by Michael Chang
Winner of the BOOM Chapbook Contest at Bateau Press
Releases May 2nd, 2021, available for preorder, $12.00
Review by Sean Lynch
“My constant anxiety is a poem trying to claw its way out.”
If you haven’t heard of Michael Chang, then you’re missing out on poetry’s next social media smack-talking superstar. A self-described “bawdy” poet, Chang’s form-defying verse is ground-breaking in its transgressive realness. In Drakkar Noir, Chang fights against the insincerity of contemporary poetry from the perspective of a queer Asian. They do this with raw honesty, with an anger that’s profound. Some poems are litanies against the tyranny of fakeness. All of which are poems of urgency that delve deep into the psyche of a poetic genius.
Michael Chang’s enemies? Racism. Capitalism. Heteronormativity. Dullness. White Boys. Mediocre sex. Trendy poetry (at one point they hilariously make fun of poems titled “Self-portrait as…” Ex-boyfriends. Performance Allyship. Ratty bathrobes. Insincerity. Chang’s poetry expresses the anxiety that comes with experiencing such dissonance and oppression in 2021.
Their deft critiques of internet personas upend the literary world. They do this in a way that is paradoxically both experimental and accessible. Drakkar Noir is a short collection of poetry that begins with “Yankee Yellow,” an unapologetically in-your-face poem that’s innovative in its repetition, (a feat that isn’t easy to achieve) and introduces the reader to the poet’s no-holds-barred, call-out style. Chang pivots between humor and seriousness while challenging racial stereotypes, criticizing American racism and imperialism, and references to pop culture.
Chang sometimes uses traditional Chinese characters in their poems without translation to English, which besides being an authentic act of expression, can also be seen as an act of defiance against white-poet-culture that too often fetishizes people of color without actually listening to them. For example, in “Strange Fruit” Chang gives a middle finger to a Ruth Lilly prize winning poet who references Chinese language but had the audacity to reject Chang’s poetry because of their own use of Chinese words. Chang is ruthless yet righteous in this takedown, as they are in their many other observations with the state of poetry today.
One word that cannot be used to describe Chang’s poetry is sentimental. Everything is up for grabs as far as criticism goes. However, the poet avoids cynicism with their sincerity. Heartbreak, humor, wit, and a sense of familiarity, a conversational tone that allows the reader to feel at home with the author, pervade over cynicism.
Chang is the regent of one-liners. Often these can be both funny as well as intricate statements that reveal systemic issues. Chang relents on the tyranny of the majority in American culture from a progressive standpoint, “when your marriage can be invalidated by a majority vote.” That oppression is exacerbated by the internet, where people try to be woke in their online personas, but don’t often enough do the work in the real world to help fix those problems. Chang drags white supremacy, heteronormativity, the patriarchy, and performance allyship, all while expressing the joys and pleasure that they experience and gain from their identity. Ultimately, this chapbook is able to overcome the anxiety that comes with tyranny when the poet celebrates their own resilience.