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This blog was featured on 05/02/2019
An Exclusive Interview with Poet Sally Wen Mao
Written by
She Writes
April 2019
Written by
She Writes
April 2019

In celebration of National Poetry Month, we were thrilled to have the opportunity to chat with Sally Wen Mao, author of the recently released, highly-acclaimed collection Oculus. Not only does her poetry reflect modern day life, but her approach and awareness of the need to integrate technology and social media with literature make her a must-follow artist. 

She Writes: Describe your writing routine. 

Sally Wen Mao: I don’t have much of a routine! I have found a few patterns, though, that are consistent:

·      Coffee!

·      I write/work best in the afternoons.

·      I like having background noise and activity, but not too much, like at a café.

·      Residencies are especially a godsend.

·      I must always read as a part of my routine, no exceptions, whether it’s poetry, fiction, nonfiction, or academic essays.  

SW: What led you to pursue poetry?

SWM: It’s always been consistent for me in an inconsistent life. When I was small my family moved around a lot. People and places change constantly, but poetry is always there.

SW: What was the first poem you can remember writing about?

SWM: The first poem I can remember writing is from the second grade. I wrote a poem about summer. The sunshine. I drew a picture of the sun to go along with it.

SW: How do you feel the landscape has changed for poets in the digital age?

SWM: Social media has changed poetry for sure – I have found that poets have much more access to the people who read their work, and that is transformative and affirming in a lot of ways. To have these small interactions on the Internet is actually quite positive for many poets. Conversely, social media also fuels the same competition and inadequacy that has always existed in these artistic spaces. So make sure to feed yourself on the positive elements of the Internet, and take breaks accordingly.

SW: What advice do you have for aspiring poets?

SWM: Read widely, stay hungry and curious. I am a very research-focused poet and I love learning about things, the process of finding things out. I would say to young aspiring poets that they can use poetry as a way to not only discover their poetic voices but also the larger world of curiosities – whether that’s history, literature, mythology, science, or art. Poetry is a way to access, interact with, process, evaluate, and imagine these worlds.

SW: Are there any unique opportunities that poetry allows for communication that other forms of writing don't? In other words, what are some of the unique powers that only poetry possesses?

SWM: I would argue that some prose also has this – but the power to appeal to an emotion that’s difficult to process. I find that poetry is a safe place to put emotions or hard feelings. To transform a feeling into a sound, an image, language play—that’s something poetry is capable of.

SW: How do you see poetry evolving with the rapid changes in technology and social media?

SWM: It’s already happening, but I see poetry much more often these days as part of multimedia projects – I hope poetry evolves to transcend the borders of the page or the stage that it traditionally occupies. I want to see the boundaries between different art forms become more elastic.

About Oculus:

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 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.

Photo Credit: SallyWenMao.com

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