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by Liz Chang

Publisher: Manuscript

In this compact volume, poems are structured to resemble artifacts in a museum, with each piece focusing on an item significant to the author’s past.

Fusing together the experiences of a museum collection with an art exhibition, this journey explores miscellaneous pieces of Chang’s personal history, from “It’s a Lamp, Charlie Brown” and “On Jolly Holiday” to “Un-sippy Cup” (“Now my daughter drinks from the cup”). Although only featuring 12 poems, the volume includes some powerhouse works. “She Couldn’t Quite Explain It/[It] Had Always Just Been There…,” which deals with resilience and transformation, works on multiple levels and exemplifies the author’s strength at not only telling a wisdom-filled story, but immersing readers in the vividness of the narrative as well. Revolving around a mint green shelf that Chang and her lover plucked from the garbage while living in Manhattan, the poem reveals that the object—which was very much like the author (“defiantly wrong, / too loud and odd”)—outlived that relationship and made it through “five moves, / a marriage, and children.” The poem, while a forceful analogy, is made exponentially stronger by Chang’s descriptive prowess. As the piece begins, the author plunges readers into the time and place: “Wednesday mornings in the West Village / trash trucks lumber up the narrow streets early enough / to sound like rebuke, their metal bodies screech / and seize, startle us from slumber. / No residents stir that early—only shopworkers / blasting vomit from front stoops, scraping dogshit from the curb.” Masterful imagery coupled with insightful self-examination can be found throughout the collection. In “The Perfect Bathing Suit: A Forgery,” a one-piece suit that once transformed the poet into a Hollywood starlet is now a “pearly exoskeleton” that reminds her of a cicada shell clinging to a tree: “It is hard to believe that a warm, / living thing once smoothly filled this architecture. That she is gone.” Lastly, each piece is accompanied by a museum label, which brilliantly adds information and depth to the poem. For example, a label for “The Gift of Horseradish” says in part: “Artist Unknown, b. mid-20th century….Poured glass bottle, embossed Pierre Smirnoff label in red, white and gold approx. 8” tall, 375ml capacity.”

A powerful and ingenious collection of personal artifacts—and the associated memories—in poetry form.