... stunning ... neon and imaginative language anchored in historical and cultural questions of representation, othering, inclusion and exclusion ... Mao is doing the necessary work of interrogating the two-dimensionality of screens, its tendency to flatten the representation of those who, in real life, are already flattened in society: minorities and women ... Mao is clever in connecting this spectacle to the digital age, and the ways that constant access to the sight of someone can lead to an absence, rather than a presence – a ghostly emptiness ... These lovely questions are the Pandora’s boxes Mao’s Oculus has ambitiously opened and exploring them with Mao’s intelligent guidance is a gift itself.
Whether wayward spirit or nefarious satyr, Mao’s narrators and characters inhabit the sense of oculus as eye-opening, a transformative door ... Mao’s descriptions are precise and surreal, a next phase of evolution ... An expansive book, but each poem bears careful reading.
Two things are striking about this debut collection. The first is the amount of research that Mao has undertaken to write about such diverse subjects as the honey badger, Venus flytrap, Xenophon, and the Trinidad Scorpion, while also exploring personal states of consciousness ... I admire the defiant voice running throughout both of Mao’s books, and the degree to which she has raised the stakes in Oculus ... Mao never loses touch with what W.E. B. Dubois, in The Souls of Black Folk (1903), called 'Double Consciousness,' the awareness that one’s identity is fractured and consists of multiple parts, and the difficulty, if not impossibility, of unifying them. It is to Mao’s credit that she never seeks refuge in the single identity, no matter what comfort it promises, because she knows it limits her in ways that she finds unacceptable.