Although I don’t read a bunch of poetry these days, sometimes I stumble upon something that stops me in my tracks and speaks to me as the truth for our times in a way only a poem could. This happened to me with a poem from Victoria Chang, “The Boss Tells Me,” featured in The Believer‘s June 2013 issue, quoted here as I couldn’t get the spacing right to copy the whole thing: “I can align/myself with the bystanders who have different/standards for another year I can mortgage my heart/in monthly installments for another year I can fill/my garage with scooters and things/with motors like Mona at the end of the hall with/her loan and home and college bills who never/sees anything in the office never seems to hear/anything in the office but her own/heartbeat her own term sheet for another year”
Like this poem, all the rest included in The Boss are so relevant to today’s struggles and so jarring in the most beautiful and breathtaking of ways. Like much of the best poetry out there, Chang isn’t afraid to go to the dark side–she writes of the ennui and injustice (like the chicken and the egg) of American corporate culture (“no keyboard competes with the tap-tap/of his heart”), the struggle in explaining the lost American dream to her children (“we plug away despite plagues in other countries/we are still in awe of the boss and/the law and all the dollars the doll I once had is now my/daughter’s doll she will dream of balls and/gowns and sparkly towns when should I tell her all the/towns are falling down”), and watching her father forget the American and its politics entirely as he ages (“he can’t/remember his passwords can’t get past/his words can’t figure out what the pass is for can’t/access his accounts can’t remember/ass-kissing for his large accounts can’t account/for himself can no longer count”). The words, stanzas, and themes in The Boss all fall apart into a sort of stuttering and skipping word-play of delirium that reaches a powerful crescendo by the end of the book.
The Boss was published by McSweeney’s Poetry Series. McSweeney’s never ceases to amaze me with the quality of work they publish, since publishing my favorite book of all time The Children’s Hospital by Chris Adrian. In order to get a copy of The Boss, I signed up for a subscription to the McSweeney’s Poetry Series and got a better deal than I would have even on Amazon–when does that happen? Subscribe for 4 issues of the poetry series, starting with The Boss or the next book, for $40. Chang was recently reading at Moe’s Books in Berkeley and I regrettably missed it, as I wasn’t feeling well. Such is life.
Reading poetry always feels more meditative to me than reading a novel, as I’m not seeking a conclusion or larger plot twist yet to come. I wonder if this is why not many people read poetry, or why I tend to not seek it out as much myself. While reading a book can feel, in a way, like almost accomplishing something, poems ask that I try to not accomplish anything while reading them–they offer nothing, and ask that I simply be open to absorbing their words. This seems rather counterintuitive in American society today, where the demands are always to do more, better, faster. I think this is why poetry was also the perfect medium for Chang to express her points–our time spent getting stuff done in office jobs and our many struggles to get ahead may make this book of poems all the more difficult to get through, but all the more meaningful if we manage to pick it up and appreciate it.
McSweeney’s Poetry Series on McSweeneys.net
The Boss on Amazon.com/McSweeneys.net
Also, can anyone who knows how to cut and paste something into a blockquote and keep its original spacing feel free to post a comment and let me know how that works? Thanks!