Copper Canyon. Apr. 2020. 120p. ISBN 9781556595745. pap. $17.
In her fifth collection, Guggenheim Fellowship winner Chang (The Boss) uses an unusual subject—obituaries—to shed light on what qualities make for a good life as well as a passable death. In predominantly page-length prose poems, her obits address the speaker’s parents but also cover privacy, language, and the future as well as memory, hope, and even obsession: “Sadness—dies while the man across the street trims the hedges and I can see my children doing cartwheels.” The poems are infused with both grief and the need to accept it while responding to the demands of a career and raising a family. Using a first line from Sylvia Plath as its title, “I am a Miner. The Light Turns Blue,” the free-verse poem comprising the book’s second section, reinforces themes of death and grief while also considering ambition, happiness, and rain. At times, it becomes a hodgepodge but is also rich with beautiful lines that connect readers to emotion. A series of tanka about parenting become side notes to the narrative flow and are, on the whole, less effective.
VERDICT Often incorporating short declarative sentences, Chang’s poems can veer toward being list-like but move forward quickly to endings that surprise and even amaze as they burrow deep into those grieving places all of us have experienced. Recommended for most collections.
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