The Boss
, Chang’s third book, is one of the most fascinating and exciting collections of poetry I’ve read in the last few years. The poems in The Boss feature the same speaker, a woman who shares major biographical characteristics with Chang: she’s a mother of several young children taking care of her ill father and dealing with a stressful work environment. The speaker’s language careens from one homophone or homograph or rhyme to the next, in a manner similar to Stein’s Tender Buttons. This technique produces a portrait of a woman whose psyche has been stunted by the social structures into which she was born, so that the effect is less reminiscent than that of other speakers encountered in poetry than of the protagonists found in Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays, Renata Adler’s Pitch Dark, and Chris Krauss’s I Love Dick. Like those books, The Boss is about a woman desperate to convey her obsession with the cost of living in America—the unavoidable, mundane struggles of late‑period Capitalism and the terror of the unforeseeable tragedies awaiting us.

Front Porch: The Boss was written during a very short period of time. This makes a certain amount of sense, given its tight construction, but it’s also surprising considering the quality of the work. Could you discuss the drafting process of your book? What concerns and challenges did you face while editing?

Victoria Chang: That’s a nice thing to say, because I am never quite sure of the “quality”—it seems like there are always so many poets that are way more talented and capable than I am. I wrote this book in a minivan waiting for my oldest child to finish a language class. We had leftover classes at this place after we moved, so I had to sit and wait for her for two-ish hours each Saturday until those classes ran out. So I just wrote in a notebook in front of the same tree every Saturday for a few months. And when that language class ended, I realized I had a lot of pages. I then realized I needed more pages to make something bigger and started looking for ways to reenter the poems; I wrote a few new ones based on Edward Hopper’s paintings, because I noticed many of his works took place in the office. After that, I did some editing, moving around, and reworking, until I felt like I didn’t want to work on it anymore.

FP: Edward Hopper’s paintings have shown up in all your collections, and you’ve discussed his work extensively in interviews—his work is something of a go-to for you. The Hopper poems in The Boss are striking because they rely on the speaker misinterpreting the painting as a way to reveal herself to the reader, much like the way Berryman’s “Winter Landscape” hinges on the speaker mistaking—or possibly intentionally naming—the hunters’ spears “tall poles”. What draws you to Hopper? What function(s) do they perform for you and for the speaker in The Boss?

VC: I think the mystery of the paintings draw me in. I get to look into the secrets of people and these characters, yet no matter how I look, I can never really know or understand. I’m attracted to physical art and the act of looking, and although it is a cliché to write about Hopper, I just couldn’t help it. I think it comes from a truly authentic place where I really wanted to learn about the characters in these paintings, but never could. That reaching is what I feel life is in general.