To read Jenny Zhang is to embrace primal states: pleasure, hunger, longing and rage. In her second book of poetry, My Baby First Birthday, Zhang glories in the messiness of living while probing how the instinct to nurture can sometimes be matched by the impulse to destroy ... The collection is fascinated with both motherhood and new life—the fierce giving and taking of unconditional love and the traumas that can result from this exchange ... Zhang’s observations, peppered cheekily with Internet shorthand, are flanked by graphic and often gross imagery—something readers of her past books, the short-story collection...and her poetry debut...will recognize ... Reading these poems, one gets the sense that Zhang wants to overwhelm readers— not to hold them in her thrall, although she could easily do so, but to fulfill an earnest wish for them to feel the richness of everything that they can, emotionally and physically, even if that complicates their reality.
...more focused in its intent: to meditate on what it is to try to exist in a world that tells you time and again you are less than because of your identity — or that your value is only located in your suffering ... While there are plenty of instances of suffering and trauma in these poems, it is largely an exploration of what it is to be born in a world that is hostile, and how to keep moving through it once you realize that is the case ... The confusion sexuality, eroticism, and desire inserts into the already complicated reality of living isn’t lost on Zhang — indeed, it is a consistent concern she approaches time and again ... Zhang is able to consider such complicated topics through both expansiveness and brevity ... For readers who relate directly to Zhang’s life experiences, I can only imagine she gives voice to so many of the feelings that have haunted them their whole lives.
The daring second collection from Zhang...brings together more than 90 poems that, using rage and humor, both critically and flippantly address American and global culture. Zhang takes on racism and Asian stereotypes, sexism and gendered violence, class terror, and what it means to be born into—and defined by—oppression from the start ... The more personal and familial poems in this collection, however, move toward a kind of young adult writing, and rely on provocation and sexual imagery. In this stirring book, Zhang offers a bounty of memorable lines that celebrate and question the difficulties of womanhood and survival.