As She Appears
Author: Shelley Wong
Publisher: YesYes Books (2022)
Shelley Wong's debut, As She Appears, foregrounds queer women of color in their being and becoming. Following the end of a relationship that was marked by silence, a woman crosses over and embodies the expanse of desire and self-love. Other speakers transform the natural world and themselves, using art and beauty as a means of sanctuary and subversion. With both praise and precision, Wong considers how women inhabit and remake their environment. The ecstatic joys of Pride dances and late-night Chinatown meals, conversations with Frida Kahlo, trees that "burst into glamour," and layers of memory permeate these poems as they travel through suburban California, perfumed fashion runways, to a Fire Island summer. Wong writes in the space where so many do not appear as an invitation for queer women of color to arrive in love, exactly as they are.
"'As a girl, I never / saw a woman / who looked like me,'" Shelley Wong writes in this steadfast and assured debut, "I had to invent her." And it's this very faith in self-manifestation that makes these poems accrue towards bold, prescient, and lasting architectures of being and feeling; they not only depict but think themselves into existence, which make them more than the sum of their parts, more than just an invention of 'hers' or 'womanhood,' but a quietly profound indictment of contemporary culture. And yet, what's most indelible about Wong's circumventing and vexed forays into the big questions, is her careful and tender rendering of our joys."
"As She Appears is visionary in more than one sense. It's a riveting exploration of how one's sense of self-not just as the perceived, but also as perceiver-is affected by the way one is represented, or not represented. Shelley Wong's poems are heady, frank, kaleidoscopic, refractive, sensual, wondrous. They unsettle the distinctions we assume we can make between viewers-whether voyeur, consumer, spectator, or witness. I found myself wanting to linger in their pleasures and challenges. I started re-reading this collection as soon as I'd finished it."
"It is the rare first book that arrives fully voiced, but in Shelley Wong's As She Appears, we enter these pages escorted by a steady hand at the small of the back, a mouth carefully placed just beneath our ear, the warmth of the body realized beside us in each fierce and tender poem of queer womanhood. These poems are haunted by the living, by the most vital impulses among us: to love, to be present, to declare the self. And in these declarations lies a femme heaven where we wander through poem after poem, each more lush and invigorating in their insistence. This is the book I've been waiting for all my life, and I have known for years that Wong would be the one to deliver it. I want to live inside its pages, take comfort as I wrap myself in its words. As Wong writes, 'We are the new names, / the ones we've always known.' When I read this book, I am every quiet queer girl with a desperate crush on the world."
"In this tender debut, Shelley Wong contemplates the geographic, social, and bodily terrains of womanhood after the end of a relationship. Wong moves as seamlessly through the landscapes of a California marked by fire, an island populated with both non-native and invasive species, and the tidal waves of the ocean, to the interior spaces of a museum, the intimate vulnerabilities of a person discovering their mettle. Never have I traveled on such a gentle but strengthened path."
–Diana Khoi Nguyen