As opposed to a regular market, the night market places a greater emphasis on experience over commerce––an overabundance of people and an oxymoronic livelihood after the natural end of the day. To that end, Stephanie Chang’s debut micro-chap Night Market in Technicolor promises to illuminate this miscellany and vibrance in the overexposed, slightly premature tint of old cinema.
Night Market in Technicolor is a collection of coming-of-age stories––the aftermaths of rebirth, reimaginations of classic Chinese myths by newly tragic protagonists, and girls toeing the line between emergence and disaster. Her poems feel incredibly intense and unrelenting. yet they’re laced with a constant prescience of disintegration. From a moon goddess to Sunday school to a supermarket, she establishes that the setting is a fabric that doesn’t hold permanent shapes. The speakers each tell their stories in retrospect––sensitive, aware, and thus, faintly resigned. Together, Chang guides us through the night market, stopping to admire the fishmonger’s catch, gape at the moon’s demeanor, and converse with the Cantonese aunties and their precise determination. What remains through each iteration, declaration, and pivotal collapse––a desperate yet exhausted want for understanding.
In her opening poem, Stephanie Chang introduces the commitment that underlies her chapbook: “To live and tell the tale / when the world’s already in love with shinier things.” Despite the premise of an apathetic world, the speaker will be temperamental and attentive, a powerful yet erratic voice commanding the reader to bend to her fluctuation and questioning. Chang masterfully teases the tension between intense vulnerability and complexity. The poem, titled “Ylem Theory”––in reference to the hypothetical condensed state of the universe’s primordial matter, immediately establishes her approach to imagery. Characterized by the use of anthimeria, her landscapes are non-linear and gradually shaped scene-by-scene. Nevertheless, she employs cinematographic perspectives to keep these scenes dynamic yet tangible. We zoom in on broken skin, pan across red rivers, glide on level dollies to track the passage of breath; at the intersection of film and poetry, Night Market in Technicolor might be best described as a supercut, compiling the highlights of a path towards intimacy.
Aside from the persistent themes, myths, and motifs that tether the poems together, the collection traces the thread of a heart’s journey––the speaker assures, “my heart already / breaking in its new body,” or laments, “my heart migrates to sea,” or is finally “Seventeen with so little // deer-heart left.” This progression, subtly woven throughout her narrative, anchors the reader to the speaker’s amorphous fervor. Her desire is at once grand and tragic and beautiful, but it never loses its crisp and stupefyingly vivid imagery.
There’s so much more to say about this dense, compact collection, but we’ll end by reinforcing its most prominent impression. Night Market in Technicolor retells the familiar vicissitudes of girlhood and deposits you in the midst of a cataclysm––hurt, fragmented, but resolute.