautiful people, and celebration. 8PM at Asian American Writers Workshop. Tarfia is traveling for this, so don’t miss it! Details and information for tickets (it’s free) are here. Tarfia Faizullah is the Pushcart Prize winning author of Seam (SIU 2014), winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. Her poems appear in Oxford American, American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Best New Poets 2013, and elsewhere. Honors include scholarships from Kundiman, the Fulbright Foundation, Bread Loaf, Sewanee, Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, and Vermont Studio Center. She is the Nicholas Delbanco Visiting Professor in Poetry at University of Michigan’s Helen Zell Writers’ Program. The following poem, “Register of Eliminated Villages”, exemplifies how Faizullah manipulates lines of verse so that her language expunges the boundaries of time. More than this, “Register of Eliminated Villages” speaks of a gaping absence, the result of violence—a violence of omission that begins right from its unsettling epigraph. The scaffolding in this poem is unique—in the opening, the speaker declares: “my life is beginning/without me”. In the wakefulness of a long night, in the intimate space of being next to a lover, the speaker experiences a kind of return—time and space wavers between her present self and her inchoate self. And it is this inchoate self that re-experiences the intimate space of her parents: “Mother turns to Father//in the cold room they share,/offers her hands to his spine.” The simultaneity of the speaker’s mother and the speaker in these private spaces is remarkable for its seamlessness, for the way it mirrors and doubles—the reader actually experiences both moments not as separate moments but as the same moment—at the same time. The poem turns, also, to the simultaneity of recorded history and unrecorded absence: “Frontline only counted each/town destroyed: three/hundred ninety-seven of them.//Who counts dolls, hand-/stitched, facedown in dirt?” The poet goes on to list: cadaver, bone, belongings, pots, the amputated hands of thieves—the human experiences, lost objects that were not recorded. 397 towns: 397 is the number that prevents... Continue reading
Posted May 25, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
The next fearless poet to be featured is Eugenia Leigh! Here’s another honey badger who will be riding the wave of this summer’s Honey Badgers Don’t Give a B**k Tour. I am endlessly excited to showcase Eugenia’s work and go on an epic book adventure with her. Not only is her work full of the kind of vitality, toughness, heartbreak, and faith that begets the most devastating poetry, Eugenia is an amazing spirit and fantastic reader. Eugenia Leigh is the author of Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows (Four Way Books, 2014). The recipient of fellowships and awards from Poets & Writers Magazine, Kundiman, Rattle, and the Asian American Literary Review, Eugenia serves as the Poetry Editor of Kartika Review. She received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and is currently a doctoral candidate in the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In the following poem “We Called it the Year of Birthing”, Leigh begins with a story of making, of genesis: “God handed me a trash bag bloated with feathers. Turn this/into a bird, he said…And make with this,/ a new father.” From the beginning, we understand that what God is asking of the speaker is painfully inconceivable. It is up to the speaker to rise up to the request—to turn brave, to pick up shards, her own traumas being “sordid with similar beaten people”. To turn these fragments, these wrecked objects—feathers and bolts and nails—into something whole and human, requires a kind of alchemy. But magically, forcefully, the next stanza turns, creating its own poetic alchemy: “Others of us—/the stubborn, unbreakable humans—weld our wounds/to form tools. Then we spend our days/mending bent humans or wiping the humans/mired by all the wrong fingerprints.” This poem is not a poem about merely facing the past. This poem is not a poem about merely pain. This poem is about the courage it takes to collect the darkest scrap, the vestiges from one’s history, the raw spaces, and heal them by re-making, re-building, re-birthing—the speaker and the speakers are agents of creation rather than decimation, reclamation rather than repudiation. At the end of the poem, we are rewarded with a moment of absolute wonder: “The morning the first baby was born in our circle of friends,/ we hovered over this child who, unlike us,/ was born whole.” The thrill and triumph of this line is not without its acknowledgment that the baby born into this new family is “unlike us”. This poem moves from the impossible to the miraculous in four short stanzas. Be on the lookout for Eugenia Leigh’s forthcoming collection from Four Way Books, Blood, Sparrows, and Sparrows! We Called It the Year of Birthing God handed me a trash bag bloated with feathers. Turn this into a bird, he said. He threw me a bowl of nails. And make with this, a new father. God gave some people whole birds. Readymade fathers with no loose bolts. The rest of us received crude nests. Used mothers. I banged... Continue reading
