Each of the poems in Hanging Exhibits responds to a work of art (often, but not strictly, paintings), but this collection goes more than a step beyond traditional ekphrastic poetry. While Phoebe Wang often makes direct reference to details in the paintings she’s calling out (a Google image search will fill in the blanks, if you’re no expert), she’s predominantly using artwork as a launching pad for personal recollection.
Follow Wang down the rabbit hole: these art-inspired poems are all about her mother — Josephine Wang, an artist — and often touch on the ways in which making art has intertwined with their lives and relationship. The lengthiest entry in this chapbook is written in response to Anne Carson’s poem “The Glass Essay” which, not coincidentally, is about Carson’s mother. This is a many-layered and cyclical work.
“In the gallery of memory / there are no neutral colours,” says Wang, and true to that sentiment, she has crafted a vibrant portrayal of her childhood and her mother’s place in it. It’s an entirely idyllic rendering, mind you, but the choice of which memories to recall is ultimately hers, even if they paint an incomplete picture. (Scott Bryson)