Saturday, January 27, 2018

Q&A with Victoria Chang

Victoria Chang is the author of the new book of poems Barbie Chang. Her other books include the poetry collection The Boss and the children's picture book Is Mommy?, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Kenyon Review and American Poetry Review. She lives in Los Angeles.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Barbie Chang?

A: I wrote all these poems in first person initially. One day, the name "Barbie Chang" popped into my head and I thought that was funny, paradoxical, and frankly impossible because Barbie is the iconic American dream female and a Chang, well, isn't.  

I changed all the poems to third person with the character of Barbie Chang and then I worked on the poems for another year--changing the person really opened up the poems for me as a writer.

Q: Can you say more about the role you think Barbie plays in societal assumptions and also in your collection?

A: As I mentioned above, she's the image of perfection. In my mind, that image was never reality, and this has been changing but society has been slow to change. And I suppose my book is a kind of exploration of that, deconstruction of that.

Q: In a review of Barbie Chang in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Kristina Marie Darling writes, “Victoria Chang’s new collection, Barbie Chang, reveals, visibly and poignantly, the ways that ‘looking’ can be symptomatic of what is most broken and dangerous in our culture.” What do you think of that?

A: I think that this is a smart statement. That review was very well-written and thought out. I think of this as the looking at women in our culture as toxic--the objectification of women. And the idea of seeing is a something I explore in this book too--how POC and women are often invisible.  

So it's this interesting paradox--POC and women want to be seen, but most of the time, not in the ways that society and others see them.

I've been debating with some people on FB who think it is their right to write from the perspective of anyone they want: "dogs, horses, pilots," including the stories of POC.  

This is also a problem of "looking" that Darling talks about--who has the right to look, who has the right to tell these stories, who has the stories? Well, we do. And that's how #ownvoices emerged on Twitter.

Q: Barbie Chang includes two sections titled “Dear P.” How do you see those parts of the collection connecting with the other poems?

A: The middle sequence of sonnets were older poems from before my prior book, The Boss, in a manuscript I chose not to publish.  

And the end Dear P. poems were written after I put the middle ones in. I don't know why I put them in at the time, but in retrospect, I think it was to complicate the manuscript that was all in the same form.  
I think adding these made the book more expansive and mirrored my own ideas about intergenerational racism and how racist views and closed-mindedness get passed down from one generation to the next.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: A series of prose poems called OBIT. A few are online and I've begun letting them out in the world. I'm almost finished, I think. They are in the shape of obituaries and what I call a distillation of grief after my mom passed away.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Well, gosh, I don't know. I am a generous person. I like generous and loyal people. I can't stand competitive and jealous people more than anything (and there are a LOT of those people in the literary world). I like chumming around with people who lift each other up.  

I can be very quiet and very passionate and outspoken at the same time. I can change my mind in a heartbeat. I'm very pleased about how the younger generation is breaking open the literary world/poetry on Twitter even though initially I was afraid of them. I love change like this but can also intellectually deconstruct it without getting emotional.  

I am very ambitious for the work and as a woman, no longer apologize for being ambitious for the work. In general, I am very ambitious and no longer apologize for that either because I never see any men apologizing and only see people cut down women for being so.  

I am always interested in the new, the original, the inventive, across all art forms and people. I'm sure there are lots of other things about me and my writing that would interest only me, so I'll stop here.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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