Victoria Chang's Circle is one book I just had to order as soon as it came out. I just had to get to know the poetry of/within/behind that extraordinary poet blogger so many of us enjoyed and admired.
I finally got it last week, and finished a first read-through yesterday. (Seems it was delayed... so was another book in the same order, Janet Frame's Angel at My Table, which still hasn't arrived at this table...)
Anyway, it's nice to report that this is one book I'm really glad I did order. Every poem was engaging -- the standout poems, the OK poems, even the poems I felt could have been better realized. Each offered rewards. V Chang definitely offers significant things to learn from a poem-making point of view.
Certain poets make one feel the force of their mastery of one or two elements or strategems common to much good poetry, but which are particularly salient in theirs. Robyn Sarah, as I was saying a few weeks back, makes one feel the force of her concision, of her precise control of conversational language;Victoria Chang makes one feel the mastery of another element: the laying out intelligent clues.
The strongest poems in the collection -- excellent poems by any standard -- were, for me, Yang Gui Fe, Eva Braun at Bershtesgarden, Kitchen Aid Epicurean Stand Mixer, and Lantern Festival. In these a whole life or lives seemed to hang on an image or line, and in almost any given poem, a sequence of deftly placed lines or images outline a deliberate "story" or subtext.
If there are weaker poems in the collection, it seems to me that the clues provided are meagre, arbitary; they don't connect with a sufficiently strong necessity to satisfy me. "The Laws of the Garden" is one; "The Goal" and "Majority Rules" are two others. However, the poem that first appeared in Slate, Holiday Parties, struck me in an annoying way as one of these, but a careful re-reading reveals it to be a remarkable depiction of the social pressures faced by a young woman coming of age in a Chinese American family in the incongruous context of socially-disconnected North America. So at this point word is out on a number of these "insufficient" poems; for me, perhaps, all they deserve is a careful re-reading.
Anyway, I'll leave this as a sketch of a review -- a review in process, if you will, if I ever follow through. Clearly, though, Circle is well worth reading, and re-reading... & Victoria Chang a talented poet worth watching...