With My Back to the World
by Victoria Chang
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Pub Date 02 Apr 2024 | Archive Date 02 May 2024
A new collection of poetry inspired by the work of Agnes Martin, exploring topics of feminism, art, depression, and grief, by the author of the prizewinning collection Obit.
Yesterday I slung my depression on my back and went to the museum. I only asked four attendants where the Agnes painting was and the fifth one knew. I walked into the room and saw it right away. From afar, it was a large white square.
With My Back to the World engages with the paintings and writings of Agnes Martin, the celebrated abstract artist, in ways that open up new modes of expression, expanding the scope of what art, poetry, and the human mind can do. Filled with surprise and insight, wit and profundity, the book explores the nature of the self, of existence, life and death, grief and depression, time and space. Strikingly original, fluidly strange, Victoria Chang’s new collection is a book that speaks to how we see and are seen.
A Note From the Publisher
“Painterly, meditative . . . Full of memorable insights as Chang experiments with erased and occluded work, all the while operating in the realm of feeling, where ‘desire is the only thing / with nerve endings.’ These elegiac poems thoughtfully balance the head and the heart.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Victoria Chang's lucid and playful poetry surprised and moved me with its friendly abundance of Koanlike lines—stimulating yet calming news from the dreamy outskirts of human consciousness." —Tao Lin, author of Leave Society
“In Agnes Martin’s grid paintings, each pale rectangle can feel like an hour, a day, or a year. The effect of all these small variations seen at once approximates the overwhelming fact of other lives. With My Back to the World gives Victoria Chang that same kind of quiet, intimate, constrained but infinite room to work in. This book is the record of an artful, attentive mind, full of startling insights ('My solitude is like the grass. I become so aware of its presence that it too begins to feel like an audience'), a testament to care, integrity, and persistence.” —Elisa Gabbert, author of The Unreality of Memory and Normal Distance
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 18 members
** A copy of With My Back to the World was provided by the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review **
I think it's safe to say Victoria Chang is one of my favourite writers. I've read four books/collections by her and rated all of them five stars each! No one writes about/with/beside grief, love and depression as well as Victoria does! With My Back to the World is a collection of poems I took my time with but devoured at the same time. So many of the pieces resonated with me deeply and I've definitely found some new favourite lines and poems. Thought-provoking, moving, melancholic, and poignant, this collection is a beautiful triumph!
Victoria Chang's new poetry book is exciting to read. It's like entering an art gallery, where you not only take in the art but also marvel at the organization of what's on display. She includes many different kinds of forms here: erasure, prose poetry, rhymed couplets, and diary-type entries. Most of the poems are about loss, depression, and the process of art-making. Most of the time I was deeply moved by the poems, and others I felt lost and bewildered (but maybe that's the point). I always enjoy her poems whenever I read them, and will continue to seek out her work. I wouldn't be surprised to see this collection get many awards this year.