"Invasive species: just one of the thousand signs we’ve learned so terribly after the fact to read. Salvinia molesta: one of the worst; it can smother a lake in days. And under its proliferant injunction, Victoria Chang surveys the paths that brought us here. She charts her course through biosphere and boardroom, the intimate spaces of private infidelity, the vast terrains of state-supported slaughter. How is it, in poems so keenly tuned to history and all its harms, that the reader finds elation? Because in art this finely pitched we have the one true antidote."
Victoria Chang’s collection takes its title from what many call “the worst weed in the world,” a plant so rapidly and uncontrollably invasive that it is illegal to sell or possess in the United States. Chang explores this image of vitality and evil in three thematically grouped sections focusing on corporate greed, infidelity and desire, and historical atrocities, including the excesses of the Cultural Revolution in China and the massacre of Chinese people in Nanking by Japanese troops in World War II.
This edgy, fierce subject matter becomes engaging and fresh as Chang applies her powers of imagination to the extraordinary lives of Madame Mao, investment banker Frank P. Quattrone, and others living at extraordinary historical moments. In “Seven Stages of Genocide,” for example, the poem’s speaker is herded into a death camp along with a neighbor that he strongly dislikes: “The barbed wire around us forces me / to catch his breath that smells like goose.” Chang focuses her attention to occurrences in the world that many poets find too violent or disturbing to write about, thereby making her own distinctive aesthetic from that which is, like Salvinia molesta, both creepy and beautiful.
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