Monday, October 24, 2011

OF GODS & STRANGERS by Tina Chang Reviewed in Publishers Weekly

Of Gods & Strangers
Tina Chang. Four Way (UPNE, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (100p) ISBN 978-1-935536-17-8

Chang’s high-intensity second collection tracks her needs, desires, and disappointments and her quest to fit them into a trans-Pacific history: one notable series sets her inner life beside that of the Empress Dowager, the last imperial ruler of China, who died in 1908. The dowager poems, scattered throughout the book, sometimes portray the poet as empress, or create a study in contrasts between two household roles, two nations, two intricate webs of needs: “How the past/ holds onto us with its short leash/ and yelping,” Chang writes; “existence is a small/ lit match hurled toward you./ You dodge it and smell smoke.” Chang’s portrayals of modern life tend toward bright colors, strong statements, and can be cartoonish: “An urge for urgency, my soul hangs like a puppet,/ knocks between my lungs, bends to the song of the sister/ peach tree: Love me when all the ripe clusters drop.” Chang sets poems in postearthquake Haiti, in Sri Lanka after civil war. Traveling, reading the news, Chang’s persona also goes out to the clubs. Yet what stands out most are her looks back at history: “The Empress Dowager Contemplates Her Lineage,” “The Empress Dreams After a Poisoned Meal.” (Oct.)