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On Invisible Gifts

In her first full-length collection of poems, Maw Shein Win depicts a colorful world imbued with unexpected paradoxes: nature is both comforting and savagely unnerving; love is permanent and fleeting; the accuracy and flaws of memory abound. Her experiences with illness and recovery intertwine with her identity as a Burmese American daughter of immigrant doctors, flowing in poems like “Hands”: My father’s hands, frail birds, shaking wings. / In Burmese, “win” means bright. / Hands that stitched skin together and brought back life. Win’s unique perspective and artful language offer readers insight into how the heart can bend and mend without breaking.


“Maw Shein Win's poems resonate like post-modern haiku. Her idiosyncratic associations touch the heart and defy the intellect in their koan-like logic and arresting imagery. She tears us away from the world of ordinary perceptions and into a floating architecture of her own creation.”

 -Genny Lim, San Francisco Jazz poet laureate


“A poet’s mastery of detail and time can create a world with no poison. The eye in every place, Invisible Gifts saves all that we destroyed. Like a deity’s mask half lifted, Win’s craftwork lifts all phases of skin. Poems by a haunting narrator offering a crystal of red image; poems by the person I want to be.”

 -Tongo Eisen-Martin, author of Heaven Is All Goodbyes


“Reading Maw Shein Win's poems is like visiting a museum of activated moments. These are observations on a human scale, something that might fit in a hand or a pocket. We are shown by the careful poet how these small things can thread together to make an emotion, a memory, a shiver. This is the restraint of a master of specificity and empathy. These are her birds that are hands:

 goldfinch and waxwing

northern flicker

-Kim Shuck, author of Sidewalk Ndn and seventh poet laureate of San Francisco


“The animating energy of these poems is perception. But one has to be careful. The perception may bend to the surreal, may become a fiction or a riddle. From the title poem: Choose the dog collar. / Feathers dangling from the bell. / Mix beef bones and lemon peels. Watch fat curl into fire. / Pick up cactus bloom.The definite, clear nature of the perception is a mask for the enigma it conjures. These poems bring us into an area of clear cloud: they tease us into and out of thought. They express a constant desire to know, but that very desire is a mask of the unknown or the unknowable. They are brilliant and in this world. But they are also constantly escaping the world. The tension they create is fascinating, hypnotic and fulminating all at once. They touch us in the way that the genuine always touches us: giving us something we need but telling us that there is always more. A wonderful guide book to the world as passionate enigma.”

 -Jack Foley, poet and critic, author of Grief Songs


“Vivid and vital, Maw Shein Win's Invisible Gifts is a stunning exploration of memory, family, and the natural world.”

-Vanessa Hua, author of Deceit and Other Possibilities


“From delightful koans and film-script poetics to autobiographical lyricism and indexes of pains, each and every poem in Invisible Gifts is a meticulously constructed soundscape of wonders. What a visible gift Maw Shein Win is — the gift that calls out to be heard.”

-ko ko thett, author of the burden of being burmese


“Maw Shein Win’s latest collection of poetry is an expansion of her unique poetic style which is part surprise gift from the bohemian aunty that visits and disrupts the household and leaves questions and glitter in her wake, part earthy, and part experimental. Invisible Gifts is a poetic inventory in four acts of color: Blue Bells, Pink Light, Silvery Moth, and The Greenhouse. The poems encased in these colors, much like a living thing might come to be encased in amber, tell tales that could be the human mundane, but Win’s lens is a kaleidoscope and what she offers is new and fresh.  A distinct language and uncommon observation guide the reader to a vantage point where they might see the magic in the tribulations of everyday life. Reading her poems helps me see that there is nothing ordinary about an examined life.”

-MK Chavez, author of Dear Animal,