Barbie Chang

Victoria Chang. Copper Canyon, , $16 ISBN 978-1-55659-516-5
In this provocative and finely crafted volume, poet and children’s author Chang (Is Mommy?) positions the Barbie doll—which she sees as a troubling and troubled representation of female passivity—as a lens through which women view their bodies, family histories, and relationships. Chang takes this conceit in unexpected directions, calling attention to the disconnect between the book’s skillful formalist poetics, the poet’s academic training, and commonplace representations of women in mass culture. “Aristotle says that// desire is a reaching out for the sweet,” Chang writes, “maybe/ Barbie Chang reaches// her hand into the center to not/ possess but to be// possessed.” The poems often take the form of couplets as well as sonnet sequences; they captivate when they embrace fragmentation rather than relying on internal rhyme and assonance as a source of narrative momentum. Elsewhere, Chang displays some heavy-handedness in such lines as “Mr. Darcy leans into Barbie Chang again/ weans her from his lean// then leans again his face doesn’t reach/ her face but she can feel// its heat.” The pronounced internal rhyme distracts from the more subtle stylistic gestures at play. Nevertheless, Chang is emerging as an exciting voice in contemporary poetry, and this is undoubtedly her most accomplished volume to date. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 10/16/2017
Release date: 11/01/2017
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