Posted May 24, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Our next featured poet is Matthew Olzmann! Matthew Olzmann’s first book of poems, Mezzanines, received the 2011 Kundiman Prize and was published by Alice James Books. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in New England Review, Kenyon Review, Poetry Northwest, The Southern Review, Forklift, Ohio and elsewhere. Currently, he is the coeditor of The Collagist, and a Visiting Professor of Creative Writing in the undergraduate writing program at Warren Wilson College. ( I am enthralled by the poems of Matthew Olzmann. They are often funny, poignant, lyrical, astute—and when he reads them, they come alive like little beasts leaping from the page. In the following poem, Olzmann asks us to consider the remains of such a beast—the skull of a dinosaur—as a metaphor for our navigation of the fallacies our hopes create. “I know what it means/to watch your good fortune change its mind”, he writes, as he switches dexterously from the narrative of the chagrined archaeologist to the speaker’s own memory. And disappointment, the shell-shocked stillness of that realization that what was true minutes ago is actually false, is something we can all empathize with—we find ourselves dreading the supermodel’s discovery, the moment “when the light ruin[s] everything.” Sometimes what we dream is that much brighter at the moment we realize that it won’t come true—the “new world” that we craved, “its beaches of untouched skin”, “moons that smelled of a hundred flowers”, or “I-Could-Live-Here-Forever Land and Holy-Shit-Was-I-Wrong-Land”. Olzmann mixes pure sincerity with joyous language, as well as humor; I laughed at the brilliant lines “What kind of animal is this?/ I call it: The Motherfuckerasaurus.” Immediately preceding these lines, there is a different emotional tenor, one of painful longing. These exhilarating shifts in tone sets the wonderfully varied emotional landscape of Olzmann’s poem: this landscape does seem like a “new world”, one that, despite the poem’s sentiment, fulfills our many hopes as readers. The Skull of an Unidentified Dinosaur does not belong to the dinosaur skeleton to which it has been attached. A man thought he made an amazing discovery. Now, it’s a towering mistake, one for which he’ll likely lose his job, but only after taking this skyscraper of bones—with its eye-sockets like windows to hell—apart. Femur by mandible, I know what it means to watch your good fortune change its mind. Like that time in college, when my friend’s supermodel cousin invited us to a party and accidentally kissed me in the dark. She thought I was someone else—I have no idea who—but the gist of the story can be seen in her freaking out when the light ruined everything. For a moment, I thought I discovered a new world. And what a world it was— with its beaches of untouched skin, and its moons that smelled of a hundred flowers. I named that land I-Could-Live-Here- Forever Land and Holy-Shit-Was-I-Wrong Land. Einstein says imagination is more important than knowledge. Certainly, it’s kinder. I imagine the man who wired these dinosaur bones must have imagined his... Continue reading
Posted May 23, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Next up in the APIA series, we have Cathy Linh Che! I’m lucky to go on a book tour, Honey Badgers Don’t Give a B**k Tour, with Cathy this summer – fearless Asian American poets going on a roadtrip adventure to read poems, adventure, eat noodles, enthrall, and explore (follow us on Twitter @BadgersOfHoney). Cathy Linh Che’s work is borne out of necessity and survival. In the past few months, I’ve had the privilege of giving several readings with this indomitable poet, as we share not only a press but also multiple literary communities. When Cathy reads her work, it’s as if she saws herself open for her audience to behold. There is a tremor, a sob, a revelation. I am always astounded by her bravery and her sincerity, her honesty and her intelligence, and how powerfully the language of her poems embodies her lived experience. Cathy Linh Che is the author of Split (Alice James, 2014), winner of the 2012 Kundiman Poetry Prize. She has been awarded fellowships and residencies from Poets & Writers, Kundiman, Hedgebrook, Poets House, The Fine Arts Work Center at Provincetown, The Asian American Literary Review, The Center for Book Arts, and The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Workspace Residency. She currently lives in Brooklyn. In the following poem “My Mother upon Hearing News of Her Mother’s Death”, Che opens with a menagerie—a moose, a donkey, and an ox, all expelling from the speaker’s mother’s mouth. The strangeness of the opening image, its texture and surprise, only builds up as we approach each new stanza. The wildness of the animals in the first stanza undercuts the domestic imagery that pervades the next stanza—the kitchen knives, spoons, sinkhole, AC, wood paneling, market fish. However, the domestic is not static in this poem—rather, the domestic space here is torn apart as the “hoa mai cracks open” to invite the sky, the air, and the rain. In the last stanza, we travel with the speaker into a different kind of interiority—the interiority of her mother’s body, the interiority of grief—the “torrents like iron ropes you could climb up, only I couldn't, I was drowning, I was swirled in, I leapt into her mouth, her throat, her gut, and stayed inside with the remnants of my former life.” The moment disorients us, as the mother’s body becomes the new embodiment of domestic space, complete with “furnishing” and “swollen heart”. To live inside this space—to return to the space of mother’s body as an older person, the reader and speaker must reformulate what it means to be nourished, what gets sacrificed for survival, and this is ridden with the guilt of “crowding” the furnishings, inhabiting too much space to bear. We end with the speaker declaring “I became a woman wearing my mother’s skin”. It is a moment of finality, as chilling for the reader as it is unsettling for the speaker, as she realizes that what’s left is the skin she wears imparted by her mother. If you do not... Continue reading
