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"I Reject Walls": A 2019 Poetry Preview

This year, says critic Craig Morgan Teicher, America's poets are stepping up and expressing their faith in the capacity of words to overcome barriers, find compromise, and speak truth.
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It's been a rough year for words, and it's looking like the coming year won't be very different. Words are being used far too much as blunt objects in America's public discourse, their edges dulled, their nuances rounded off. They're being mishandled.

But America's poets are stepping up, their faith in the capacity of language — to overcome barriers, find compromise, and speak the truth — is undaunted. Poets alone won't save us, but they are helping to keep words honest, multifaceted, and ultimately powerful. Words, used well, might save us.

So here are a few of the upcoming books of poetry I'm most excited about, books that are keeping me from losing hope, books that remind me that, even as America is at its most divided, its language is about synthesis, about coming together, about dissimilar things that form a gorgeous and powerful whole. These books are angry, they're afraid, they're grieving and hoping; so am I. I'm grateful for their company.


Oculus

Sally Wen Mao, January

In her stunning second collection, Mao stages a searing ventriloquy act, inhabiting a very specific group of otherwise voiceless speakers: Asian and Asian American woman who have been stereotyped and reduced to cliché in films, photographs, and TV shows. These depictions speak and fight back against the white gaze that has); and many others. At the core of the book is a series of poems in the voice of the Chinese American film actress Anna May Wong, who Mao places in a series of imagined encounters. "Cast me in a new role already ... a pothead/ an heiress, a gymnast, a queen," she asks, with no small amount of impatience and annoyance. Throughout, Mao seeks to correct the mistakes the camera encourages the viewer to make, so that, she concludes, "I am not a stranger here."

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