Victoria Chang, The Boss
PostedFebruary 20, 2014
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.