Hayden's Ferry Review


Contributor Spotlight: Sally Wen Mao

Transcribe your furies!

The poem in HFR #46 is a poem written when I was in the foulest of moods, having just read the first three chapters of a book I won’t name. In short, this book is a 450-page defense of Western dudes’ tastes for venturing off to “exotic” lands and “conquering” Asian ladies. I read it with a feeling that I was going to retch out my eggplant tempura and eyeballs. Except, how was I to find the author of this book and tell him how much it made me want to puke?

The best way to mitigate such feelings, for me, is to channel that urge for bloodshed into poems. It may border on the passive-aggressive in that no swords are unsheathed and no limbs severed, but perhaps that is a good thing, as even I don’t believe that violence is the answer. It does feel nice when the object of fury isn’t given a chance for rebuttal. A poem may act as a kick to the groin of an offensive person, or at least delivers that caliber of satisfaction.

I give my example in Chelsey Minnis’s work in her collection Zirconia. This past summer, a lovely poet friend of mine (who is an expert on bullfrogs and how to catch them) read out loud the work of beauty that is “Dung Cart.” Later that summer I tiptoed through the dim hallways of the Stanford library and came across Zirconia by Ms. Minnis. In “Primrose,” Minnis poem-chants with the tone of a vengeful dirge:

“…I have…./bare shoulders…./and a flower behind my ear……./as I beat gentlemen rapists……./with bronze statuettes……/so that the blood……/oozes down their handsome sideburns…../or give them…./a poisoned mushroom…../or corsages and corsages of gunshot…..”

Minnis gleefully creates a scene of violence, power, and vengeance juxtaposed with an almost-blithe description of feminine fragility—bare shoulders and flower behind ear. As the reader, I can adopt these desires and fantasies despite how easy it is to overwhelm myself with feelings of powerlessness and inadequacy in the face of anger or despair. If this were a parallel world, or a movie directed by Chan-wook Park, Minnis might be beating gentlemen rapists with bronze statuettes, with beautiful cinematography—rosettes of blood shot in colors as deep as wine or brilliant as watermelon sorbet. Unfortunately, the real world is not so jubilant. It is up to the poet (and maybe the cinematographer) to create scenes of such grotesque justice.

Anyway, use your poems as weapons of questionable destruction (or something more subtle, like a spritz of lime juice to the eyes). The perks are that nothing is blown up, and you can point your finger at the object of distaste and say: at least you were useful for something.

Disclaimer: I am encouraging angry poems at people or entities you don’t personally know, against whom you have no real outlet to voice your pains. No personal vendettas. I am not encouraging angry poems at exes or crop-eating rabbits, unless utterly and totally necessary, such as in the case of your ex driving all the way from Iowa to steal your dog.

This fall, Sally Wen Mao will be an MFA candidate at Cornell University. She is the recipient of fellowships and scholarships from Kundiman, Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets, and 826 Valencia. Her work is forthcoming or has appeared in Rhino, Cave Wall, Another Chicago Magazine, Gargoyle, Copper Nickel, and Crab Orchard Review. Her poem, "Yellow Fever" appears in HFR #46.