The Boss




*Winner of the PEN Center USA Literary Award
*Winner of a California Book Award

Written in “a breathless kind of fury,” the poems in award-winning poet Victoria Chang’s virtuosic third collection The Boss dance across the page with the brutal power and incandescent beauty of spring lightning. Obsessive, brilliant, linguistically playful—the mesmerizing world of The Boss is as personal as it is distinctly post-9/11. The result is a breathtaking, one-of-a-kind exploration of contemporary American culture, power structures, family life, and ethnic and personal identity.


"Many winters ago, the great poet of Romania via France, Tristan Tzara, wrote of “fake moustaches on that ostrich / made in u.s.a. / the cold bird tells the monocle: mouth got no lips I’ll kill myself / but the cubist tells the cubist: I have invented the chief-of-scratch & I am / his boss / the boss tells the boss: boss.” That music was so unmistakable, so one-of-a-kind, that never, I thought, could it be repeated or re-invented in our time. Or so I thought until I found this brilliant book by Victoria Chang. To simply say 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: “Today is the boss the boss is today this day shines.” Chang’s Boss, in the “white field of naked prisoners,” this U.S. of A, where “even as he falls” his face “is pressed / on the plane’s plain carpet,” this radically new music is political, yes…. 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

"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.... Chang’s linguistic mastery is consistently clever and moving."
–Publishers Weekly

"With so many poets writing about the academy, it’s refreshing to see someone addressing office work—though Chang (Salvinia Molesta) 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: “we are high performers former high hopers on a high wire.".... Chang further highlights the anomie of the office with set pieces referencing Edward Hopper and includes poems about her father’s “stroke/ a stroke of bad luck,” detailing his loss of language (so in contrast to her own facility).... 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 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."
–Huffington Post

"In Chang's striking second book, "the boss" is all of these and more: a pressure that permeates every aspect of contemporary life. The unpunctuated, staccato quatrains and helter-skelter rhyme schemes achieve a manic lyricism...."
–Cleveland Plain Dealer

"There are many stanzas that reach sublime levels."

"Chang's voice is equal parts searing, vulnerable, and terrified."
–American Poet

"THAT is one staggering tour de force. Personal and political. Local and urgently international. Victoria Chang faces calamity without losing a grain of necessary kindness, and while making a seamless garment of technique and sensation."
The Rumpus

" Chang’s book of unusual, moving elegies, it’s language—its fractured, vehement music and fierce demands—that emerges as, yes, 'the boss.'"
--The Kenyon Review

"[A] rare, much needed meditation on work..."
–SF Weekly

"The poet examines how we occupy many roles at once—being a child, a parent, subordinate to others or in a position of authority—and how we move between them. Rhythmically and linguistically beautiful and inventive—a great collection."

"...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."

"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

"A dizzying work, Chang's newest collection of poems blurs the lines between friend and foe, work and family, all the while leaving us someplace different than where we started. The collection's single cacophonic voice implodes into a thousand different battle cries and develops a world where anything can disappear, become damaged, or transform into something new and beautiful. To be clear, Chang's poems are spring-loaded with disaster, but they are also equal parts playful, even teasing. For fans of postmodern works and/or poetry, it's a solid read."
–Evan K. Staff Pick at Left Bank Books in St. Louis

"In a word, powerful."
–Common Good Books,St. Paul

"Chang's poems are nearly liquid...."
–Rob McClennan's Blog

"’s also playful. It’s fresh and interesting and not afraid to address tricky topics in surprising ways. I read this book from cover to cover in one go, and thoroughly enjoyed it. In view of books like this, how can anyone possibly think poetry is ailing, let alone dead? No ivory towers here, no aloofness, no slack. This book would be good for getting someone interested in poetry who’s put literature off as stuffy and dusty. It also looks great on your shelf with its rich orange spine."
–Annette C. Boehm's Blog

"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."