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Victoria Chang and the business of Barbie

Chang read from her collection Barbie Chang.
Photo: Taelar Pollmann · The Sentry

Poet shares heartfelt moments at campus reading

by Austin Bolton and Holly McCloskey

The Tivoli Zenith Room was packed on the night of Thursday, March 7, with English majors and poetry fans all chattering excitedly in anticipation of the acclaimed poet Victoria Chang. She came to campus to read her work as part of the ongoing Creative Writing Reading Series hosted by the CU Denver English department. 

Chang formerly worked as a business consultant before shifting professions to pursue her passion for writing. She is the recipient of numerous accolades, including the Guggenheim fellowship. She helps run Antioch University’s MFA program, and is a contributing editor to CU Denver’s own literary journal, Copper Nickel

Chang takes a unique approach to poetry given her background in both business and creative writing. The Boss, her most recent book, is a great example of this; in Chang’s own words, “The Boss was all about the workplace and hierarchy in the workplace… I think it’s made me a different poet than a lot of other poets, which I didn’t used to think was a good thing but now I think it’s a great thing.” Indeed, Chang’s unique outlook helps her poetry combine both the mundane and the sublime—her work is easily approachable while also possessing great depth.

In addition to tackling mundane themes such as the workplace, her work is also deeply personal, discussing intimate topics like her mother’s death, her father’s stroke, and her Taiwanese heritage. 

Chang read from three of her collections: The Boss, Barbie Chang, and her upcoming book, OBIT. Barbie Chang, the promoted focus of this event, is a satire about living as a minority in capitalist America. One poem Chang read, “Is a Windcatcher,” asks in a somber, philosophical way about womanhood: “is Barbie Chang still a / woman if there is no / man hunting her if she does not / look in the mirror.”

As a speaker, Chang balances her professional air with an infectious sense of humor and a down-to-earth presence. Though she could easily be arrogant as a result of her impressive background, she is incredibly humble. Between reading poems, she even made self-ironizing jokes and casually interacted with the audience, telling stories and giving context for how she wrote the poems.

She was often inspired by listening to NPR and recounted how one of her collections was composed almost entirely while she sat in her car, waiting for one of her children to finish language lessons.

When reading her work, her pace was surprisingly fast, not pausing at the line breaks and instead reading as if it were prose. This was a feat since her poems have no punctuation and are written in couplets that resist natural pause points. Her work is full of puns and unexpected rhymes that become fully lyrical when read aloud.

In an interview with Chang following the reading, she said that language was her biggest inspiration. “I really like messing around with language… At the end of the day it’s that intersection between things that happen in my life and language,” Chang said. “I marry that together to make a piece of art that someone else might be interested in reading,” Chang said.

Chang’s next poetry collection, OBIT, set to release in 2020 and inspired by the passing of her mother, is a raw exploration of grief and feelings of hopelessness when faced with the loss of a loved one.

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