The Kingdom of Surfaces: Poems (Paperback)

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(Poetry Books)

Staff Reviews

This collection of poetry is both visually stunning and absolutely touching.  The lyrical meter and the physical structure of these poems are both of the highest quality. These poems touch on questions of Asian identity, the diaspora, white privilege, and exceptionalism, as well as history, and crossover questions of race and gender. I would love to put a copy of this book into everyone’s hands and think it should be considered a modern classic.


Check out the audiobook

— From Snazzy September Staff Picks



A virtuosic new poetry collection from Sally Wen Mao, “a consistently inspiring and exciting voice” (Morgan Parker)

In The Kingdom of Surfaces, award-winning poet Sally Wen Mao examines art and history—especially the provenance of objects such as porcelain, silk, and pearls—to frame an important conversation on beauty, empire, commodification, and violence. In lyric poems and wide-ranging sequences, Mao interrogates gendered expressions such as the contemporary “leftover women,” which denotes unmarried women, and the historical “castle-toppler,” a term used to describe a concubine whose beauty ruins an emperor and his empire. These poems also explore the permeability of object and subject through the history of Chinese women in America, labor practices around the silk loom, and the ongoing violence against Asian people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At its heart, The Kingdom of Surfaces imagines the poet wandering into a Western fantasy, which covets, imitates, and appropriates Chinese aesthetics via Chinamania and the nineteenth-century Aesthetic movement, while perpetuating state violence upon actual lives. The title poem is a speculative recasting of “Through the Looking-Glass,” set in a surreal topsy-turvy version of the China-themed 2015 Metropolitan Museum of Art Gala. The Kingdom of Surfaces is a brilliantly conceived call for those who recognize the horrors of American exceptionalism to topple the empire that values capital over lives and power over liberation.

About the Author

Sally Wen Mao is the author of two previous poetry collections, Mad Honey Symposium and Oculus, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. A former fellow at the New York Public Library Cullman Center, she lives in New York City.
Product Details
ISBN: 9781644452370
ISBN-10: 1644452375
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Publication Date: August 1st, 2023
Pages: 112
Language: English