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.
To be good
ex/current friend for R. To be one last
inspired way to get back at R. To be relationship
advice for L. To be advice
for my mother.To be a more comfortable
hospital bed for my mother. To be
no more hospital beds. To be, in my spare time,
America for my uncle, who wants to be China
for me. To be a country of trafficless roads
& a sports car for my aunt, who likes to go
fast. To be a cyclone
of laughter when my parents say
their new coworker is like that, they can tell
because he wears pink socks, see, you don’t, so you can’t,
can’t be one of them. To be the one
my parents raised me to be—
a season from the planet
of planet-sized storms.
To be a backpack of PB&J & every
thing I know, for my brothers, who are becoming
their own storms. To be, for me, nobody,
homebody, body in bed watching TV. To go 2D
& be a painting, an amateur’s hilltop & stars,
Simple decoration for the new apartment
with you. To be close, J.,
to everything that is close to you—
blue blanket, red cup, green shoes
With pink laces.
To be the blue & the red.
The green, the hot pink.
“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
“The A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize honors a poet’s first book, and this book wears its radical innocence on its literal sleeve. It lives within this ‘never of knowing'—ecstatically, agonizingly, where every encounter has the capacity to astonish.”—Drunken Boat
“Chen balances the politics surrounding shame and desire with hearty doses of joy, humor, and whimsy in his vibrant debut collection. To consider the titular act of growing up—to recognize what potential could mean—Chen must make sense of his past to imagine a better future in his poems. . . . To this end he recounts a personal history in which he playfully addresses deeply serious issues, particularly a longing to defy the fate prescribed to him by family members or others’ cultural ideas of normalcy . . . As a gay, Asian-American poet, Chen casts his poems as both a refusal of the shame of sexuality and of centering whiteness or treating it as a highly desirable trait. Readers encounter sharp, delightful turns between poems, as Chen shifts from elegy to ode and back again. . . . Moving between whimsy and sobriety, Chen both exhibits and defies vulnerability—an acute reminder that there arecountless further possibilities.”—Publishers Weekly
“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 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
© BOA Editions, Ltd. 2017