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Dear Memory: Letters on Writing, Silence and Grief

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A collection of literary letters and mementos on the art of remembering across generations. For poet Victoria Chang, memory “isn’t something that blooms, but something that bleeds internally.” It is willed, summoned, and dragged to the surface. The remembrances in this collection of letters are founded in the fragments of stories her mother shared reluctantly, and the silen A collection of literary letters and mementos on the art of remembering across generations. For poet Victoria Chang, memory “isn’t something that blooms, but something that bleeds internally.” It is willed, summoned, and dragged to the surface. The remembrances in this collection of letters are founded in the fragments of stories her mother shared reluctantly, and the silences of her father, who first would not and then could not share more. They are whittled and sculpted from an archive of family relics: a marriage license, a letter, a visa petition, a photograph. And, just as often, they are built on the questions that can no longer be answered. Dear Memory is not a transcription but a process of simultaneously shaping and being shaped, knowing that when a writer dips their pen into history, what emerges is poetry. In carefully crafted missives on trauma and loss, on being American and Chinese, Victoria Chang shows how grief can ignite a longing to know yourself.


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A collection of literary letters and mementos on the art of remembering across generations. For poet Victoria Chang, memory “isn’t something that blooms, but something that bleeds internally.” It is willed, summoned, and dragged to the surface. The remembrances in this collection of letters are founded in the fragments of stories her mother shared reluctantly, and the silen A collection of literary letters and mementos on the art of remembering across generations. For poet Victoria Chang, memory “isn’t something that blooms, but something that bleeds internally.” It is willed, summoned, and dragged to the surface. The remembrances in this collection of letters are founded in the fragments of stories her mother shared reluctantly, and the silences of her father, who first would not and then could not share more. They are whittled and sculpted from an archive of family relics: a marriage license, a letter, a visa petition, a photograph. And, just as often, they are built on the questions that can no longer be answered. Dear Memory is not a transcription but a process of simultaneously shaping and being shaped, knowing that when a writer dips their pen into history, what emerges is poetry. In carefully crafted missives on trauma and loss, on being American and Chinese, Victoria Chang shows how grief can ignite a longing to know yourself.

30 review for Dear Memory: Letters on Writing, Silence and Grief

  1. 5 out of 5

    Isa

    Beautiful and evocative. Also, lots of memstud references. Marianne Hirsch and Paul Ricoeur? It’s been a minute.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Arabelle Sicardi

    Absolutely incredible. A gift, to me specifically

  3. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    There's so much truth and beauty in this book! from a letter titled Dear Silence: "Do I want to risk going into you in order to come out with words? To let the words build into something that is no longer me? ... Last night, I went to a talent show at the children’s school. Kids dressed as sharks running around in circles. Popular girls with matching ripped jeans and long flat-ironed hair singing pop songs and dancing unenthusiastically. A magic show, piano players, ukulele players, joke-tellers… There's so much truth and beauty in this book! from a letter titled Dear Silence: "Do I want to risk going into you in order to come out with words? To let the words build into something that is no longer me? ... Last night, I went to a talent show at the children’s school. Kids dressed as sharks running around in circles. Popular girls with matching ripped jeans and long flat-ironed hair singing pop songs and dancing unenthusiastically. A magic show, piano players, ukulele players, joke-tellers… Then a boy got up and the music began. He sang “Never Enough” from the film The Greatest Showman. I didn’t remember the song or the film, but his opening breath was so quiet, it was Ruefle’s rack.* That was poetry. I think that is why I write. That is why I want to make art. After he finished to a standing ovation, I remembered that this was the boy who was recently outed at school. This small seventh-grader sent his insides out, through his mouth, in small envelopes. (That image of the boy just really gets to me; here’s to being brave and being met kindly when we are.) Dear Teacher: Each book isn’t just a book, but a period of a life, a period of learning how to write. Each book has its own hair color, its own glasses, its own favorite mug, its own computer, its own shirt and pants, its own tears. Dear Teacher Gertrude Stein: “You will write if you will write without thinking of the result in terms of a result, but think of the writing in terms of discovery, which is to say that creation must take place between the pen and the paper, not before in thought or afterwards in a recasting. I like the idea of writing slightly ahead of thought. The way the moon always seems to be chasing a whale. From Dear C: Some days, I want to tell everyone I meet that my mother died. Sometimes I do tell them, just to see who reacts. Most people don’t. Most people probably wonder why I am still writing about my mother. I want to tell them that it is because my mother is still dead. Dear Father I know you haven’t read H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, because you can’t read, but she writes about the death of her father so well: The archaeology of grief is not ordered. It is more like earth under a spade, turning up things you had forgotten. Surprising things come to light: not simply memories, but states of mind, emotions, older ways of seeing the world. When someone has dementia, or any brain disease, grief is multidimensional. You grieve them while you are wiping their nose or cutting their food into small limbs. Part of them is dead, part of them is dying. But so much of them is still alive. It’s like Macdonald’s earth, but that person is only partially buried. Every time you turn the spade, you poke them and they try and get up, wander around until you have to rebury them, tuck them back into the earth. I have had so many funerals for you, Father. I hide my hands in my pockets because they are always covered with dirt.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sylvia

