What happens when everything falls away, when those you call on in times of need are themselves calling out for rescue?
In his highly anticipated second collection, Chen Chen continues his investigation of family, both blood and chosen, examining what one inherits and what one invents, as a queer Asian American living through an era of Trump, mass shootings, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Always at work in the wrecked heart of this new collection is a switchboard operator, picking up and connecting calls. Raucous 2 a.m. prank calls. Whispered-in-a-classroom emergency calls. And sometimes, its pages record the dropping of a call, a failure or refusal to pick up. With irrepressible humor and play, these anarchic poems celebrate life, despite all that would crush aliveness.
Hybrid in form and set in New England, West Texas, and a landlocked province of China, among other places, Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency refuses neat categorizations and pat answers. Instead, the book offers an insatiable curiosity about how it is we keep finding ways to hold onto one another.
Chen Chen was born in 1989 in Xiamen, China, and grew up in Massachusetts in the US. His first book-length collection, When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities (BOA Editions, US, 2017; Bloodaxe Books, UK, 2019), was longlisted for the National Book Award and won the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize, the Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLCA) New Writers Award, the Texas Book Award for Poetry, and the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry. The book was also a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry and named a Stonewall Honor Book. He had previously published two chapbooks, Kissing the Sphinx (Two of Cups Press, 2016) and Set the Garden on Fire (Porkbelly Press, 2015). His work has been widely acclaimed in the US, with Poets & Writers Magazine featuring him in their Inspiration Issue as one of ‘Ten Poets Who Will Change the World’. He earned his BA from Hampshire College and his MFA from Syracuse University, where he was a University Fellow, and is currently working on a PhD in English and Creative Writing through Texas Tech University as an off-site student and the recipient of a J.T. and Margaret Talkington Fellowship. He edits Underblong with the poet Sam Herschel Wein and serves as a contributing editor for Bettering American Poetry. Chen lives in frequently snowy Rochester, NY with his partner, Jeff Gilbert and their pug dog, Mr Rupert Giles. He is the 2018-2020 Jacob Ziskind Poet-in-Residence at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts.
“Chen Chen is one of my favorite poets writing today. His intuitive sense of humor makes me laugh out loud while reading his poems which brim with pathos. Humor cross-sections a heart, coating it with laughter while also ripping it in half. Parents, higher education, Sarah McLachlan, ice cream sandwiches, Backstreet Boys, all transform in Chen's poems to become the props that they always were. I also love how Chen's poems pay homage to other Asian American poets—Bhanu Kapil, Jennifer S. Cheng, Justin Chin, Marilyn Chin, and more. Whether he is writing about his partner, his mother, his dog, racism, the pastoral, homophobia, or academia, Chen continually reminds us how he has the writing skills to subvert everything, even himself. With long-lined poems, prose poems, tercets, and more, here is a poet who isn't afraid to become fluent in forms. Ultimately, Chen's poems are honest, without the performative film that layers so much today, and his poems leave me speechless and transformed.”
— Victoria Chang, author of OBIT
“These poems can do so much, they can tell you, for example, ‘what bees wear at night / when they want to feel sexy,’ these poems can be hilarious, even when grieving. These poems remember they are written in the late empire, inside this grief that is America of the early 2020s, and somehow these poems also console with all the things that grackles bring. Anyone who has a boyfriend or a mother should read these poems. Anyone who’s ever been made uncomfortable in this country in public or in private should read them, too. Anyone who likes to laugh out loud and then realize that they have learned something far more than a joke: that they are wiser from reading the lines: read these poems. Chen Chen is as real as poets can be.”
— Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic and Dancing in Odessa
"With humor, deep intelligence, and what feels to me like a luminous everyday philosophy, Chen Chen leads me 'through the wound of it.' It being life. In America. In the 21st Century. In a body touched by violence and care, grief and desire, hope and heavy knowledge. Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency is dolorous, riotous, rapturous."
— Tracy K. Smith, author of Such Color: New and Selected Poems