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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Read Local: Victoria Chang's The Boss

Posted By on Thu, Sep 19, 2013 at 11:00 AM

click to enlarge theboss.jpg

New York City might be home to the big houses, but this scrappy city just happens to be the epicenter of publishing on the Best Coast. Join Alexis Coe for Read Local, a series on books produced in the Bay Area.

The Boss

By Victoria Chang

(McSweeney's; 64 pages; $20.00)

Can poetry be found among the rows of cubicles crammed into cold, grey offices, one floor stacked upon another? Would it be safe? Could it be trusted?

In The Boss, poet Victoria Chang's unpunctuated lines speak to one of life's immediate, reoccurring preoccupations: our livelihood, and the one who wields complete power over it. After all, many of us spend more time at work than with our family, and yet that ever present source of anxiety is rarely what we seek out in poetry.

See also:

Finally, The Collected Poems of Philip Lamantia

"Beach Reads" for a San Francisco Fall

This is only partly the fault of the reader, who too often forgets that poetry is an integral part of life. Few poets dare undertake such a thing, fearing it would enervate their art, rendering Chang's The Boss a rare, much needed meditation on work, and the self within it.

As the title suggests, the boss is at the center of everything, but not just as actor who sits in the largest office. She sees the boss through the lens of her own life, connecting what she knows and what she cannot. In "The Boss Has A Daughter," Chang wonders about a woman she has not met, but by implication and relation, understands to be a challenge to her own existence, and those who stem from her.

The boss has a daughter the boss changes a diaper

the boss tells us she is a successful woman

the boss successes the boss confesses

to thing the boss messes up if the boss

is a successful woman then what are we

are we in trouble unable to reach treble

unable to soar are we sore from bench pressing

papers from leg pressing staples sour from

If the boss's daughter is successful, than what of Chang's daughter? Though presumably much younger, in "Today My Daughter," we learn she wants to be a waitress. Chang doesn't think she knows what a waitress does, but the attraction may portend a kind of restrictive weakness. If her daughter becomes a waitress, she will not be a boss herself, unlike the boss' "successful woman," but the one who "takes orders from everyone."

phone to the customer to the supervisor who is super

bossy and wears a greasy visor

yesterday my daughter wanted to be a pet doctor

the Barbie book has fuzzy pets furry pets

cute pets with small noses Barbie doesn't show her

missing finger from the cute pet that bit it off

the Barbie is not the boss the dog is the boss Ken is

the boss of the dog who like the dog in a

Chang also speaks to post 9/11 disillusionment, her father's fading memory. She uses the artist Edward Hopper's last masterpiece, "Chair Car," a familiar visual, to complicate a stirring poem about demotion and privacy. But this should not suggest that Chang is only interested in power and hierarchy. On the contrary, she seems to care far more about what it means to exist within them, to be not just an employee and a mother and daughter, but a human being.

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Alexis Coe

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