Throughout her 2012 collection, What Ordinary Objects, poet Liz Chang employs a foggy, elegiac quality. The poems seem to fall under the changing shadows of clouds: a moment of heightened clarity and directness is followed by a moment shrouded in layers of misunderstanding.
Taken individually, many of the poems are alternately lovely, dreamy, and surreal. Taken as a collection, they remind the reader that the child so desperate to "know the body of red" that she jams a crayon up her nose in "The Acquired Knowledge of Childhood" eventually becomes the woman seducing (threatening?) a lover: "I am red. I am cayenne.... Taste me, Daniel, you will burn" in "Weathering." That echo of red helps shape this collection as it underscores the variety of desires that Chang's poetry struggles with here.
Just as the desires presented by Chang are varied, the voices present in this collection are mutable and sometimes capricious. They include Chang's speaker/heroine as a child, a daughter, a friend, a lover, and so on - but another voice powerfully represented is that of the late French poet, Claude de Burine, whose poetry occasionally interrupts and seemingly comments on Chang's original poems. Other poems are created using materials from emails, websites, and art exhibits.
In her (charming) author's note, Chang tells her reader "So let's stipulate that this is not a book about death." The collection is not about death or alienation or intimacy or whatever - these are all clouds of fog that drift through and complicate the collection. Liz Chang professes an interest ("less generously, obsession") with what she calls "the life behind things." Through her use of translation, form, collage, etc., in What Ordinary Objects, she digs at surfaces obscured by inclement weather, sleep, language, sex, etc., in order to take her reader beyond the things of daily life.