Emma Jones

OCULUS

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OCULUS BY SALLY WEN MAO

Sally Wen Mao has a gift for persona poems. In Oculus, she depicts figures such as Anna May Wong, a Chinese–American Hollywood star, and Afong Moy, the first female Chinese immigrant, in vivid, autonomous ways—contradictory to their blurry historical representations. While other poems pixelate or distort the world rendered—for purpose of criticizing the inability of white America to see, instead of display, others—these persona poems strike with conviction. Anna May Wong’s voice proclaims, “I’ve tried so hard to erase myself. / That iconography—”

Here 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, “Because being seen has a different meaning to someone / with my face,” she writes. The poems in this collection can be stark and violent, where “blood sickles down,” and the speaker deforms herself, and hands are “cold like gauntlets,” but despite this and the ghosts that follow her, Mao carries through “an exhausting / hope” that makes Oculus a victorious and worthwhile read.

Graywolf Press.

— Review by Emma Jones

LOVE DREAM WITH TELEVISION

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LOVE DREAM WITH TELEVISION BY HANNAH ENSOR

“Our fears distort our reality,” writes Hannah Ensor in her first book of poetry—and this phrase begins to sum up Love Dream with Television. In addition to hinting at the pervasive fear of otherness that plagues our present, the poems in this collection wrestle with the scrutiny of bodies, unfair representation, and popular culture’s effect on our thinking, claiming that “we want our poems / to have beloveds / because / beloveds / give us an excuse / to talk about television.” Despite the low–key anxieties present throughout the collection, each poem travels persistently—if not boldly—through its subject: all questioning in some way the human experience in relation to oneself and to one another.

As Love Dream with Television time–travels through the 21st century—pausing to wonder why we should aspire toward the behavior of celebrities, or watch television shows like Friends and America’s Next Top Model—the reader is implicated in the cultural phenomena; but I found that, after having “gone through all the emotions with / them: they were TV emotions: some more than others,” I was comforted by the book’s occasional tenderness, where Ensor cautiously reminds us: “My book loves you [ . . . ] You are a friend.”

Noemi.

— Review by Emma Jones

WILDER

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WILDER BY CLAIRE WAHMANHOLM

In her second collection of poems, Wilder, Claire Wahmanholm navigates her readers through a richly chronicled though devastating world. These poems are inhabited by splitting lands and bodies, their speakers and lyricism propelled by the search for hope, for relief, for a better future. They hold such weight—as in the poem “Beginning,” where a speaker boldly implicates themselves and us: “Now we began to wonder whether we had done wrong things. Or rather, which of our wrong things had been wrong enough.”

Though the collection grapples with difficult subject matter, Wahmanholm’s careful curation of words and sounds cradle the reader in an assured, almost omniscient, voice. The internal rhyme and rhythm of these poems help us to carry them. So stricken by the sounds, I found myself reading out loud to hear, and hear again, the stories Wahmanholm is telling us—or rather, reminding. The poems in Wilder are powerful and compelling, interested not only in confronting the rifts in our history and landscape, but connecting us to each other.

Milkweed Editions.

— Review by Emma Jones