The Boss by Victoria Chang

The Boss
Victoria Chang
August 2013
San Francisco, CA
McSweeney's
46 pages
$20.00
ISBN: 9781938073588
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Victoria Chang’s The Boss serves up poems reminiscent of repetitious schoolyard rhymes. Her collection takes on large concepts: life, capitalism, ancestral memories, death, and examines how our daily interactions become the metaphysical. With most poems only taking up one page, and a few stretching to two, Chang’s writing utilizes each empathetic word. At it’s pinnacle, The Boss throws back the curtain and places us at the epicenter of a conversation stripped of niceties or answers; instead, Chang grants the opportunity to not only survive, but thrive in the unknown.

“The boss is not poetic writing about the boss is not poetic / a corporate pencil doesn’t gallop / dactyls one foot two feet six feet seven the boss / only has two feet the rain taps its"—so begins “The Boss is Not Poetic,” the sixth poem in Chang’s collection. This self-realized piece continues the exploration of the myth of the “boss,” and mystifies the view from the bottom to the top. The rapid-fire style of this poem is reflective of Chang’s collection; it is nearly impossible to put it down once you begin. It prompts hypnosis as Chang guides you through an uncanny valley of her own creation. The banal becomes both alluring and dangerous, and temporality is more a suggestion than a rigorous measurement. In The Boss, Chang exposes the meandering, eternality of contemporary hierarchy in the way only a truly gifted orator can. Through the pitfalls and small triumphs of daily life within capitalist enterprise, Chang finds humor and grief and refuses to negate either. For Chang, and the reader, life is about complexity and holding opposites in our hands.

The structure of Chang’s writing is essential to its delivery. Often ending the printed lines mid sentence and breaking thoughts into separated paragraphs, her writing functions as a type of chase. It’s body-genre writing, one that produces a physical reaction within the reader. Our eyes follow the route of Chang’s writing, hoping for resolution, yet feeling relieved when one is not simply thrown at us. Absent of punctuation with limited capitalization, Chang’s poetry is a manifestation of meanderings. However, it would be a mistake to assume this is accidental—Chang’s writing is undoubtedly purposeful. The limited capitalization makes it’s occurrence profound. For instance, in “I once had a good boss,” Chang remarks on how a boss called her V, a letter that she capitalizes in the piece. By structuring the conversation around how “V” looks like a check mark, this letter becomes a term of endearment from boss to worker, a minor success within the steely, seemingly futile world of cubicles and fluorescent lights.

The artist Edward Hopper is featured heavily in Chang’s collection, with ten poems based around various works of art by him. Perhaps most telling of the relationship between Chang and Harper is her poem entitled “Edward Hopper’s Automat.” The painting is a familiar setting for Hopper, featuring a lonely woman in an empty automat on a dark night. Through Chang, this woman is given new life. Chang writes that this woman “must work must / have a boss must walk / to work two legs red with heat two legs / pressed into each other as if one / depended on the other.” The inevitability of these steps brings forth the undeniable physicality of capitalism. Though mystical, Chang continually points out that the structures of daily life take a toll on the body; while we are cogs in a larger machine we are not granted this place—we must work for it. Chang does not throw in the pieces as a referential masturbation; rather she invests within them rich backstories, connecting them to a never-ending multiplicative universe. Hopper’s pieces could be anachronistic in Chang’s modern poetry, but her tender hold of the depicted figures adds depth to not only her writing, but also Hopper’s art.

Chang’s focus on Hopper’s work reminds us of the true center of The Boss, which is the inescapable reality of capitalism. While many current authors lay their focus within the academy or in baseline philosophical endeavors, Chang’s focus on office work bridges realities for an accessible mediation on our daily lives. Her writing is complex but not confounding, inviting the reader to fully engage without finding something lacking within them. In this sense, Chang proves herself as a writer of the people: she writes as someone who is constantly engaged with the world and literature. For Chang, the philosophical is personal, and the personal is inherently political.

In essence, there are countless ways to praise Chang, but perhaps the anecdotal is most appropriate: while waiting for the bus after work, I read the entire collection in one sitting, letting three buses go by as I tried to linger and continue to weave through the entrancing spirals of the collection.

Ali Giordani
Nomadic Press
Giordani recently graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in film and media. They are interested in art pieces as sites of reclamation, botanical gardens, and transcending their physical body.