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The Boss (McSweeney's Poetry Series) Hardcover – August 6, 2013
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From Publishers Weekly
This third book from Chang (Salvinia Molesta) conjures in verse a familiar and yet appropriately surreal world of invoices and cubicles. Associative wordplay works like hinges to move the poems this way, that way, always hurtling the book—in one unbroken string of uniformly unpunctuated poems—forward. Echoing Gertrude Stein's playful sonics, these poems use the concept of a boss to access recurring undercurrents of sheer emotion and meditation: he asks my four-year-old to help when I/ ask him the name of his old boss/ he says his own name describes a father's aphasia; my four-year-old daughter still/ listens to me I am the boss and I like it I/ see why the boss likes it exposes familial power dynamics; and the moon speaks up because it knows it will still/ have a job on some nights the moon// shines its white mane on everything/ I've ever done wrong comes from a series of ekphrastic poems on Edward Hopper's iconic images of work and cityscape woven through the book. Though slightly weaker where the voice tips toward editorializing too blatantly on the perils of office life, Chang's linguistic mastery is consistently clever and moving.
"With so many poets writing about the academy, it's refreshing to see someone addressing office work--though Chang...is less concerned with our endeavors than our fraught relationship with power. Throughout, her lines are unpunctuated, her words compacted and repeated, the music a mad, tumbling rush--signaling exactly the not-so-quiet desperation of office life.... VERDICT Its theme might sound disheartening, but this volume is in fact poignant, energized, apt, even witty; a wide range of readers will enjoy. --Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
"Chang employs a masterful use of internal rhyme that links the lines within each stanza and gives them a song-like quality. Her complete lack of punctuation also strings the poems together with a unified form that brings to mind a stream-of-consciousness organization. Her pleasantly surprising wordplay is also pleasing to both the reader's eye and the ear when read aloud.... For any avid reader of poetry, this is a captivating read." --City Book Review
"...that is where the poems in this collection get their energy, from the bubbling up that led to their expulsion. It was on a recent trip to LA that I bought The Boss, along with that Spirograph and a tabletop volcano.... If urging those gears inside the plastic jagged circle is what it feels like to read Victoria Chang's The Boss, I wonder what that volcano could tell me about what it was like to write it." --DIAGRAM
"In Chang's striking third book, 'the boss' is...a pressure that permeates every aspect of contemporary life. The unpunctuated, staccato quatrains and helter-skelter rhyme schemes achieve a manic lyricism." --Dave Lucas, Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Chang's voice is equal parts searing, vulnerable, and terrified."--American Poet
"Victoria Chang's The Boss skillfully captures the uncertainty and anxiety of work in poems full of verve and intelligence. It's easily one of the best poetry collections of the year." --Pleiades
Brilliant. To say simply that Chang takes the Modernist’s music and makes it new again, makes it alive, is to say only half-truth, for she truly re-inhabits it, re-kindles the flame. This radically new music is political, yes, but it is also ecstatic. It sees how everything [is] green everything grown and aglow.’ And after each firework or verbal surprise or beautiful pyrotechnics comes flame of recognition. Each reader will find her own revelation in this rich collection, some will find fire, others healing, others ecstatic abandon. I, for one, found music.” Ilya Kaminsky
Victoria Chang is to the business world of 21st-century America what Julian of Norwich was to medieval European Christianity: a shocking herald, an empathetic lens. Each of these harrowing and precise lyrics constitutes a showing.’ Part meditation on corporate life, part exploration of mother- and daughterhood, part elegy for a father who has not yet died, The Boss is essential reading for anyone who has ever had a job, a child, a parent, or a heart.” G.C. Waldrep
In these pages, the question of whether to boss or be bossed is, in some sense, beside the point, for it becomes clear as this serial poem progresses that Chang is interested less in the brute structures of power that determine our day-to-day lives than in the more metaphysical question of what it really means to be human.” Katy Lederer
"Chang’s linguistic mastery is consistently clever and moving." Publishers Weekly
"Chang is a poet to watch because her verse dares to encounter what too many poets either ignore or altogether fail to understand: the self-imprisonment attendant upon regularized labor. These are musical, imagistically arresting, and rigorously intelligent poems, but you should read them as much for their superlative treatment of a much-maligned Great Theme as for any of the surface pleasures they unquestionably put on offer. Very highly recommended." Seth Abramson, Huffington Post
"Poignant." Library Journal
"[Chang] 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." SF Weekly
"These poems are by someone coming up for air."Common Good Books
"A look at the ways in which work, family, and art complicate each other."The American Poet Magazine
"Chang's poetry is a poetry of collision."KCET
"Sprawling in its absent punctuation, breathless in its prosody even as each image-driven line lingers, The Boss shows us what we gain and what we lose by working and loving at the same time."--Coldfront Magazine
"There is a compassionate, creative wisdom that is never overly labored, the voice of someone whose steadfast caring binds without choking." The Rumpus
" in Chang’s book of unusual, moving elegies, it’s languageits fractured, vehement music and fierce demandsthat emerges as, yes, 'the boss.'"Kenyon Review
Top customer reviews
The poems in The Boss run one page each, three to six sets of four unrhymed lines. There is no complete story told in any one poem alone, but the same themes –observations tending toward obsession—reappear in poem after poem. The cumulative effect is to tell you, if not a story, still a narrative of where the writer is in her life and what concerns her about it. Her preoccupations are: her boss –how she relates to her boss, the power her boss has over her life (Victoria occasionally refers to herself by name in these portions of the poems); her father, who formerly was strong and vital and now has lost his memory; and her daughter, both what her young thinks about things now and what she doesn’t know about the real life of bosses and.....
