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Comment: Crisp, clean, unread paperback with light shelfwear to the covers and a publisher's mark to one edge - Nice!
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Half-Lit Houses Paperback – April 1, 2004

4.6 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Chang channels historical settings and limns an identity marked by "Life broken down by the sallow tongue and feverish saliva." -- Publishers Weekly, February 23, 2004

From the Publisher

6 x 9 1/4 trim.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Four Way (April 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1884800521
  • ISBN-13: 978-1884800528
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #177,041 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Tina Chang’s book Half-Lit Houses chronicles family heritage with simple diction that delivers a powerful declaration. Her poetry explores family partnership and social restraints through images that deal with vanity, ruin, loss/death and famine. Some of her poems also appear in an anthology titled Poetry Thirty: Thirty-Something American/ Thirty-Something Poets where Chang explains, “The collection documents a young girl’s very beginnings, the loss of her father, [and] the father’s presence as a mythical figure in the speaker’s life (Crocker, 11). Her collection explores physical space within a metaphysical atmosphere as she delivers concrete details in works that are ultimately discreet in their message.
Chang accentuates lyric attention on the loss of a young girl’s father in her poem titled “Blueprint.” Here, a first person speaker “sleepwalk[s] in a dress the color of bone” (line 1) and immediately conveys an image of death. In the next couplet, she explains “There is the danger of slipping”/ “into grains of evening” (lines 2-4) where the evening becomes like the desert, and in the desert, there is a sense of desolation and foreboding. In the speaker’s home, “The dried bees are still clinging to the screen” (line 14) as they too are dry like the desert. The pervasive emptiness descends, spilling onto the following couplet, where the speaker emphasizes a separation among her and her family: “Her mother is in the bedroom” and her brother “is in the garden again” (lines 16-18). The distance between family members in this poem is exaggerated by Chang’s use of metrical lines that are composed in an open structure consisting of unrhymed couplets.
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Format: Paperback
Tina Chang, Half-Lit Houses (Four Way, 2004)

In my review of Brigit Kelly's The Orchard, I talked about lighter reading, and I didn't necessarily mean that in a bad way; some poetry is brilliant, but light reading (and no, cod help us, I'm not talking about light verse); Li-Young Lee's stuff comes to mind. It's got all sorts of depth to it, but you can read it for the surface and still get something out of it. Those who wish to pursue deeper meanings may do so. Everyone's happy. The vast majority of poetry falls into either this category or that of Kelly, where you're basically forced into deeper meanings.

Tina Chang seems to fall somewhere in the middle, which is exceptionally rare. There are pieces here that force the reader into needing to look deeper, but they are few. There are pieces that can be read for surface beauty alone and have the option to go deeper, but they, too, are few. The rest of the pieces here sit in a place in between those two things, and it's a place I'm not quite sure I know how to describe. Wherever it is, it's delicate and beautiful, and Tina Chang deserves a far, far wider audience than she presently has.

This is poetry of family, stretching back from before Chang's birth (at least, if the one passing reference she makes to the age of a narrator is to be taken as her own) to the present day, presenting the stories one hears about families with a rich history, doing so in a lush, precise language. There's not a single poem in this collection that misses the mark. It's easily one of the two or three best collections I've come across this year, and is well worth your time.
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Format: Paperback
This is a very unusual first book of poems, which is to say that Chang's work displays soul and depth beyond her years. In this collection, she explores boundaries both physical and metaphysical: these poems deal with memory and imagination, with family and duty, with the body and its failings. She employs language that is is fertile, lush with images of things living and non, whole and broken. Often the deadly and the delectable are blurred, indistinguishable; in "Fish Story," Chang writes:

"...My father thinks you are delicate

as he steals the eggs from the purse

of your bely, white interior exposed and steaming.

I think of you breathing before the slipping out."

The narrator of these works speaks often of the absence of the father. Her recollections of girlhood, which often take on a visionary tone -- like ecstacies, of a sort -- are colored by this loss. Even so, the melancholy tone of the poems is tempered by an equally powerful, often divine sense of exploration, an opening. Throughout these poems, things both sacred and profane are exposed, examined, forced into the light:

"I must admit I opened each egg to see

a tragedy inside that fueled song. Everything I owned

was held hostage in my beak."

The natural world forms a kind of mad tapestry in which the poet wraps herself. Plantations, backyards, rivers, crickets, chickens; things burned, bleeding, growing, blooming; everywhere in these poems life and death are intertwined, and exquisitely rendered. Highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback
This is a book I shall return to again and again. The poems encapsulate the tenderness and passion, the light and shadow, of life's journey. The images are compelling ~ recognizable yet mysterious, accessible yet elusive ~ which is why I shall always go back.
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