    Yo creo que Victoria Chang es sin duda mi nueva escritora favorita. Ya en Obit me había impresionado la manera en que se aproxima a los espacios del duelo. Este libro es una colección de cartas que la autora escribe a familiares, amigues, profesores, hijas, memoria, cuerpo, escritura sobre escritura. Cada carta es una búsqueda y un descubrimiento, una confesión, un duelo por lo que se fue o lo que nunca se tuvo. En tanto forma este, además es un híbrido pues acompaña a cada carta un collage que Yo creo que Victoria Chang es sin duda mi nueva escritora favorita. Ya en Obit me había impresionado la manera en que se aproxima a los espacios del duelo. Este libro es una colección de cartas que la autora escribe a familiares, amigues, profesores, hijas, memoria, cuerpo, escritura sobre escritura. Cada carta es una búsqueda y un descubrimiento, una confesión, un duelo por lo que se fue o lo que nunca se tuvo. En tanto forma este, además es un híbrido pues acompaña a cada carta un collage que entre fotografía y texto nos relata fragmentadamente sobre esos, valga la repetición, fragmentos que de la familia nos quedan. Las cartas, además, no solo son desde el yo, sino son además una meditación sobre el yo que nos construye desde antes de que naciéramos, clase, raza, lengua, nos atraviesan -parece decir Chang- y por tanto atraviesan nuestra escritura. Un libro hermoso, conmovedor, un libro al que hay que volver para guardar el silencio que se nos asigna.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    what the heck I have no words

  6. 5 out of 5

    Laura Sackton

    Such a brilliant and beautiful book. Read my review here: https://booksandbakes.substack.com/p/... Such a brilliant and beautiful book. Read my review here: https://booksandbakes.substack.com/p/...

  7. 4 out of 5

    Paul Martin

    In this haunting and luminous work, Victoria Chang gives us a series of epistles and found collages to address the melancholic remembrances of things past. Dear Memory: Letters on Writing, Silence, and Grief (Milkweed Editions, 2021) is an elegy and lament for the dead and gone: her ancestors, her teachers, and friends. She quotes poet Mary Jo Bang: “What is an elegy but the attempt / To rebreathe life / Into what the gone once was…” The book is filled with light and shadow, the pneuma of humani In this haunting and luminous work, Victoria Chang gives us a series of epistles and found collages to address the melancholic remembrances of things past. Dear Memory: Letters on Writing, Silence, and Grief (Milkweed Editions, 2021) is an elegy and lament for the dead and gone: her ancestors, her teachers, and friends. She quotes poet Mary Jo Bang: “What is an elegy but the attempt / To rebreathe life / Into what the gone once was…” The book is filled with light and shadow, the pneuma of humanity and the human condition. More poetry than prose, the book is a connotative tour de force of what it means to be alive and to live with the breath of memory and regret. Chang is a poet, a teacher, and program chair in the Creative Writing Department at Antioch University. She believes in writing that puts language at risk, allowing words to build into something beyond the self. She asks: “Can I be the hawk and the storm that tries to murder the hawk?” The question is fraught with danger. She confronts and sifts through memory and goes directly to how our lives often play out in the blood, the DNA of who we are, and what we do with our brief time in this human epoch. She documents the sorrow and grace of her existence, both visually and in words. “Perhaps something never happened if no one remembers it,” she writes. “Perhaps there’s no truth. Just memory and words.” Coupled with her words are these haunting collages, many composed of documents and paper fragments of her past. She writes dialogue with her mother directly in the spaces on each picture as if conducting an interview. Other collages are family photographs, some with faces etched out as if demonstrating how they dwell in the shadows of her history. Collectively, the collages tell the parallel story; they weave into and out of the word-epistles. The letters and the collages are rare jewels. They both enhance and magnify the threads that bind the story together from word to image. Her poet’s sense of the spare and lyrical is ever-present in the art and the words. Often, Chang’s language stuns us with its beauty and insight. “Maybe our desire for the past grows after the decay of our present, she writes. “When the present is more than we can hold, it turns into history. And the future turns into water. The water between your countries.” It is this water that her family journeyed over to find their destiny. Chang feels her place in America, but the book she creates also pays homage to those who made that journey and who, in turn, made her a unique part of a new nation, a new home. This is an immigrant story, and Chang pays artful attention to this most American of ideas. She wonders if memory is different for immigrants, “for people who leave so much behind. Memory isn’t something that blooms but something that bleeds internally, something to be stopped. Memory hides because it isn’t useful.” It is clearly the calling of the poet-artist to bring the memory forward, to shine light, muted or harsh, to illuminate the darkness of experience, of grief, of sorrow, of regret. There are gaps in her family history that she does not fully understand and wants to explore. Memories, dreams, reflections, all kaleidoscope together in the form of questions she did not ask at the time, or did not find the answers to later. “The things that didn’t matter at the time are often the most urgent questions after someone has died,” she writes. She devotes much to a discussion of silence and grief. What is not said speaks volumes. It is silence that cannot be undone, and in that way, Chang tells us, it is like death. The story ends when no one remembers the words, the people in the photographs, the significance of things. But the dead are wise. They know things. “By the time we die,” Chang writes, “we know everything we need to know.” Those of us left behind must wonder what the dead have taken with them. It is up to the living to remember the strands of the story and continue it. Chang circles back to writing at the end. She recognizes that dragging a “not-yet-ready memory” into the light is often painful. It is difficult and lacerating. “More and more,” she writes, “I think writing is not a choice but an act of patience. An act of listening to silence, into silence.” It is in silence that, paradoxically, we hear voices. In silence, we communicate with the dead, with our own souls, and where the world is still enough to hear our own breath rushing in and out of our lives. It takes bravery and courage to listen to the silences and become aware. Victoria Chang models such heroism for us, and the result is a shimmering and beautiful book.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Victoria Beige