“Today My Daughter” addresses Chang’s preoccupation with boss and daughter and shows how Chang blends the narrating of them, sliding from one to the other with no break in syntax. The poem begs to be read out loud: the phrases and lines fall over each other in their haste to be uttered.
Today my daughter wants to be a waitress when she
grows up she doesn’t know that a waitress is
not a boss that a waitress takes orders from everyone
that a waitress must run to a bell to the
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 likes the dog in a
pink outfit who likes Barbie in little skirts with little hips
if a perfect woman like Barbie is not the boss then
who can ever be the boss even the man in HR the man
who can fire everyone cannot be the boss
because he has a boss who hired him who can fire
him and even the man who hired the HR man
has a boss who can fire him there are fires all over
Japan right now the fire and water both want
to be the boss all the bosses in Japan lost their jobs
lost the limbs bob in water no longer care
about Bob the boss in America no longer
no longer care about the cost
What is evident in this poem of rushing prose is both the half-buried but repeatedly surfacing fear the poet has. Her job isn’t permanent. No jobs are permanent in a depersonalized corporate structure like the one she evidently works in. (Home businesses typically don’t have their own HR department.) It isn’t just she alone. Everyone’s job, and thus sense of security and belonging, is at risk, and clearly many people do lose –have lost—their jobs. Merging with this is Chang’s acute awareness of what it means to be a woman: even a “perfect woman like Barbie is not the boss.”
Chang’s style accentuates this feeling of obsession: when you read the poem out loud you have to slip around the line endings to accommodate meaning, and the meaning can change from one word to the next: although there isn’t rhyme at the end of the lines there is a recurrent onomatopoeia inside lines –“The boss looks over us the boss likes us the boss / irks us hurts us the boss smiles / at us smirks at us the boss lies to us confirms /…” “no animus no / animal no nitpick she picked us and her and / her to knit together we tried to / knit my father back together …” “My father used to be selfish he used to like fish / now he can’t identify fish I wish / I were selfish I used to be selfish on some days / I think how easy to sell fish on a boat …” It’s as if in the flow of her thoughts, a word hits and its sound almost as much as its meaning sparks a side path: but Chang’s preoccupations bend her observations even in this side path so they fit into the overall flow of meaning and feeling. I’m probably expressing this badly but it is an effective way to almost but not quite tell a story in one cohesive burst but have the narrative line leak out anyway when the whole message is done with.
A reviewer somewhere compared Chang’s style to Randall Jarrell’s. It’s so long since I read any of Jarrell’s poems that I can’t say. What I can say, most emphatically, is that Chang is a poet to watch out for, and these poems work.
(McSweeney’s is to be complimented as well for how handsomely the book is presented, with original pencil on paper drawings on the cover and title page by Karl Haendel. Several of the poems inside reference paintings by Edward Hopper –this is a very visual book in some regards, and that’s another thing about it that works.)
In this latest work, Chang employs simpler language. The writing style seems more direct and she has added noticeable lyrical quality.
I am a big fan of her two earlier books so perhaps this change in voice seems riskier to me than it might someone unfamiliar with her. Beyond the plain spoken language this is not a simple work. There is word-play and what seems like a lifetime of wisdom all driven by an exigency. You can finish this whole book before you realize the subtle socio-political underpinnings she is able to convey without seeming preachy.
Artistically she has anchored The Boss with eleven ekphrastic works from Edward Hooper paintings; a novel approach to a book so driven by the hierarchal boss-worker relationship.
I particularly enjoyed The Boss Is Not Poetic and I was impressed by the three renditions of Edward Hooper's Office at Night. I love that she has not nailed the words to the page with punctuation. The Boss is fresh, I can think of nothing like it. It seems both uniquely personal and at the same time universal. I can think of no one who will not identify with most if not all the poems.