Poetry Shelf Eight Poets, Eight Sentences: Chen Chen’s When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Possibilities

When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, Chen Chen, Boa Editions, 2017

I am a gay sipper, & my mother has placed what’s left of her hope on my brothers.

She wants them to gulp up the world, spit out solid degrees, responsible
              grandchildren to gobble.

They will be better than mangoes, my brothers.

Though I have trouble imagining what that could be.

Flying mangoes, perhaps. Flying mango-tomato hybrids. beautiful sons.

 

from ‘Self-Portrait As So Much Potential’

Each poem is a list of further possibilities that stretch out with such word beauty to embrace life. Love sadness mother lover constellations emigration wonder kissing winter grandmother song. There is sublime melody in the story and there is sublime story in the song. Picture a footpath incandescent after rainfall and the goosebump tattoo on your skin is what you get as you read. Lists appear; like miniature self portraits, like slow-release puffs of life, suprising, complex, stingingly real. You cannot imbibe Chen’s poems without imbibing word joy. Poetry as a meditation device, contemplation. Luminous.

I want to say, No, it’s completely different, which in many ways it is, but really
I’m remembering what a writer friend once said to me, All you write about
is being gay or Chinese—
how I can’t get over that, & wonder if it’s true,

if everything I write is in some way an immigrant narrative or another
coming out story. I recall a recent poem, featuring fishmongers in Seattle,
& that makes me happy—clearly one that isn’t about being gay or Chinese.

But then I remember a significant number of Chinese immigrants
live in Seattle & how I found several of the Pike Place fishmongers
attractive when I visited, so I guess that poem’s about being gay

& Chinese, too. So I say to my friend, I’m not sure, & keep eating
the popcorn. Thank god we chose the “family size” bag. Can’t stop
the greasy handfuls, noisy mouthfuls. Can’t eat popcorn quietly.

 

from ‘Poem in Noisy Mouthfuls’

 

Chen Chen is a poet and essayist interested in Asian American histories and futures, family (bio and found), queer friendship, multilingualism, hybrid texts, humor, and pop culture. 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. He is the recipient of fellowships from Kundiman, the Saltonstall Foundation, and Lambda Literary. He earned his BA at Hampshire College and his MFA at Syracuse University. He lives in Lubbock, Texas, where he is pursuing a PhD in English and Creative Writing at Texas Tech University. His second book of poems, Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency, is forthcoming from BOA Editions in Sept. 2022. His first book of essays, In Cahoots with the Rabbit God, is forthcoming from Noemi Press in late 2023.

Chen Chen’s website

Boa editions page

Winner of the A. POULIN, JR. POETRY PRIZE
Winner of the GLCA New Writers Award
Winner of the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry
Longlisted for the National Book Award for Poetry
Finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry
A Barabara Gittings Literature Award Honor Book

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