    An accomplished Author, even though we are humans: I use African American muses to describe and tell in my poetry, mainly, African American in many situations, memory is important to African American male "Mind of God", because of the issues of " Chattel Slavery": Building America through cement, and all kinds of tools to make modern country, of course, along side other races, tribes, clans, sub cultures. It takes bricks, cement, stones, and modern tools to build a country. How does one review a An accomplished Author, even though we are humans: I use African American muses to describe and tell in my poetry, mainly, African American in many situations, memory is important to African American male "Mind of God", because of the issues of " Chattel Slavery": Building America through cement, and all kinds of tools to make modern country, of course, along side other races, tribes, clans, sub cultures. It takes bricks, cement, stones, and modern tools to build a country. How does one review a book they got the gist of but read fully, is it not to reveal the story, narrative, plot? Or out Laziness, to save money, or egomania? I read novel/books etc. I review as much as possible, it is good to know books/novel before I do a review! "I must have this" is a complaint about memory, "I must buy this", "this relationship must not end", also. In Somali families when I was growing up adults hardly talked about their issues, or told me in an interactive way what problem they had. My late Father was an exception through: Art, music, homework, hobbies, tv watching he thought me to have a good inner life, my reality was independent of others! He died and about two weeks later I got married! I, always, secretly hoped that my future Husband would not be like my Dad because my Dad has a special place in my heart!! I wanted my future Husband to have his own identity! Having not lived with or met my husband before we got married: I had panic attacks and felt that I was making a huge mistake by having said yes to his marriage proposal! I was trying to understand him as I never thought that he was " The one" before that time, even though I use to watch his music videos! I heard, only good things about him, but I was afraid because I was not a, showbiz person, so I didn't what to say to him things maybe, that/ I will offend him. I could not tell anyone, I signed a Confidentially Agreement, I was alone in this decision. Nothing helped, then one day he said ok, you can have this, this and that too, all panic instantly went away and I was happy again. This is memory, a reality that we were are both in, and when there is trauma in ones life a good Therapist, good family and friends maybe will help the process. Mute, deaf and blind that is how some Somali women and men, boys and girls use to grow up during the 70s when I was young.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

