Adventures in poetry
Date: 2nd July 2020
Shortlisted for the Forward Prizes for Poetry Best First Collection, 2020
Magnolia, 木蘭, Nina Mingya Powles’ first full collection, dwells within the tender, shifting borderland between languages, and between poetic forms, to examine the shape and texture of memories, of myths, and of a mixed-race girlhood.
Abundant with multiplicities, these poems find profound, distinctive joy in sensory nourishment – in the sharing of food, in the recounting of memoirs, or vividly within nature. This is a poetry deeply attuned to the possibilities within layers of written, spoken and inherited words. A journal of sound, colour, rain and light, these poems also wield their own precise and radical power to name and reclaim, draw afresh their own bold lines.
Praise for Magnolia, 木蘭
"Magnolia 木蘭 reads, among other things, like a gorgeous love letter to Shanghai. This collection pays homage to all that the five senses might evoke, with a particular attention to the myriad of memories our taste buds conjure up through food and ritual. Other poems turn their piercing attention to language, to the various tongues that allow one to comprehend the multitudinous world: English, Mandarin Chinese, Hakka, Māori. Iconic figures in Chinese history and culture such as Hua Mulan, Zhang Ailing and Maggie Cheung also make an appearance in this complex and multi-layered collection, as Nina Mingya Powles tenderly explores her mixed Malaysian-Chinese heritage and enduring ties to New Zealand." – Mary Jean Chan
"This is a book bursting with food and flowers and colour, but is it not always beautiful. Reading this book, my focus shifts to certain questions like, how long must we, women of the diaspora, stuff ourselves until we are not hungry, or lonely? And, even if we learn to name ourselves in our 'more difficult language', and point to the things around us, name them beautiful, will it mean that they will stay beautiful?" - Rachel Long
"This is a book of the body and the senses, whether the million tiny nerve endings of young love; the hunger that turns ‘your bones soft in the heat’; the painterly, edible, physical colour of flowers and the fabric lantern in the pattern of Maggie Cheung’s blue cheongsam; or ‘the soft scratchings of dusk’. These are poems of ‘warm blue longing’ and understated beauty, poems to linger over, taste, and taste again. As Powles searches for home she leaves an ‘imprint of rain’ in your dreams'." - Alison Wong
"An "abnormal moon" and women in stories who are "not always likeable" populate the urban-rural domain of Magnolia, 木蘭, Nina Mingya Powles' compelling and beautiful book of poems. Can poetry, like an imaginary museum, be an archive of "all the colours in the world?" This collection is asking something about fragmentation and loss, but also, the role of those fragments in assembling a new set of images. I am thinking of the shards of glass poking up from the honey (a broken jar) or the "wet leaves from last night's rain" already swept from view. Someone asks: "Where is your home?" In response, the speaker stitches their name into the sea. A red thread loosens. Everything is arriving, and everything is gone. This dual instant convenes the atmosphere of these poems, like the "blue of sounds." But then: "Do you remember the sound of"? And so on. The idea of the book rotates then unwinds, an analog to healing touch. Or: "close enough."" - Bhanu Kapil
Nina Mingya Powles is a poet and zinemaker from Aotearoa New Zealand, currently living in London. She is the author of a food memoir, Tiny Moons: A Year of Eating in Shanghai (The Emma Press, 2020), and several poetry pamphlet collections including Luminescent (Seraph Press, 2017) and Girls of the Drift (Seraph Press, 2014). In 2018 she was one of three winners of the inaugural Women Poets' Prize, and in 2019 won the Nan Shepherd Prize for Nature Writing. She is the founding editor of Bitter Melon苦瓜, a risograph press that publishes limited-edition poetry pamphlets by Asian writers.