reviewed by Stephanie Burt
The ambitious and heartfelt second volume from Jennifer Chang gives many kinds of readers many ways in. At its start it’s an almost mystical collection of rural and nature-based poems, its earnest registers reminiscent of Galway Kinnell: “Were I more horse than rider,” Chang muses, “I would better understand the beast I am.” Deer, dogs, and flower names figure largely too. Soon, though, Chang’s modern America emerges from her dense pastures and her wild woods: we discover Ohio and New Jersey (“the good smell / of the garden state, the cracked snail shells // baking on an off-white shore”). After that Chang redescribes herself—just as fiercely, and with much more specificity—as a D.C.-based parent, alert to the national capital’s neighborhoods, its aches and quirks: “This is the safest route // to the closest Metro stop. Here is the library, here / the public park.” Chang’s careful verse—sometimes in monostichs, sometimes clipped quatrains—also swivels between archetype and anecdote, urbane specifics (“Mount Pleasant,” a D.C. neighborhood) and the broadly generous scope of myth, “Red wings in the snow, / red thoughts ablaze in the war / I was having with myself again.
This review originally appeared in American Poets, Fall-Winter 2017.