Posted May 22, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Next up in our APIA Kundiman poetry series: R.A. Villanueva! R.A. Villanueva is the author of Reliquaria, winner of the 2013 Prairie Schooner Book Prize. A founding editor of Tongue: A Journal of Writing & Art, his honors include the 2013 Ninth Letter Literary Award for poetry and fellowships from Kundiman and The Asian American Literary Review. His writing has appeared widely in journals and anthologies including AGNI, Bellevue Literary Review, The Common, DIAGRAM, Gulf Coast, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and Virginia Quarterly Review. He lives in Brooklyn and is a Senior Lecturer at New York University. What I love about R.A. Villanueva’s poems are their complexity of diction and detail, their lyrical precision and grit, their dance between the strange ephemera of daily realities and the sublime. In one such poem, “Sacrum”, Villanueva mixes the ancient with recent memory, recent history, to consider the way our bodies remain long after our lives have departed. In the opening three stanzas, Vesalius the anatomist is aligned with Abraham and Achilles, to give us three different experiences of ways the “sacred bone remains”. Then in the fourth stanza, the poem takes a shift into the “I”—a surprising perspective, given the seeming omniscience of the initial voice. It shifts into a conversation between the “I” and “you”, one that is at once intimate and singular. The poem literally travels through time—into the not-quite-present (that also deserves an elegy). The speaker imagines the “you” experiencing Greater Bangkok, the “fires and protest tambourines”, the “makeshift triggers”. “Sacrum” is a poem that unsettles the divide between histories, contexts, and geographies—it crosses borders, it sings, simultaneously elegiac and full of reverence. I’m definitely looking forward to R.A. Villanueva’s debut collection, Reliquaria, which is out September of this year from the University of Nebraska Press. Sacrum Though lacking the breadth and mass of the iliac wing, this sacred bone remains, for Vesalius, broad as hunger, as grand and spacious as the sea. But he leaves names and reasons for others, wants only the seven figures of the thorax, cares more about the Cartilages of the Rough Artery. He does not mention how this holy place, cut from the ox-calf wrapped in fat, was Achilles’ mourning offering, how the blessed ram, shank broken over the fire, was Abraham’s sacrifice after his son. When I think aloud, Nothing we do living can be as beautiful as what the living will do with our bones, you reply with ceremony, recounting cremations from your childhood: boys at pyre’s base sifting through ash for that fragment of sternum which resembles a man lost in meditation, those shards of hip worthy of marigolds and hand-thrown urns to set upon the Ganges. Years later you find yourself home, on the edge of a Greater Bangkok throttled with fires and protest tambourines. There amidst talk of the hereafter and makeshift triggers, you tend to a lung bruised through the cage of the ribs, send photos of Varanasi, its bargefields and silks, a barber drawing his knife across... Continue reading
Posted May 21, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Happy Spring! I’m Sally Wen Mao, your guest blogger for the week, and this month, my first book, Mad Honey Symposium, is coming out. You can check it out at the Alice James Books website or Amazon. Here’s a review on Publishers Weekly and here’s one on The Literary Review. May also happens to be Asian Pacific American Heritage month. This week I’ll be featuring a few APA poets who are fellows of Kundiman, an Asian American poetry collective based in New York. I’ll feature a poem and a short interview with each poet. The first in this series is Ocean Vuong. Ocean Vuong is a recipient of a 2014 Pushcart Prize as well as fellowships from Kundiman, Poets House, Civitella Ranieri Foundation (Italy), The Elizabeth George Foundation, and The Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts. Poems appear in Poetry, The Nation, Beloit Poetry Journal, Guernica, Quarterly West, Denver Quarterly, and American Poetry Review, which awarded him the 2012 Stanley Kunitz Prize for Younger Poets. He lives in Queens, NY. ( I first got to know the incomparable Ocean Vuong when he came to Ithaca for a residency at Saltonstall Artists Colony in the fall of 2013. Ocean is a poet who deserves to be listened closely. That is because the voice in his poems ripples, sears, and dazzles, a voice that disarms with its contradictions, but also a voice that listens back. The reader will take note of the way in which his speakers experience haunting. In the following poem “Telemachus”, he disarms the reader from the beginning with the phrase “like any good son, I pull my father out/of the water.” The father, the epicenter for the speaker’s contradictory emotions—ire, tenderness, reverence, fear, empathy—is surprisingly vulnerable. The speaker has the power in this narrative: the will to act, the will to “drag him by the hair/through sand”, the will to “touch/his ears” and “turn him over”. The combination of violent images (“bullet hole in his back”, “bombed cathedral”) with sacred images highlights the great tension of the poem: that is, to actually look at or behold someone unbearably close to you, to see the image of his face come alive before you, that is difficult to survive. “To face/ it”, he writes, “The cathedral in his sea-black eyes.” The ending, an act of mercy and an almost-redemption: “The face not mine but one I will wear/to kiss all my lovers goodnight:/the way I seal my father's lips//with my own and begin/the faithful work of drowning.” The poem brims with complexity, tenderness, and violence, and as my students have said, Ocean’s work is “deep without confusing the reader”, which in a sense, is the ultimate compliment. Telemachus Like any good son, I pull my father out of the water, drag him by his hair through sand, his knuckles carving a trail the waves rush in to erase. Because the city beyond the shore is no longer where he left it. Because the bombed cathedral is now a cathedral of trees.... Continue reading
Posted May 20, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Sally Wen Mao is now following The Typepad Team
May 20, 2014