Victoria Chang's third book of poems, The Boss, was published by McSweeney's in July 2013. Her other books are Salvinia Molesta and Circle. Her poems have been published in American Poetry Review, POETRY, Virginia Quarterly Review, New Republic, The Nation, The Believer, Agni, Kenyon Review, and Best American Poetry. She lives in Southern California and works in business.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
It did change my life in so many ways in that I had a real book out in the world and that was really neat. It was a big hurdle and still is a big hurdle for a lot of poets. At the core, it didn't change who I was. I think I thought it was going to change my life, but it didn't.
My new book, The Boss, published by McSweeney's is really different from my previous work, but I think it is still me. I wrote it in 2 months sitting in front of a tree while waiting for our older daughter to finish a language class every Saturday for a series of Saturdays. I wrote quickly and furiously on long lines with no punctuation, allowing word play to propel the poems forward to mimic the loss of control I was feeling in my life--bad boss, father had a stroke, little kids everywhere. So my process was different and the outcome, the work, feels very different to me. It's my voice in its entirety.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I was one of those poets who always wrote poetry. It was introduced to me in grade school and I never left it or it never left me. I've tried fiction and non-fiction but have never been drawn to it. Poetry is who I am for better or worse. It's very much a part of my identity and I don't like the poetry community that much but I still love poetry.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
This last manuscript, as I said, was written quickly and that's how I like it now that I've tasted it! I now want to write from that kind of inspiration instead of toiling and toiling over poems. I think sometimes in the past, I have toiled over poems because I was searching for something to say.
4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
If I knew where poems begin, I would be a much better writer! I try not to be so controlling and try to be more intuitive so allow the poems to tell me how to form the greater work. I would never sit down to write a theme-oriented book.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Counter for sure. Ask anyone who knows me well that I despise readings. It's an awful process. I like to write poetry. That's it. I like to read poetry. That's it. I don't enjoy anything else about it, including the poetry world and the politics and all the climbing and angling, not my thing.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I have no idea how to answer that. I imagine people would say that my work tries to transcend the personal to the political? I don't know. I don't like to think so consciously about my poetry. I just want to feel it and let it be how it wants to be. Just like my children--they are who they are and I love them for what and who they are. I don't question who they are. They just are.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I think the role of the writer should be to get people to think about something deeper, more philosophical. I think the role of a writer should be to surprise people and to make them see things in different ways. I think the role of the writer in American culture is to counter all the trash on television!
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I am very flexible and open--have always thirsted for feedback with very few people willing or able to give it. My editors at McSweeney's were amazing! We worked and toiled over the manuscript word for word and made it better. I don't think a lot of editors would do that mostly because poets are so full of themselves and their work that we think it's pristine, untouchable. I don't think that at all.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
The advice I give myself every day is to be authentic and don't give a crap what other people think of you. If you spend your energy trying to control how you are perceived, you are not real. I like real people. I don't care if you are a climber or a jerk, just call yourself out. That doesn't mean you have to be a jerk all the time. I love professional people--people who know how to behave.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
It's nice to be able to think about other people's work in an intelligent and critical way. I think many of us are smart enough to do it, but some of us don't like to do it as much. I have so little time between a job in business, kids, ailing parents, etc., that I am lucky if I get to read anything. I don't write poetry now for years at a time and that's okay with me. I hear Louise Gluck is the same way (not to compare myself to Louise Gluck), but I can identify with that.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
None. I don't write really. Haven't in a year+ or more. My typical day is getting kids ready for school, driving them to school, working at my job, picking the kids up from school, cleaning the house, doing homework with them, driving them to swimming or art or something else, preparing meals, showers, more cleaning, book reading to them, yelling at them to go to bed, emails for me at night, then repeat.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I don't get so worried about my writing getting stalled. It's always "stalled". I just like to read anything and everything poetry or not poetry-related. I'm an avid reader and interested in everything. Frankly, as I told my editor at McSweeney's, I don't care if I never write another poem. I mean it. I don't care if I never publish another book. Really. I'm at that place in my life where I don't care. To be totally honest, I get a little sick of the poetry community and all the politics that it wouldn't bother me to never be a part of it again. I sound like a bitter old lady! I don't mean to sound like a bitter old lady, but that's just how I feel. That's the truth.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
All of the above. I used to be more influenced by good books of poetry, but truthfully, I look within more than without now. My life influences my work too. I just live it and see where it takes me.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Business books, fiction books, news, everything.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Get a good night's rest. An honest one. After having kids, I never really get an honest good night's rest. I'm always worried about something even if I don't think I am. It's frightening being a parent.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
My occupation isn't writing. It's my "hobby", which I always get scolded about to call an "avocation" or whatever. I make my living and always have in business. And I like business very much. I like thinking about business and companies and strategies, etc. I like writing about business. Poetry and many other things are just my interests. I don't mean to demean other people who do it for a living, but I just couldn't do that. I'm too interested in too many other things. And I like to have money to feed myself and family and to have a house, to remodel a house, to save for retirement, this is all fun for me.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
A Hologram for the King, by Dave Eggers, just finished it this weekend. I don't watch great films, I just watch silly animated movies with my kids now. Not a single one is memorable.
20 - What are you currently working on?
Nothing writing-related. I'm on a book tour for my new book, The Boss. Lots of work doing readings and traveling to places and trying to convince people to spend money to buy a poetry book. It's not remotely pleasurable. People aren't dishing out cash these days and if they are, it's not for poetry. But I still go out there anyway in the hopes to find one reader!
12 or 20 (second series) questions;