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Why I Chose It: Michigan Quarterly Review Reader David Freeman introduces Victoria Chang’s poem “Currency” from our Winter 2021 issue.

Michigan Quarterly Review has had the fortune to publish the work of Victoria Chang several times since her inaugural appearance in 2004. Her second work with MQR was her chilling poem, “Currency,” from the Winter 2006 issue. This poem was published shortly after Chang’s first book, Circle (2005), and was later featured in her second collection, Salvinia Molesta (2008), beginning its stunning final section. Like any great poem, “Currency” is both pivotal in its greater context and electrifying when read on its own. 

Like the poem’s subject, “Currency” lulls the reader into a false sense of comfort. Beginning its first couplet in a firm pentameter, the poem slowly introduces metrical irregularities throughout its eighteen lines. There is a sense that we, the reader, are supposed to be settling into a rhythm, yet it is a rhythm that, despite us, is slowly being disrupted. It is one of the many examples in Chang’s career of her ability to present a pattern and follow it while also disturbing and complicating that pattern as she goes. “In God We Trust // labels the backs of bills,” Chang writes, “as if to reveal / that bills are backed by faith.” In this way, too, we follow the poem, with a faith that the poet is deeply aware of her subject’s cruelty. 

Near the end of “Currency,” Chang writes, “Each day a starving dog / and misshapen old man wander / the streets,” and concludes shortly after, “how easily we lose them, how easily we create more.” In this way, Chang involves the reader, and we are left not only with a condemnation of how we participate in the inherent losses and damages of capitalism, but perhaps how easily we, the reader, have read the poem, how comfortable we have been allowed to follow its course. 

In the years that followed, Chang has developed these themes of loss and management to monumental success in such books as The Boss (2015), Barbie Chang (2017), and most recently, Obit (2020). However, this early work is a perfect access point to her later collection while also allowing us a deeper understanding of all the work she has done since. It is a vital poem for vital times, no less so now than when it was written, and, just as when it was first published in 2006, leaves the reader wondering what Chang will write next. 


The Federal Reserve adjusts, raises,
lowers, and we follow, predictably,

to purchase the milk or to hold off
on the love seat. In God We Trust

labels the backs of bills, as if to reveal
that bills are backed by faith,

and we war and search pockets for
more. But days never change tempo,

a metronome stuck on moderato,
even on our last day, when flies

seem to crawl and sparrows suspend
in air. Each day a starving dog

and a misshapen old man wander
the streets, no longer in season, or

having currency, they leave the same
smell behind—of myrrh, of garbage,

that near-death odor—how easily we
lose them, how easily we create more.

You can find Victoria Chang’s “Currency” in our Winter 2021 Issue. You can purchase it here.