When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities
A. Poulin, Jr. New Poets of America
Published by: BOA Editions Ltd.
Imprint: BOA Editions Ltd.
96 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
- Published: April 2017
LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR POETRY
WINNER OF THE THOM GUNN AWARD FOR GAY POETRY
WINNER OF THE GLCA NEW WRITERS AWARD
WINNER OF THE A. POULIN, JR. POETRY PRIZE
A LIBRARY JOURNAL BEST BOOK OF 2017 SELECTION: POETRY & LITERATURE
ON NPR BOOKS'S LIST OF "POETRY TO PAY ATTENTION TO: 2017'S BEST VERSE"
In this ferocious and tender debut, Chen Chen investigates inherited forms of love and family—the strained relationship between a mother and son, the cost of necessary goodbyes—all from Asian American, immigrant, and queer perspectives. Holding all accountable, this collection fully embraces the loss, grief, and abundant joy that come with charting one's own path in identity, life, and love.
In the Hospital
My mother was in the hospital & everyone wanted to be my friend.
But I was busy making a list: good dog, bad citizen, short
skeleton, tall mocha. Typical Tuesday.
My mother was in the hospital & no one wanted to be her friend.
Everyone wanted to be soft cooing sympathies. Very reasonable
pigeons. No one had the time & our solution to it
was to buy shinier watches. We were enamored with
what our wrists could declare. My mother was in the hospital
& I didn't want to be her friend. Typical son. Tall latte, short tale,
bad plot, great wifi in the atypical café. My mother was in the hospital
& she didn't want to be her friend. She wanted to be the family
grocery list. Low-fat yogurt, firm tofu. She didn't trust my father
to be it. You always forget something, she said, even when
I do the list for you. Even then.
Chen Chen was born in Xiamen, China, and grew up in Massachusetts. His work has appeared in two chapbooks and in such publications as Poetry, Gulf Coast, Indiana Review, Best of the Net, and The Best American Poetry. The recipient of the 2016 A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize, he has been awarded fellowships from Kundiman, the Saltonstall Foundation, Lambda Literary, and in 2015, he was a finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowships. He earned his BA at Hampshire College and his MFA at Syracuse University. Currently, he is pursuing a PhD in English and Creative Writing at Texas Tech University. Chen lives in Lubbock, Texas, with his partner, Jeff Gilbert, and their pug dog, Rupert Giles.
"What does Millennial poetry look like? One answer might be this wild debut from Chen Chen. He seems to run at the mouth, free-associating wildly, switching between lingo and 'higher' forms of diction. Nothing's out of bounds or off limits, no culture too 'pop' to find its place in poetry . . . nor anything too silly to point the way toward serious aims. And yet this is a deeply serious and moving book about Chinese-American experience, young love, poetry, family, and the family one makes amongst friends." –NPR Books
"Chen Chen’s debut collection is thoroughly of the moment, its energy devoted to explaining who Chen Chen is and how he got here. It tells the many stories that collude into identity: a mother, and a family, who cannot accept their son being gay, who blame it on their emigration, on the moral decay of the United States; a boy who grows up American, but is still seen as Chinese despite only the vaguest memories of the country and life there; a twenty-something, caught in the orbits of MFA programs, places like Brooklyn, the life of the precariat. All these are told in a fresh, playful, and often lonely voice shot through with references to high and low art, Celan and Kafka and Optimus Prime." –LA Review of Books
"The collection, as the title itself suggests, is about 'further possibilities,' about revising, reinventing, and reimagining the relational modes we currently have. If we are all tasked with being 'someone ‘for’ someone else—a son, a friend, a partner, a student, a dear love,' we cannot afford to be complacent or static in the ways that we inhabit and think about those relations. Interdependence is at the heart of Chen’s writing, and if we are to survive in these troubled times, we must continue to believe that there really are new ways to find the impossible honey." –Up the Staircase Quarterly
"The word ‘stanza’ means one thing when it refers to a poem: a snippet of text, a line or several. In Italian, it means ‘room.’ Poet Chen Chen combines those definitions when he writes, thinking: what should be in the room of this poem? In his earlier work, he began to answer that question with pieces that explored his own intersecting identities, parts of himself that other people told him could not exist at once..." –PBS NewsHour
"Chen Chen’s When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities has, in addition to a killer book title, a beautiful and complex story of identity to share. The collection tells describes a mother/son relationship from the perspective of an Asian American immigrant, queer son, and explores the complicated grief and love of familial bonds.” –Bustle
"Visually vivid, erotic and intimate, at times bitingly funny, and refreshingly world-observant, Chen’s poems are steeped in the pain of being other as both Asian American and gay. He’s excellent at relating the confusion of childhood, recalling “Mom & Dad’s/ idiot faces, yelling at me” as they confront his sexuality and grappling with the consequences of his heritage." –Library Journal
“Through the particular Chen reaches the universal. When I Grow Up I Want to be a List of Further Possibilities contains poems of friendship, love, family, the self, art, food, the contemporary moment, the past, and memory. Chen, I’m confident, will be an important voice in American poetry for years to come.” –The Rumpus
"Let’s waste no time: Chen Chen’s When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities is a brilliant first book. Scratch that—it is simply a brilliant book and one of my favorites of the year." –Lambda Literary
"Chen Chen’s marvelous debut collection is playful and full of wonder. Every poem sparkles with humor, curiosity, and relatable emotional content." –Anomaly
"Chen Chen refuses to be boxed in or nailed down. He is a poet of Whitman’s multitudes and of Langston Hughes's blues, of Dickinson's 'so cold no fire can warm me' and of Michael Palmer’s comic interrogation. What unifies the brilliance of When I Grow up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities is a voice desperate to believe that within every one of life’s sadnesses there is also hope, meaning, and—if we are willing to laugh at ourselves—humor. This is a book I wish existed when I first began reading poetry. Chen is a poet I’ll be reading for the rest of my life." –Jericho Brown
"Chen Chen is already one of my favorite poets ever. Funny, absurd, bitter, surreal, always surprising, and deeply in love with this flawed world. I'm in love with this book." –Sherman Alexie
"The radioactive spider that bit Chen Chen [isn’t that how first books get made?] gave him powers both demonic and divine. The bite transmitted vision, worry, want, memory of China, America’s grief, and People magazine, as well as a radical queer critique of the normative. What a gift that bite was—linguistic, erotic, politic and impolitic, idiosyncratic and emphatic. What a blessing and burden to write out of the manifold possibilities of that contact." –Bruce Smith
"I so deeply love this poet’s imagination where old shoes might walk back up the steps of a house, where one speaker pledges ‘allegiance to the already fallen snow’ and another says ‘Let’s put our briefcases on our heads, in the sudden rain, // & continue meeting as if we’ve just been given our names.’ In precise and gorgeous language, Chen Chen shows us that the world is strange and bright with ardor. He reminds us of the miracle of the sensual and sensory. This is a book I will return to whenever I forget what a poem can do, whenever I am in need of song or hope. If a peony wrote poems in a human language, I think that these would be his poems. If the rain wrote poems… I mean: this is an important work by an astonishing and vital voice." –Aracelis Girmay
- National Book Award for Poetry
- Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry
- Barbara Gittings Literature Award Honor Book
- A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize
- Lambda Literary Award