“Creation opens on a cliffhanger”: Stephanie Chang's A Night Market in Technicolor
Stephanie Chang is a rising freshman at University College London and currently based in Vancouver, Canada. Her work appears or is forthcoming in The Adroit Journal, Kenyon Review, Diode Poetry Journal, COUNTERCLOCK, and Berkeley Poetry Review. Her chapbook, NIGHT MARKET IN TECHNICOLOR, is forthcoming from Ghost City Press (August 2020). She reads for Muzzle Magazine and interns at Sine Theta Magazine.
In her debut chapbook, A Night Market in Technicolor, Stephanie Chang sews together myth and flesh into a Frankenstein. I use the term “Frankenstein” as one of awed endearment - Chang holds the pen as one does a needle, urging the reader through every hole of time with a tender tug. Each poem is a careful stitch in the body that is Chang’s reclamation of an inherited mythos. With each page we turn, we are introduced to another scene of Chang’s universe, as she acts as both our all-knowing guide and unsure protagonist.
“The world ends with a daughter orphaned by her city." (from "Redstruck")
In this chapbook exists no pure delineation of time - the cycle of rebirth is so interwoven within the text that the poetic form seeks to reinvent itself with each line. In “Ghazal for Moon Maiden” a retelling of the tragic love between Chang’e the moon goddess and Hou Yi, Chang portrays her escape to the moon not as a disgruntled housewife but as a woman desperately seeking freedom. Male figures loom in this piece, threatening and faceless, and the audience empathizes with Chang'e as she drinks the Elixir of Immortality and skewers her husband. The reinvention of the past doesn’t stop at the narrative level: Chang re-evaluates the poetic form of a ghazal (meant to express loss and love through independent poems formed of couplets) and breaks away from tradition. This is a constant throughout Chang’s body of work - she embraces tradition while disemboweling it, applying myth to her existence in a manner that helps the reader rationalize theirs as well. The mythical figures of the past walk like phantoms across the page, as Stephanie Chang crafts the narrative of her formative years for the world to see.
The chapbook revolves around this theme of ‘ghosts’ and stalled reincarnations. Chang’s voice struggles with her own transition into womanhood - she lingers on the nostalgic details of childhood, even as she grows critical of the imagery that surrounds her. There is a sense of unease in these poems despite the familiar images of a bubble tea shop, or a grocery store; the unease within the chapbook helps simulate the tone of displacement. To be caught between reincarnation cycles, the body only serving as a vehicle to a different ending, is cultural displacement epitomized. Here, the reader can relate to Chang’s own search for escape in her heritage, as well as the growing burden that womanhood throws on her shoulders.
“Who authored / this tragedy but me. / Could you take that kind / of Technicolor heat?" (from "Ylem Theory")
According to Ylem Theory, everything exists as an inheritance of the same subatomic particles. Thus, nothing we create is truly our own; we live in a world of predestined objects, our bodies borrowed merchandise from the universe. As stated by Anne Carson, quoted in the beginning of Chang’s chapbook, we are not even wholes of ourselves. Rather, we are Frakensteins in the truest form - a patchwork of particles that are in constant states of growth. Chang handles this startling realization with finesse. Like Meng Po, the goddess of forgetfulness, she feeds us this bitter truth in a velvet broth, masking harsh reality with her effortless poetry.
Yet, Chang takes full responsibility for her words; she writes, “Who authored this tragedy but me” not as a question but as a declaration. Chang embodies herself, no other celestial being, and makes whole of herself what Ylem Theory thought impossible. Here, she takes responsibility for the act of writing, for twisting reality to fit the optics of one’s eyes in hopes of understanding what urges the body onwards. Chang’s realization isn’t abrupt, in fact, it has been there since the very first line of her book, but by the end it is all but bittersweet. To be human is to be a combination of mythical and factual - it is to exist in the past and the present while constantly searching for your own moon. A Night Market in Technicolor is no lesson, no guide towards contentment or epiphany on behalf of the artist; it is the present. And how wonderfully human it is.
“Glory, glory to our ghosts,” (from "Haunt")
A Night Market in Technicolor can be downloaded via Ghost City Press here: https://ghostcitypress.com/2020-summer-series/night-market-in-technicolor
Or purchased as a paperback copy here: