Fence poetry editor and rising star Michael Chang’s Almanac of Useless Talents is a must-read for poetry lovers and newbies alike. This is a useless Almanac. There’s no seasonal data, only poems good for leaving the club in haute couture with mid-level poets, for ambiguous sex, mouthy seductions, shoulder-turns of cold cock disrespect.
Part confessional, part experimental, and completely original, Chang is a poet read in classrooms and on phone screens with equal fervor. Each poem deftly deforms self into outrageous performance. This poetry snaps and twists so fast you’ll miss things: the intricate formal craft, the bitchy wordplay. A dopamine rush delving into desire’s throbbing networks of flesh and circuit, identity, relationships, Aznness, queerdom, and more that would arouse Ashbery envy, Chang’s playful style is edgy, surprising, and delightful. In Chang’s world, sentiment is décor: come face the amusing ever-ache of our desires or go ahead and try to outrun them.
Take a multitude of hyperkinetic punchlines, excise all connective tissue, (“Most poems should be no words / Most poems too long & too explainy”), and all the old news images like horseshoe crabs, bone dust, and marrow, then “suck & fuck / shop like Michael Jackson,” and caffeinate until its “little bunny heart is pounding,” and you’ll have something resembling Michael Chang’s breakneck masterpiece Almanac of Useless Talents. I love Chang’s lexicon of text abbreviations, Chinese characters, smiley faces, and pop culture frippery which seed and aerate the undercurrent of lyric yearning with spontaneous typographic mini-bombs. Romanticism is blown up, as is romance—“you said all of our love, could fit in a tiffany box, you meant this in a good way, i said so can a turd.” Beneath the delicious judginess and the literary criticism delivered with the energy of gossip is a foundation of political and literary acuity, rage, yes, and yes, pain, but in a dismal time, this book refuses to be dismal. “Every day I live in fear of being misidentified as another Azn poet but then I realize there’s no one like me,” Chang writes, and it’s true. The ferocious brag is real, and it’s a helluva pushback on the forces of disappearance.—DIANE SEUSS
An almanac, yes, but also a camp catalogue, a queer inventory, meteoric in its pace and opulence. It’s less of a reading experience and more of a dazzling trajectory. Buckle up.—ANGELO NIKOLOPOULOS
MICHAEL CHANG (they/them) is the author of several collections of poetry, including BOYFRIEND PERSPECTIVE (Really Serious Literature, 2021) & the forthcoming SYNTHETIC JUNGLE (Northwestern University Press, 2023). Tapped to edit Lambda Literary’s Emerge anthology, their poems have been nominated for Best New Poets, Best of the Net, & the Pushcart Prize. They were awarded the Poetry Project’s prestigious Brannan Prize in 2021, & serve as a poetry editor at the acclaimed journal Fence.
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