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Circle (Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry) Paperback – March 3, 2005

4.9 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Emerson claims in his essay ‘Circles’ that ‘the past is always swallowed and forgotten.’ But Victoria Chang, in her superb first book Circle, interrogates a substantial portion of what Emerson would erase: the tyranny of Maoist China and the Red Brigade, the remote reserve of her Asian American family, her own experience in high finance and the jet-set 90s, and so much more. Nothing’s too large or small for this alchemical poet, from a Kitchenaid mixer to Eva Braun at Berchtesgaden to the most serene rendering of an oceanside landscape. Her technical skills are flexible and powerful, her voice is fearless yet capable of great lyrical tenderness, and her vision—global, principled, sympathetic—is a gift to contemporary poetry in America during a needful time.”—David Baker, author of Changeable Thunder

“A thirst for the self / in everything – even / in the sweet chinks of mandarin . . . .”

“This does not sound like a first book, does it? With astringent understatement and wry economy, with nuance and intelligence and an enviable command of syntax and poetic line, Victoria Chang dissects the venerable practices of cultural piety and self-regard. She is a master of the thumbnail narrative. She can wield a dark eroticism. She is determined to tackle subject matter that is not readily subdued to the proportions of lyric. Her talent is conspicuous, and this book a most impressive debut.”—Linda Gregerson, author of Waterborne

“Victoria Chang’s Circle denotes a geometry of enclosure that brings into itself all the fractious identities of contemporary American life. The lives of women, immigrants, artful self-making--all these are investigated and sung into newness by her canny poems. Time and again the astringency of her lines arrives at a clarifying lyricism, restoring a complex mystery to the everyday. This is a book of powerful poems, from a poet we are now very privileged to hear from.”—Rick Barot, author of The Darker Fall


“[It’s] a real pleasure to find a first book that thinks big, that harbors the best sort of ambitions, not to be acclaimed, but to stretch itself. [Circle] frequently brings Randall Jarrell to mind, both in its wide range of subjects, including art, film, and history, in its many dramatic monologues, and particularly in its fundamental inquiry into the slippery nature of identity. . . . As Chang continues her explorations, it will be not only comforting but also exhilarating to watch her transformations toward full maturity as a poet. Certainly, her first book promises delights to come.”        —Blackbird

     Chang's poems concern themselves with, among numerous topics, the lives of women.  Not just the Chinese American woman - daughter, mother, grandmother - but also women in general:  athelte, "bombshell", business-woman, gardener, lover.  As well as women in history and art:  Sarah Emmon Edwards, who joined the Union Army as a man; Eva Braun, Hitler's mistress; Yang Gui Fei, "favored concubine" of a Chinese emperor; and women in Edward Hopper's paintings.  Chang's techniques are confident and varied:  the unbalanced couplet, with the first line always longer than the second to keep readers off balance; synesthesia for tension and lyricism; wry and muscular diction.  The book's ending phrase is an homage to Chang's foremother in Asian American poetry circles, Cathy Song:  "a thousand young larks mount the sudden breeze."  A paean to healing.
(Vince Gotera North American Review May-August 2006 2006-05-01)

About the Author

Victoria Chang’s poems have appeared in Poetry, The Nation, Virginia Quarterly Review, Kenyon Review, New England Review, Threepenny Review, Best American Poetry 2005, and other publications, and she is the editor of the anthology Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation. She has earned degrees from the University of Michigan, Harvard University, and Stanford University, and is the recipient of a Bread Loaf Scholarship, a Kenyon Writer’s Workshop Taylor Fellowship, the Hopwood Award, and the Holden Minority Fellowship from the MFA program at Warren Wilson College. She resides in Los Angeles.


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Product Details

  • Series: Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry
  • Paperback: 80 pages
  • Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press; 1st edition (March 3, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809326183
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809326181
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,711,149 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Brian Campbell on June 24, 2005
Format: Paperback
This is one book I'm really glad I did order. Every poem was engaging -- the standout poems, the OK poems, even the poems I felt could have been better realized. Each offered rewards. V Chang definitely offers significant things to learn from a poem-making point of view.

Certain poets make one feel the force of their mastery of one or two elements or strategems common to much good poetry, but which are particularly salient in theirs...Victoria Chang makes one feel the mastery of ... the laying out intelligent clues.

