Copper Canyon Press, 2020
2021 Griffin Poetry Prize • International Shortlist
The 2021 Griffin Poetry Prize will be announced on June 23, 2021.Victoria Chang’s prior books are Barbie Chang, The Boss, Salvinia Molesta, and Circle. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Sustainable Arts Foundation Fellowship, the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award, a Pushcart Prize, a Lannan Residency Fellowship, and a MacDowell Colony Fellowship. She lives in Los Angeles and is the program chair of Antioch’s low-residency MFA program.
The poems in Obit were originally prompted by grief, writing after the death of your mother. At what point did you realize you were working on a book?
I definitely didn’t think about a “book” at all during the writing process and tend not to in general. I think that by the time the writing makes its way to the computer in a Word document, I think that begins to start taking the shape of a manuscript, which isn’t really a book yet, but the editing process and making of a collection can take years (a combination of line edits while also working on the ghostly arc of a manuscript that forms at the same time of revision).
Both Obit and your prior collection, Barbie Chang, offer narrators that explore simultaneous perspectives of being deep within the centre and of the outside, looking in. How did the process of writing pieces for potential publication shift the ways in which you considered grief, if at all?
I mentioned this above, but I never think about writing “for publication.” I also try not to think about it as publication, but perhaps sharing. The system of publication is often beyond a writer’s control so I try not to spend too much time thinking about that until I decide to think about it, if that makes sense.
I like that this collection includes a series of tankas. What do you feel was possible through the form of the tanka that might not have been possible otherwise? What did working through the tanka allow?
I think any formal poems can be freeing for me. The more constraints I seem to have, the more fun I seem to have during the writing process. So sometimes I like to give myself constraints so that the language is the leader, not me or the ego. I also like the short form of the tanka which is just slightly extended over the haiku. I liked the short form poem so much I wrote a whole bunch of short poems for a new manuscript.
The catalogue copy for Obit cites how, through hearing the word “obit,” you were “moved by the strength of its sound, the long O and the hard T.” How important is sound on the page?
Sound is a part of poetry, of course. But it’s intertwined with many other things too so I think sound is a factor in the making of a line, fragment, poem, etc. For me, the writing process is very organic—I’m not really consciously thinking about things as I’m going.
Was there anything that writing through grief revealed that you weren’t expecting? Are the poems in Obit but the openings of a longer, ongoing process?
I think writing can reveal all sorts of things in the process—which is why making art is so fun. It is exploratory, a process. I’m not entirely sure what grief is at the end of the day. Maybe it just is and is here and once someone you care about dies, it’s always here. It’s a part of life, like life itself, which is just a process.
Have you been writing much in the way of poetry since Obit was completed? What have you been working on since?
I wrote OBIT a while back, started it in 2016,
so since then I’ve written a hybrid book of essays and art, and I have a new
book of poems coming out in 2022.