Stephanie Chang’s Night Market in Technicolor // Alycia Pirmohamed

I heard Stephanie Chang read for the first time at BIPOC Teen Poetry Reading, an online event organized by Gaia Rajan. I joined from the UK, in the blue light of evening. It was an event filled with delight, ingenuity and the kind of openness that comes with the vulnerability of sharing new work with your peers. Chang’s reading immediately pulled me away into an imaginative world, and that mesmerizing pull resonates deeply in this debut chapbook as well. There is so much I could focus on in Night Market in Technicolor (Ghost City Press), which is complexly woven and presented in 13 inventive poems. It is a book rich with symbolism, not only in the sense of its imagery, but also in its repetition and its emphasis on carefully unspooled narrative strands. To craft surprise through reiteration is a brilliant skill that thrives in these pages.

On the note of symbolism, I want to focus in on the moon.

Mary Ruefle’s essay “Poetry and the Moon” places the moon firmly at beginnings. At one point, she even calls the moon “the first poem.” As a reader, each time it slices, reflects, or doubles into a poem, I feel something in my body click into place. A satisfaction. Perhaps it has to do with that oo sound, that bridge between relaxed, blending consonants on either end: elongated: musical. Nourishing.

Otherwise, I’m sure it has to do with tradition(s), with accumulation and metonymy. In Night Market in Technicolor, Stephanie Chang writes the word moon, and it echoes beyond the dark sky and back to that (imagined, real/unreal, illusory) first lyric poem written at night. This isn’t necessarily about origin. Instead, I return to that word: bridge. The moon is a different sort of linguistic bridge in this sense. A point of connection between worlds—mythological, cultural, and spiritual worlds, more broadly, and then also the more focused worlds of each poem’s lyric subject. It glimmers with Chang’e (the moon goddess), the lunar halo dispersing into a sliver of wind-chimes (“Ghazal for Moon Maiden"), as vividly as it does at McDonald’s at midnight, rife with bad jokes and heartache.

In Chang’s poems, the lyric extends its light: toward family and legacy, whether by remembrance or filtered through forgetting; toward alluring mythological reclamations, such as the beautifully unwound retellings of Chang’e and Snow White; toward dreams (or dreamlike realities) dressed with vivid, sometimes unnerving animal depictions. I think of all the night markets I’ve been to. The dizzying throngs of people and various objects, the lights, the light pollution, the somehow still-assured moon lingering above and amongst the blurred-out stars.  Night Market in Technicolor is bustling: active in the same way; it vibrates, it is full of image and song, of history, of these alluring and clearly focused adolescent scenes that ripple compellingly into personal revelation:

So the lighthouse floating above

the night market has not once sent its searchlights

after you. I waited. I know. Better than

any patron prisoner. I was born throatless

in a fatherless myth. Who authored

this tragedy but me.

("Ylem Theory")

There is also the reoccurring motif of the rabbit, which reincarnates the moon. There’s a way the figures of the rabbit and the moon seem to reflect and distort each other like strange mirrors. And there is triangulation between these symbols and Chang’s speaker, one that echoes with Chang’e, but also more generally, womanhood and ancestry. At different moments in the chapbook, I interpret the figure of the rabbit to represent something that cannot be said; acts of peripheral violence, accompanied by an unnerving redness: sometimes a fantastical unknown (“The world ends when Chang’e’s rabbit moves to Mars” ("Redstruck")), or bad luck, or blood:

The rabbit says her prayers

turn the gods penniless. She melts

like mortar, abolishes anatomy.

I hold her in the alcove

of an apology. The one

where my mother

was naming all the children

she didn’t have to have me

& I stood still, ashamed

for burning the good blood.

As I tell the rabbit these things,

she clings to my leg so kindly

I cry

("Lunar Myth")

Overall, perhaps the most alluring aspect of this chapbook is Chang’s ability to braid together these various threads, ensuring a cohesive collection, while also delving into a variety of different poetic structures. I’m drawn to those pieces that move across the page, manipulating temporality in each instance of indentation, cascading neatly into different images and scenes. And there are also poems that stretch into long, narrative lines—moments that are more certain, definite. Ultimately, these concrete structures complement those that are flickering and more surreal.

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