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Oculus

Graywolf. Jan. 2019. 96p. ISBN 9781555978259. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781555978747. POETRY
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After debuting with the smart, blistering Mad Honey Symposium, Mao returns to investigate a technology-subjugated world in take-no-prisoners language. The first of several poems titled "Oculus" chillingly depict a young woman's upload of her suicide on social media ("She wiped her lens/ before she died. The smudge still lives"), and in another poem, "pixelated ghosts" are what's left to haunt us. Poem after poem conveys the creepy feeling of surveillance and indeed control; in the raw and impressive "Mutant Odalisque," the speaker says, "They watch and watch and watch the butcher/ cut, the surgeon mend,/ …They watch the way I open, flinch, bent// against the wind," then concludes, "Do they marvel at a conquest." Elsewhere, we are so "kinesthetically, and fucked" that we barely register the world, mediated as it is by the Internet. Of course, technology in some form has always been with us; a strong series of poems limns the film actress Annie May Wong, trapped first by cultural assumptions and then by celluloid ("the camera pans to your vulnerable self"). Though enduring contemporaneous distortion ("I wake up with a different face.// Who am I? Champion of drowning,/ champion of loss"), the speaker concludes "In my chest, what beat/ was cracked but still salvageable."
VERDICT A strong second collection from a rising poet.—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

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