The strongest poems in the collection -- excellent poems by any standard -- were, for me, Yang Gui Fe, Eva Braun at Bershtesgarden, Kitchen Aid Epicurean Stand Mixer, and Lantern Festival. In these a whole life or lives seemed to hang on an image or line, and in almost any given poem, a sequence of deftly placed lines or images outline a deliberate "story" or subtext.

If there are weaker poems in the collection, it seems to me that the clues provided are meagre, arbitary; they don't connect with a sufficiently strong necessity to satisfy me. "The Laws of the Garden" is one; "The Goal" and "Majority Rules" are two others. However, the poem that first appeared in Slate, Holiday Parties, struck me in an annoying way as one of these, but a careful re-reading reveals it to be a remarkable depiction of the social pressures faced by a young woman coming of age in a Chinese American family in the incongruous context of socially-disconnected North America. So at this point word is out on a number of these "insufficient" poems; for me, perhaps, all they deserve is a careful re-reading.

Clearly, though, Circle is well worth reading, and re-reading... & Victoria Chang a talented poet worth watching...

-- from OUT OF THE WOODWORK,May 31, 2005
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Format: Paperback
Victoria Chang, Circle (Crab Orchard Review, 2005)

Every once in a while, I stumble upon a book like Circle (I say "stumble" because at this point I've no idea where I read about it originally), and all the time I spend reading poetry that ranges from the mediocre to the mind-splittingly awful is worth it. For Circle is one of those books where the poems leap off the page and come at you with a boning knife, gazing hungrily at the innards lying beneath that flap of belly fat you've been trying so hard to work off these past few years. While this is not happy stuff, for the most part, Chang manages to retain a twisted sense of humor about life, the universe, and everything:

After returning from Arkansas, I've never been the same.
Little here, little there, it's always great

to go à la carte-- it gives leverage and leave, it lends option to pull out
that front tooth or start saying y'all.

I begin to acknowledge feet with hair on the big toes, my eyes
get greener and green.

Periodically, there's a 300-point inspection and I'm checked,
re-checked, and checked again,

but what if the checker is the one missing a tooth? What if
I discover this

when I'm more than halfway? Do I turn back or keep going away
from home--

two small dots plucking broken guitars?
("Majority Rules")

Oh, yes, folks. I am unabashed in my love for this book, which will most likely make my top ten reads of the year. You want it. **** ½
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Format: Paperback
Victoria Chang's first book of poetry, 'Circle', is unusual for a poetry award-winning book in that it can stand alone, quite apart from its already sung praises. In fact, it demands it.

Her Edward Hopper 'Studies' have a wonderful feeling of osmosis, evoking often charged scenes in Hopper's notoriously solitary paintings.

'An Evening at the Chinese Opera', 'Morning Porridge', 'At Lake Michigan' (which is like a Haiku that breaks its own rules) and 'There is Something about the East Coast' are other poems of particular note.

The unique notion of the 'circle', derived from Emerson and which forms the galvanising path of the book, does pervade the collection yet the collection would in no way suffer if this were missed by the reader. In a non-pejorative sense, this may be a collection where the sum is not necessarily greater than its exquisite individual parts.
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Format: Paperback
I read Victoria Chang's second book before I read Circle which gave me reason for pleasant surprise. You could easily be fooled into believing this work isA anything but a first book. There is cohesiveness in Circle that many poets have not mastered in their second or third publication.

In Circle Chang embraces an exposition of culture and gender in ways that are not worn or over worked. She demonstrates the spiral collision of past and future.

She is often edgy but her word skills have a well controlled precision that can slip a point past you like smooth butter.

I especially enjoyed the following poems: Lantern Festival, Seven Changs, To Want, Kitchen Aid Epicurean Stand Mixer and On Quitting.

Circle was a winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition Award and was published by Southern Illinois University Press.
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Few young poets have the ability to both control language and let cartharsis take over the composition of the poem. Victoria Chang is one of those few. She is able to give us a text that evolves from these elements and sets itself before the world with an honesty and a passion that cannot be described. Her poems save what is worth saving and release the shadows of who we were yesterday.
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