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Hybrida

Tina Chang is the poet laureate of Brooklyn and, based on the content of her collection Hybrida, the title is well-deserved. This is a searing, often devastating book of poems that centers on her mixed race child, Roman, and her alarm over his well-being as black men and women are regularly killed by the police: "I envision, now, my son rising, arms above him,/ like hosanna out of a car." Yet Chang is never content to create a hundred stanzas out of a single idea. The book is a weaving of a hundred threads and motifs into a tapestry of poetic form. The poems here are restlessly, dizzyingly creative: they range from prose poetry to ekphrasis, all in the same lyrical and fierce voice. Sharon Olds or Margaret Atwood come to mind, but Chang is completely and utterly herself.

If at times the verse is so metaphorical as to be obtuse, Chang earns that with the sheer power of the emotions at play. "Bitch," the masterpiece of Hybrida, is near-horrific in its empathy for Laika, the space dog, and for the women who have followed her in lonely exploration and then persecution: "While humans went about their earth lives below, she remained/ chained but floating. Her canine self, a mortal wound." Overall this is a remarkable book by a poet who taps into the great Over-Soul, as Emerson would put it, and carries the anguish, the urgency she finds there and puts it to paper. This is one of the best poetry collections of 2019. --C.M. Crockford, freelance reviewer