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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.
Excerpt from "we’ll be gone after these brief messages"
god stopped by in his magenta rowboat
i said god you have to stop stopping by
if you’re never going to tell me the meaning of life
god said life is meaningless
while language often means too much
my grandmother stopped by & said no
the meaning of life is love
the kind that produces children
why don’t you have a girlfriend yet
my mother stopped by & said look
he’s busy with his studies stop asking
god got back in his turquoise steamship
life is a joyful thing he said
it’s probably very good for you
Praise for Chen Chen
"Inviting, funny, “trying to be marvelous,” Chen Chen’s second volume lives up to its provocative title."
—Stephanie Burt, for Boston Globe's The Best Books of 2022
"I revel in Chen’s capaciousness, his lightning-fast modulations between silly and sober, his capacity to make poetry that is no less serious for being fun."
— Craig Morgan Teicher, poet and critic, for NPR's 2022 Books We Love
"These questioning, funny, and deeply humane poems pack a fantastic punch."
—Publishers Weekly, ★ Starred Review
“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
“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
Publication date: September 13, 2022
© BOA Editions, