WINNER OF THE A. POULIN, JR. POETRY PRIZE
LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR POETRY
ON PUBLISHERS WEEKLY'S HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE 2017
ON NPR BOOKS' 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.
PRAISE FOR WHEN I GROW UP I WANT TO BE A LIST OF FURTHER POSSIBILITIES
"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."
"Debut poet 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."
"Chen Chen’s work is versatile, skillfully adapting to different forms and functions; on one page, there will be a traditional poem, lines grouped together in rhythmic couplets. On another, lines run together into paragraphs, blurring the difference between poetry and prose. Chen Chen’s poems are odes and elegies, considerations of everyday life. In When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, Chen Chen muses his way through the idea of inheritance (specifically, what it means to inherit things like love and family), a concept that is central to his identity as a queer Chinese-American immigrant. American Book Award winner Jericho Brown gave When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities his seal of approval in his introduction to the book."
"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 potentialcould 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."
"I am drawn to poetry about the difficulties of family, about the pain of feeling one is a disappointment to their parents, about the sense of separation that can come as a result. Chen Chen’s debut collection is filled with work which explores this universe. This is tricky subject matter to tackle, because it lends itself to both rant and cloying sentimentality and it’s easy (I know from experience) to have them go sideways like a car on ice. . . . The result of Chen Chen’s unique take is that many of the poems in this book show how joy and pain, far from being opposites, coexist and even exist symbiotically."
—Brian Spears, The Rumpus
"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."
"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
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
© BOA Editions, Ltd. 2017