Finalist for the 2021 RSL Ondaatje Prize
Finalist for the 2020 Forward Prize for Best First Collection
Magnolia, Nina Mingya Powles’ exquisite debut poetry collection, pushes the borders of languages and poetic forms to examine memories, myths, and the experiences of a mixed-race girlhood. From Aotearoa to London, from Shanghai to New York City, these poems journey across shifting, luminescent cities in search of connection: through pop culture, through food, through vivid colors. Scenes from Mulan, Blade Runner, and In the Mood for Love braid together with silken tofu and freshly steamed baozi. At the heart of the collection is “Field notes on a downpour,” a lyrical sequence that questions the limits of translation and our ability to understand one another. Alone, the speaker recognizes that “certain languages contain more kinds of rain than others, and I have eaten them all.”
Full of hunger and longing for a home that can embrace a person’s complexities, Magnolia draws on every sense to arrive at profound, yet intimate insights, and introduces readers to a brilliant new voice in poetry.
Stirring. . . . Powles powerfully juxtaposes moments of social commentary with insights about language. . . . [an] intriguing collection.
Nina Mingya Powles’ Magnolia emerges out of the scalloped terrain of cinema, portraiture, dreams, and translation in which lush decay exists alongside hunger. The seemingly distant and intimate are violently reversed, splitting flesh to reveal Shanghai as the site of an expanding record of global selfhood and home. Sharpness and lightness entombed like the ‘loam-eyed wolf-flowers’ calling back from silence, stillness, death, and life.
—E. J. Koh, author of The Magical Language of Others and A Lesser Love
Rarely has a poetry book given so much to savor: in learning a language, in considering a film by Wong Kar-wai or Hayao Miyazaki, in biting a persimmon, in reading a subway map, in wandering the labyrinths of Eileen Chang’s Shanghai, flying through time and space. The language in Nina Mingya Powles’ Magnolia is so alive it generates tastes, sensations: ‘bundles of sticky rice wrapped in leaves, freshly steamed’ becomes ‘heat rising up between us.’ I long wanted to stay in the deep universe of this book after it was over.
—Sally Wen Mao, author of Oculus
Nina Mingya Powles is a poet who writes with simultaneous elegance and wildness, opening up lyric moments from an astonishing range of sources—good breakfasts, bad movies, great movies, subway maps, cities and flowers, Chinese characters whose layers are peeled like ripe tangerines. I so love this poet’s appetite—for meaning, for music, for feasts figurative as well as literal, and for connections across histories too often kept separate. This book refuses tidy categories, speaking instead from a ‘mouth [that’s] a river in full bloom.
—Chen Chen, author of When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities