Abattoir cover image


Angelo Mao

November 1, 2021

Winner of the 2019 Burnside Review Press Book Award, selected by Darcie Dennigan.

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Angelo Mao is a research scientist. He earned his Ph.D. in bioengineering from Harvard University. His first book, Abattoir, was selected by Darcie Dennigan as the winner of the 2019 Burnside Review Press Book Award. He was born in California and lives in Massachusetts.

“The event is death. (Death's the event of every poem in the world: Angelo Mao cuts that fact into the brain.) He uses the word abattoir instead of slaughterhouse because this is a cool, clean, elegant book. His blade slips as easily as sex. Those are his words and he is not ashamed or apologetic to be the butcher. Beyond all the metaphysics is his love all paved in flesh. It's weird to think about Artaud after reading Mao. Flesh is not a Mao word. Skin is. And Artaud is so messy and Mao, I will say the word again, is so clean. Antiseptic and scrubbed and in a lab jacket. (He writes, The words came to wear me.) Here is a poet who dissects mice bodies. And he dissects himself dissecting the bodies. There's a certain kind of linguistic precision wreaking an ethics here that reminds me of Anne Boyer's work. The clinical distance in these poems disturbs the act of reading the poetry. (Least of all because you'll think, wait, OK, we have Mao, yes, excellent—but where are all the other true scientist poets? What polarized hell on earth has STEM-worship created?) I kept thinking of that phrase all paved in flesh because, until this book, I had been able to forget how much of my life and health relies on what goes down in these labs—and the very many other ways that my white american 21st century life is paved in, and over, flesh that is not mine. Sometimes it's easy to put a poem under the tongue and turn it over like a peppermint or bitter almond for a few minutes (yeah! i'm sucking on the poem!) and then it's also easy to chew and swallow and later shit it out and flush but Mao's poems are incapable of being masticated.”

—Darcie Dennigan

“Angelo Mao's Abattoir is an unnerving yet moving take on the cold-metal safety cabinet of human consciousness, with its five different kind of scissors, in which we are all imprisoned, the experimental subjects of our own destructive and tender syntaxes. The book opens with a series of protocols, then becomes 'fleshed out' with the tissues of embodiment and subjectivity with which the human likes to identify itself. Yet the book is most tender when it is most bare of excuses, performing the courtesy of observing the black pool of a decaying mouse's pupil as it goes so delicately white. I never took such a quiet breath as when I read this book.”

—Joyelle McSweeney

“In his debut collection, Abattoir, Angelo Mao, a Harvard scientist who studies biomaterials and tissue engineering, focuses his attention on the mice in his lab. Using them as a 'metaphor for the human,' Mao nimbly investigates the ethical quandaries of dissection, how it feels to extract 'the qualities of truth and doubt' from 'something shivering so delicately,' what it means to open a body—'[i]ntestines curled as a / [w]horled homunculus'—with a 'set of impersonal instruments / as formal as beauty.'”

—David Woo, Poetry Foundation