Southern Illinois University Press, 2005
Taking its concept of concentricity from the eponymous Ralph Waldo Emerson essay, Circle, the first collection from Victoria Chang, adopts the shape as a trope for gender, family, and history. These lyrical, narrative, and hybrid poems trace the spiral trajectory of womanhood and growth and plot the progression of self as it ebbs away from and returns to its roots in an Asian American family and context. Locating human desire within the helixes of politics, society, and war, Chang skillfully draws arcs between T’ang Dynasty suicides and Alfred Hitchcock leading ladies, between the Hong Kong Flower Lounge and an all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch, the Rape of Nanking and civilian casualties in Iraq.
PRAISE & REVIEWS
“Emerson claims in his essay ‘Circles’ that ‘the past is always swallowed and forgotten.’ But Victoria Chang, in her superb first book interrogates what Emerson would erase: the tyranny of Maoist China, her Asian American family, her experience in high finance, and so much more. Nothing’s too large or small for this alchemical poet, from a KitchenAid mixer to Eva Braun 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.”
“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.”
“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, empowered poems, from a poet we are now very privileged to hear from.”
“[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.”
“Chang’s poems concern themselves with, among numerous topics, the lives of women…. 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.
—North American Review