Victoria Chang, The Boss
McSweeney's, August 2013
Written in quatrains whose cascading lines and lack of punctuation lend themselves to the frenetic pace of her poems, Chang’s latest is a look at the ways in which work, family, and art complicate each other. Not a single poem passes without a boss or a needy child rearing her head, and Chang pulls off a voice that is equal parts searing, vulnerable, and terrified when she tells us that “the square of / the boss is always the boss” and that her daughter, who is already “singing happy birthday to / me happy birthday to me” will one day grow up to be “the perfect boss.” Chang locates a difficult and unsettling parallel in the father figure and the boss; the former suffers from aphasia and becomes subject to his own failing powers, and the latter is the subject of unmitigated power. “The boss has a father further than my father,” she writes, “the boss writes endings my father / writes his name on the aphasia workbook writes / my name calls my name calls me // my sister Debbie.” Scattered throughout the collection are ruminations on many of Edward Hopper’s workaday office paintings, into which Chang injects a dose of contemporary uncertainty and wit while calling the relationship between man and money into question: “the man could be the boss or could / have a boss the man is not working / should be working should be making / profits not in fits but constantly.”
This review was originally published in American Poet, Fall-Winter 2013, Volume 45.