Barbie Chang by Victoria Chang
Barbie Chang is a collection of poems written by Victoria Chang. The overall narrative revolves around several topics such as her parents’ illnesses and her exclusion from a group of moms at school she calls the “Circle”. With brilliant wordplay and stunning stanzas, Chang creates a persona named “Barbie,” who is desperately caught in-between trying to become visible and invisible simultaneously within her life. This collection of poems is very unique because it showcases Chang’s thoughts without any punctuation whatsoever, yet it still brings forth a beautiful narrative about race, death, exclusion, motherhood, and meditations about love.
“the Circle will school her if she lets them they have something to say doves come out of their mouths that explode into splinters in the sky,” (7).
“there are hints of fingerprints on the window but no more fingers” (8).
“Chang was younger she thought the quiets before the storms would last now she knows the storms will come in any form at any time in the quiets she worries about the Circle in the storms she thinks nothing about them and their fables,” (12).
“it’s impossible to outline a beating heart,” (19).
“is a windcatcher still a windcatcher if there is no wind moving it is Barbie Chang still a woman if there is no man hunting her if she does not look in the mirror does she exist if she walks past men and they do not look at her is she still alive is a signified without a signifier really impossible,” (20).
“when you brush a child’s hair the mother can also feel the pain she heard the ice skating party was a hit little girls going in figure eights their breath coming out in clouds shapes like little white hearts,” (27).
“if Barbie Chang perches on a hill with binoculars waiting for deer and sees someone else looking for deer but watching her instead does that mean she exists or that she’s a deer,” (62).
I was assigned this book for my special topics “Beyond XOXO” writing class and I was initially hesitant about reading it. This is the third book we’ve had to read for this class and I haven’t enjoyed the other books, so I had a lot of doubts about diving into this one. I also am typically not a huge fan of poetry, so I dreaded the thought of drudging through an entire book dedicated to just that. However, as you can expect, all of my negative expectations were challenged after I began reading Barbie Chang.
What I liked most about these poems was the imagery. I always love the crunchiness of alliteration and word play when I read, but I enjoy beautiful images and scenes much more. I included a couple of my favorite lines above where I felt the imagery captivating me as I read them. For example, the line about the fingerprints on the window was eerily breathtaking. I kept imagining a cold window with frost and tiny fingerprints prints, but no people around to leave them. I felt colder just reading that line. It was gorgeous.
I’ve found that the poetry Chang writes functions in two different ways. She includes crunchiness with her words while also preserving the dignity of her imagery which is really intriguing. I had a writing professor last year who said some people (including herself) don’t picture a book’s plot progression like a movie on a screen, but instead they hear it as music with each line providing a note. I think this poetry is perfect for both types of readers. For the more visually focused, Chang provides evocative illustrations. For her musical readers, she composes songs with each word. In the end, it’s all hauntingly beautiful. I think the poetic structure also gives Chang a lot of room to play with diverse literary devices simply because her stanzas are so short and they aren’t very wordy. Having less room and therefore less words, forces her to carefully craft and emphasize every word to make sure it really belongs in the poem.
What I didn’t like about the poems were the vague metaphors. A lot of times they were confusing and hard to picture. However, with a little re-reading, I was able to plow along just fine. Something I also think is important to note is that this collection of poems deals with complicated and heavy/depressing topics which have the capability to turn a lot of readers off. However, because they are poems with some sort of distance from the speaker (i.e. “Barbie Chang”), the emotional tone is shifted more towards the abstract. Because of this, the emotions in the poetry come off feeling much more detached than in your face. This isn’t to say that there aren’t hard-hitting lines, but simply that their emotional impact is dulled because of the distance between author and persona/speaker.
I loved this book and I want to read another one of Victoria Chang’s poetry collections so I can further explore the genre. I would like to get a better sense of what contemporary poets are doing with their work and become more comfortable with poetry. If you’re like me and you know you usually don’t like poetry but still want to try to get into it, I would suggest you preview this collection and see what you think.