The History of Anonymity

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This debut collection of vivid, lyrical poems explores the emotional landscape of childhood without confession and without straightforward narrative. Chang sweeps together myth and fairy tale, skirting the edges of events to focus on the psychological tenor of experience: the underpinnings of identity and the role of nature in both constructing and erasing a self. From the edge of the ocean, where things constantly shift and dissolve, through "the forest's thick, / where the trees meet the dark," to an imaginary cliffside town of fog, this book makes a journey both natural and psychological, using experiments in language and form to capture the search for personhood and place.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"In this remarkable first collection, Jennifer Chang writes, 'You don't see the black line of yourself, the vanishing you slowly come to.' Spare yet sinuous; haunted, visionary; these poems continually enact encounters between what vanishes and what burns in the body and mind."--Arthur Sze, author of Quipu

"These poems seem to exist inside the natural world, as if sea and tree were garments that the poet wears as a first skin. The open form therefore allows for ample movement and air, while she tries to shuck off primary human relationships in favor of this first one. The poems are open, easy to read and pleasurable to feel as expressions."--Fanny Howe, author of Lyrics

"[Chang] is at her best and boldest in raw poems . . . The final section continues the narrative of the victimized child, her sister, and her mother, with frankness and a refreshing lack of melodrama."--Publishers Weekly

"Chang's collection is prone to return to mind. It leaves you with a sense of its polish, the sharp observations ("Be silent as the 'e' in house") hidden in the smooth surface of the words, which seem to sit like the title: burned into a mythic landscape, wide as the sea. Even as you read, it both approaches and recedes."--C-ville Weekly

Publishers Weekly

In the face of helplessness, the speaker of Chang's intense poems seeks to harness the power of nature: the mysterious force of the ocean and its often sinister inhabitants, as well as birds, which perhaps Chang overuses. She is at her best and boldest in raw poems such as "Innocence Essay," which revisits the terror and desperation felt by an abused child. It's at the center of the book's haunting second section-following the extended title poem that opens the book-in which, with the nighttime forest as a backdrop, Chang ponders just how alive nature really is: "every puddle rivers with desire." If nature is no less complex than humanity, it is perhaps less willful in its brutality, which is a small consolation. The final section continues the narrative of the victimized child, her sister, and her mother, with frankness and a refreshing lack of melodrama. (Apr.)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780820331164
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press
  • Publication date: 2/29/2008
  • Series: The VQR Poetry Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 96
  • Sales rank: 1,042,119

Meet the Author

Jennifer Chang's poems have appeared in Kenyon Review, New England Review, New Republic, Boston Review, and other publications. She cochairs the advisory board of Kundiman, a nonprofit organization that promotes Asian American poetry.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments     ix
The History of Anonymity     3
Conversation with Owl and Clouds     15
Hunger Essay     17
The Forest on Second Thought     20
Apologia pro Vita Sua     22
Pastoral     26
Obedience, or The Lying Tale     27
Innocence Essay     29
Sea Psalm     35
Postscript     37
Genealogy     38
... those who speak most say nothing     39
Slept     40
Estuary     43
And the night illuminated the night     46
This Corner of the Western World     48
End Note     50
Postscript     51
A Move to Unction
The sign reads     55
Swindled, I left everything     57
I float in. I float out     58
I remember her, a bowl of water     60
Today the action is in the clouds     62
In the night, I seek a meaning before I sleep     64
If there is no memory, it did not happen     66
How was I swindled if I was the swindler?     69
What I feed on will save me     71
What the landscape works for is what I have left     73
I follow the day's inclination and find myself returned     76
Each thing is two things     78
I am in Unction now     79
Can something broken be so beautiful?     81
Notes     83
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