Poem of the Week | December 13, 2011

This week we are thrilled to feature a previously unpublished poem by Victoria Chang. Chang’s first book of poetry, Circle, won the Crab Orchard Review Award Series in Poetry and won the Association of Asian American Studies Book Award, and was a Finalist for the 2005 PEN Center USA Literary Award, as well as a Finalist for the Foreward Magazine Book of the Year Award. Her second book, Salvinia Molesta, was published in 2008 by the University of Georgia Press, as part of the VQR Poetry Series. She is the editor of an anthology titled: Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation (2004), published by The University of Illinois Press. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in journals such as The Paris Review, The Nation, Poetry, The New Republic, Threepenny Review, and Kenyon Review. She resides in Southern California with her husband and daughters, and works as a business writer.

Author’s Note:

The poem, “Edward Hopper: Conference at Night,” is a part of a series of poems titled The Boss.  I, probably like many people in America, have had my fair share of horrible bosses, but one was so horrible that I started thinking about power and how it shapes or misshapes our relationships in the workplace.  The whole series became a query into the odd hierarchical relationships we form and how we struggle for power.  As an entryway into such poems, I returned to some of my favorite ekphrastic inspiration — Edward Hopper’s paintings.  Surprisingly he has several paintings that take place in offices and Conference at Night is one of them.  Form, or lack of form is also something that helped mirror the sense of breathlessness, urgency, or spinning out of control that I felt necessary to convey so this whole series lacks any form of punctuation and is written in long lines.


Edward Hopper’s Conference at Night

The man sitting on the desk seems to have no eyes or they are closed or they have
been dug out the man sitting on the table sits in a way of a boss or perhaps he wants

to be the boss and the woman and man can help him the desks have nothing on
them but two wooden boards they hold shadows and the man no papers no tacks

the man has no stacks of anything the room can’t be his office it is a morgue for
desks people that have left laid off fired sacked axed let go why let go of the past

why must the past too be given a notice why can’t we live in the past in our best
dresses the woman looks like a man maybe she will be a boss or maybe

it’s better to look like a woman but act like a man a boss once told me never to
act like a woman the woman stares beyond the man the man on the desk looks

between the man and woman whatever they are conferencing about has passed is
the past the pair helped the man become the boss he lost touch with the pair who

lost touch with each other who were both laid off