Unlike other sugary-sweet love poems, the pieces contained in poet Sally Wen Mao’s Mad Honey Symposium highlight the dark and often feral nature of desire. Based off of the ancient Greek writings of Plato, who often held symposiums where guests would drink and banter with one another, as well as the ancient tale of the “mad honey” (nectar created from the rhododendron ponticum that caused hallucinations for those who ingested it), the poems set the stage for a mad honey drinking party. At this party, Wen Mao’s poetry shows how desire can add an element of unquenchable hunger into one’s life and lead the hapless soul onto the very edge of danger. However, she uses unusual symbols to explore the nature of desire—badgers, plants, bodily organs, etc.
Now normally you wouldn’t necessarily think of things like teeth, flowers, or even bees as being dark or dangerous, but by juxtaposing these ordinary items with feral images, she drags the reader into a dark dance that is both disorienting and intoxicating. Her disturbing imagery and descriptions blend terror and desire in one spellbinding book that will leave you feeling its affects long after you’ve finished reading it.
Top image by Van Nguyen