Storage Unit for the Spirit House (Paperback)
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With sharp focus and startling language, the poems in Maw Shein Win’s second book, Storage Unit for the Spirit House, look through physical objects to glimpse the ephemeral, the material, and the immaterial. Vinyl records, felt wolverines, a belt used to punish children, pain pills, and “show dogs with bejeweled collars” crowd into Win’s real and imagined storage units. Nats, Buddhist animist deities from her family’s homeland of Burma, haunt the book’s six sections. The nats, spirits believed to have the power to influence everyday lives, inhabit the storage units and hover around objects while forgotten children sleep under Mylar blankets and daughters try to see through the haze of a father’s cigarette smoke.
Assemblages of both earthly and noncorporeal possessions throughout the collection become resonant and alive, and Win must summon “a circle of drums and copper bells” to appease the nats who have moved into a long-ago family house. This careful curation of unlikely objects and images becomes an act of ritual collection that uses language to interrogate how pain in life can transform someone into a nat or a siren that lives on. Restrained lines request our imagination as we move with the poet through haunted spaces and the objects that inhabit them.
About the Author
Maw Shein Win is the author of Invisible Gifts: Poems and her chapbooks include Ruins of a glittering palace and Score and Bone. Maw is the inaugural poet laureate of El Cerrito (2016–18). She lives and teaches in the San Francisco Bay Area.
"To enter the spirit houses, storage units, and myriad spaces Maw Shein Win opens for us in the pages of her new collection Storage Unit for the Spirit House is to enter a universe where familiar objects and structures take on new shapes and significance. The poems are tight, condensed, and without digression, and the result is transporting. Shein Win sets scenes with particularity and immediacy to fully immerse the reader in each storage unit or sky, water, or physical space, and her sparing use of punctuation, along with lineation that includes short lines and ample white space, dictate a slow, thoughtful pace."
— Women's Voices for Change
"It is as though Win operates a time machine, moving through the experiences of her life with great alacrity, erring always on the side of self-awareness and wisdom. Win longs for memory the way some people long for wealth or fame. One has the sense that it is an essential component of her daily life. So too is the belief that optimism and joy are vital to human existence, which we see whether she is 'riding her wooden bicycle along the dust path,' or listening to the 'sound of coworkers arguing in the bathroom.' From these simple moments, the poet derives a sense of peace, however fleeting it may be."
— LA Review of Books
“There’s a lot here that will encourage gluttonous readers to consume more of Win and others in her league. . . . Storage Unit for the Spirit House is brave and multifaceted. It smolders and sings.”
— The Rumpus
— PEN America/Pen Open Book Award
— Northern California Book Awards
“These spare poems are haunted. With a blown-up heart, Win writes about possessions and flashes that hark back like ghosts to our before’s. In Storage Unit for the Spirit House prisons, tombs, portals, bottles, storage units are memorials. I would call these poems luminous and gorgeously darkly-edged, bellowing as they do with the knowledge that we never truly depart from all of our departed things.”
— Ingrid Rojas Contreras, author of Fruit of the Drunken Tree
"Poetry has long been a vessel, a container of history, emotion, perceptions, keepsakes. This piercing, gorgeous collection stands both inside and outside of containment: the porcelain vase of stargazer lilies is considered alongside the galley convicts, the children sleeping on the cement floors of detention cells, the nats inside their spirit houses; the spirit houses inside their storage units. 'The soft part of the brain fits into a clear jar.' One observes, in these nestings and inclusions, dioramas and offices, the human eye peering out and peering in: 'I witness each body through the missing bricks.' These poems are portals to other worlds and to our own, a space in which one sees and one is seen. A marvelous, timely and resilient book."
— D A Powell
"This book is a gem. Maw Shein Win's compact lines have the power of haiku. She is mistress of the acute, quietly searing detail, of precisely calibrated shifts between the vast and the tiny, of haunting flashes of overlapping worlds, and of her own lyrical-telegraphic style. Constructed from shards of what can only be remembered or recounted in fragments, these poems are startling stream-of-consciousness mosaics in which childhood is 'a burning kingdom,' the moon is a 'lucent coin' and the future might be a 'birthmark on forehead in the shape of a flame.'"
— Amy Gerstler
"Maw Shein Win has no weaknesses nor restraints in this collection that might map how thought and memory were meant to exist. Poems that sharpen the soul. Cosmic architecture made from and into the simple organs of small places. And while an afterworld owes her for its articulation, she won’t kick the ghosts while they are down."
— Tongo Eisen-Martin, author of Heaven is All Goodbyes
"In Maw Shein Win’s second poetry collection, Storage Unit for the Spirit House, we enter various portals, from Burma to California (and beyond), emerging in pieces with 'directions to the otherworld.' Each poem is a small offering, a look at certain illnesses and violence within family, including land and the bodies they occupy. To honor these spaces, Win writes 'we wore bright colors to disorient the animals.' These poems are crafted with such precision that these travels teach us how 'to mark the now' even when we feel trapped by sunsets, cinemas, or reliquaries. This is a beautiful book."
— Khaty Xiong, author of Poor Anima