Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award - 2018
Dean Rader on Victoria Chang
The obituary has to be one of the lest poetic forms of writing. Obits are both predictably bland in their recitation of established life details and often overly sentimental, sometimes to the point of insincerity. However, these obits take the genre in an entirely new direction—the poet inverts the impersonal third person perspective, creating a reliable/unreliable first-person speaker who mourns the death of a mother.
But, the loss of the mother leads to the loss of other things: blue dress dies, doctors die, memories die, even grief dies. Most interesting of all, aspects of the poet die.
Restrictions in form can often lead to aesthetic and thematic liberation, and I was wholly engrossed by how much the poet accomplishes within the confines of the obituary's obituary-ness—whether it's the intense justified verticality to the use of dates to the mix of objective and subjective intelligence. The poet cannot really rely on line breaks or typographical spacings or even the built-in structures of a received poetic form, like a sonnet. Instead, the poet must work within the confines of the obituary and in so doing, transform it—but not too much. That these poems do such complete work with so few tools from the poetry toolbox is humbling. Each poem is a masterwork of compression and compassion.
As I was reading these pieces, I realized I want this poet to write my obit. Not right away of course, but one day. One day far in the future—far enough down the road so that I get to live through more of these devastating poems.