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Sally Wen Mao
I’ve tried so hard to erase myself.
That iconography—my face
in Technicolor, the manta ray
eyelashes, the nacre and chignon.
I’ll bet four limbs they'd cast me as another
Mongol slave. I will blow a hole
in the airwaves, duck lasers in my dugout.
I’m done kidding them. Today I fly
the hell out in my Chrono-Jet.
To the future, where I’m forgotten.
—from “Anna May Wong Fans Her Time Machine”
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.

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A brilliant second collection by Sally Wen Mao on the violence of the spectacle

About the Author

Sally Wen Mao
Credit: Cream/Jilian
Sally Wen Mao is the author of a previous poetry collection, Mad Honey Symposium. She has received fellowships from the New York Public Library Cullman Center, the George Washington University, and Kundiman.
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Upcoming Events

Sally Wen Mao and Jenny Xie reading at the New York Public Library

New York Public Library - Stephen A. Schwarzman Building in New York, NYview map
Sponsored by the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. Location: Berger Forum, Room 227. Please register for this free event.

Sally Wen Mao reading at powerHouse Arena

powerHouse Arena in Brooklyn, NYview map
In conversation with Tavi Gevinson.

Sally Wen Mao reading at Brookline Booksmith

Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, MAview map
Reading with Jennifer Tseng and Ocean Vuong.

Sally Wen Mao reading at Politics & Prose at The Wharf

Politics & Prose at the Wharf in Washington, DCview map
Reading with Shaheen Qureshi.

Sally Wen Mao reading at City Lights

City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, CAview map
Reading and in conversation with Jennifer S. Cheng.

Sally Wen Mao reading at Skylight Books

Skylight Books in Los Angeles, CAview map
Reading with Muriel Leung.

Sally Wen Mao reading at Moon Palace Books

Moon Palace Books in Minneapolis, MNview map
In conversation with Sun Yung Shin.

Sally Wen Mao reading at Elliott Bay Book Company

Elliott Bay Book Co in Seattle, WAview map
Reading with Jane Wong.


  • “[Oculus] is a book consumed first and foremost with the impact of the spectacle on those of us for whom representation is both rare and often rapacious: women of color.”Anomaly
  • “I simply trust no other poet to confront and fracture notions of Empire more deftly—and with such élan—than Sally Wen Mao.”—Aimee Nezhukumatathil
  • Oculus is a stunning and mesmerizing journey. . . . and it is brilliant. Mao’s is a consistently inspiring and exciting voice."—Morgan Parker
  • “[B]oth scalpel and flood, poems of brooded, subtle syntax that build and accrue toward inevitable and stifling ferocity. Mao’s work reclaims for itself an acidic possibility.”—Ocean Vuong
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