It is an honor to have Victoria Chang as the poetry judge for So to Speak’s annual contest issue, which is currently open for contest submissions, from October 15th to December 15th. Chang’s latest poetry collection, Barbie Chang, out from Copper Canyon Press (2017) is a testament to Chang’s exceptional craft.
Barbie Chang is complex–tonally, thematically, and formally. The eponymous Barbie Chang, the prominent speaker of the collection, is an Asian-American woman navigating family and loss, art and work, prejudice and belonging in a society fueled by impossible standards and a one-track American dream. Barbie Chang has so much to offer: The poetry is relatable and nuanced, funny and heartbreaking, accessible and finely-crafted.
Chang’s writing is playful in its content, turns of phrases, and its lineation. This can be is seen in Barbie Chang’s relationship with a recurring Mr. Darcy, archetypal-beloved. In “Mr. Darcy Grabs,” Chang writes,
possible that she desires Mr. Darcy
because he cannot be
captured on film because he has no
footsteps maybe he
was right wing all along but if she
knew that would she
give the ring back the phone rings
every day with men…
Many of the poems in the collection also deal with “The Circle”: a group of cliquey suburban moms who thrive on exclusion and prejudice. In one poem, Barbie Chang’s daughter forges a friendship with a new kid at school, until that friend’s mother advises her daughter “not/to tie/herself down too fast” to Barbie Chang’s daughter (“Barbie Chang’s Daughter). In another poem, “Barbie Chang Loves Evites,” Barbie Chang’s “heart is always sort of bleeding she is/always waiting for/invitations once she heard the Circle planning a birthday party” and waits for an invitation for her daughter:
the/mother can also feel the pain she heard
the ice skating party
was a hit little girls going in figure
eights their breath
coming out in clouds shaped like
little white hearts
The idea of “The Circle” considers interior/exterior positioning, insiders/outsiders of constructed spaces, the individual within a society. The idea of “The Circle” is widely applicable to identities who have been excluded and highlights how society constructs communities that devalue and marginalize people. Chang’s poetry deals with these complex ideas with wit and heartbreak.
Barbie Chang is notably good at being both playful and heartbreaking–sometimes at the same time. And sometimes the heartbreaking moments in these poems are pure lyric. Particularly, the elegiac moments, like Barbie Chang mourning the death of her mother and dealing with her father’s illness. Additionally, the second and fourth sections of the collection, the “Dear P.” poems, shift in perspective and form, whereas the rest of the book is crafted in couplets. In section 2, there is a sonnet-sequence and loosely-spaced lines in the 4th and final sections, sad and hopeful and full of breath. The “Dear P” sections particularly highlight Chang’s lyricism. The variation in form, style and voice, makes for a compelling and lively reading experience, and also highlights intersections of identity and the wide and nuanced themes at work in the collection.
I am so grateful for Victoria Chang, for agreeing to be our poetry judge this year, for lending her creative mind to our journal, and I’m grateful for the art she makes.
Consider purchasing a copy of Barbie Chang, or Chang’s other books, “Salvinia Molesta,” and “Circle,” and a children’s picture book, “Mommy?” She also edited an anthology, “Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation,” and her new book, OBIT, which is forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press in 2020. Visit Victoria Chang’s website or Copper Canyon Press’s website for more information about Barbie Chang. And consider offering your creative voice to So to Speak. Contest submissions are open from October 15th to December 15th.
Victoria Chang’s fourth book of poems, Barbie Chang was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2017. She is the author of three previous poetry books, Circle, Salvinia Molesta, and The Boss. The Boss won the PEN Center USA Literary Award and a California Book Award. She received a Pushcart Prize for a poem published in Barbie Chang. She also edited an anthology, Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation. Her poems have been published in Best American Poetry, Poetry, American Poetry Review, Kenyon Review, The Nation, New Republic, and many other places. She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Sustainable Arts Foundation Fellowship in 2017. She is a contributing editor of the literary journal, Copper Nickel and a poetry editor at Tupelo Quarterly. She lives in Los Angeles with her family and her wiener dogs, Mustard and Ketchup and teaches within Antioch University’s MFA Program. She also serves on the National Book Critics Circle Board.