    There is such brilliance in these letters, and I was surprised by how subtle and yet powerful many lines were in conveying the fragments of stories and the silences from both of her parents. I had to reread lines because I was so struck by how acutely Chang observed and articulated what I hadn’t before noticed or understood about silence and grief. It made me think deeply of my own family history, what I’ve tried to ask (and ask again) of family members and how there is a story within the story There is such brilliance in these letters, and I was surprised by how subtle and yet powerful many lines were in conveying the fragments of stories and the silences from both of her parents. I had to reread lines because I was so struck by how acutely Chang observed and articulated what I hadn’t before noticed or understood about silence and grief. It made me think deeply of my own family history, what I’ve tried to ask (and ask again) of family members and how there is a story within the story of posing these questions and of the efforts involved and the dynamics that are happening. There is so much care and affection, and there is also the wondering aloud of why or how intimacies were or weren’t happening. The reflections on childhood, on young adulthood, on putting her father in memory care, and parenting are intimate and meaningful, not only for the narrative she is piecing together but for all narratives of grief and silence.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Declan Fry

    Victoria Chang, a poet who rose to prominence with her last collection, Obit, brings together addresses to the people and ideas that have influenced her life in this lyrical memoir. Many of her addressees are family — but silence, the body, language, and even the Ford Motor company are included. The book's blend of memoir, letter, poetry, archival documentation, and handwritten notes works beautifully; photos, too, regularly punctuate the text, providing a visual accompaniment to the book's rhythm Victoria Chang, a poet who rose to prominence with her last collection, Obit, brings together addresses to the people and ideas that have influenced her life in this lyrical memoir. Many of her addressees are family — but silence, the body, language, and even the Ford Motor company are included. The book's blend of memoir, letter, poetry, archival documentation, and handwritten notes works beautifully; photos, too, regularly punctuate the text, providing a visual accompaniment to the book's rhythms Continue reading: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-10-1...

  11. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

    Merits a constant reread while treasuring small daggers of crystal phrases. Hard to say more about this but I’ll have to reflect more. Chang is inscribing her memory and self history when immigrant families often have so little tangible family documentation.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Dipali

    5 is too few stars for this.

  13. 4 out of 5

    SGL

    "The things that didn't matter at the time are often the most urgent questions after someone has died." "The things that didn't matter at the time are often the most urgent questions after someone has died."

  14. 4 out of 5

    Vicki Miko

    a gift for being sad

  15. 4 out of 5

    Nativida

    Gorgeous

  16. 4 out of 5

    Beth Anne

    I love a visual memoir, I love an epistolary book, I love reckoning with how the past haunts and inhabits us through our ancestors: this book delivers goodness on all these fronts.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kristin

    Absolutely floored.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Shaina Clingempeel

    An incredible book so far, and it's really informing my own writing. Such a fascinating exploration of memory, silence, loss, identity, and more. I'm reading this after having her book "Obit" about a year ago. This will be another favorite. xx An incredible book so far, and it's really informing my own writing. Such a fascinating exploration of memory, silence, loss, identity, and more. I'm reading this after having her book "Obit" about a year ago. This will be another favorite. xx

  19. 4 out of 5

    Maelin

    the beginning was incredible, I felt so deeply for the questions about history that can no longer be asked, and I'm envious of what she did with the photos and the poems and phrases she attaches to them. I feel inspired by the art that can be made out of unknowing, abandonment, asking seemingly pointless questions, that are all that you have in the end. It fell flat for me when I got to the letters about writing. Still very interested in reading her poetry books, as the poetry fragments in this the beginning was incredible, I felt so deeply for the questions about history that can no longer be asked, and I'm envious of what she did with the photos and the poems and phrases she attaches to them. I feel inspired by the art that can be made out of unknowing, abandonment, asking seemingly pointless questions, that are all that you have in the end. It fell flat for me when I got to the letters about writing. Still very interested in reading her poetry books, as the poetry fragments in this book were my favorite part.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Audrey

    So intensely personal yet relatable. The tone is set from the very beginning on how we don't really know our parents. The pictures and letters with her parents are transformed within from the author's perspective. This is a gorgeous collection the will enhance and enrich your inner being. I received an arc from the publisher but all opinions are my own. ETA: Staff Pick 11/21 So intensely personal yet relatable. The tone is set from the very beginning on how we don't really know our parents. The pictures and letters with her parents are transformed within from the author's perspective. This is a gorgeous collection the will enhance and enrich your inner being. I received an arc from the publisher but all opinions are my own. ETA: Staff Pick 11/21

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

  22. 5 out of 5

    Rebekah

  23. 4 out of 5

    Edna

  24. 5 out of 5

    Paco

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sydney Cimarolli

  26. 4 out of 5

    Katy

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lily Wang

  28. 4 out of 5

    Brice Fuqua

  29. 5 out of 5

    Andreea Zbăgan

  30. 4 out of 5

    Bsday

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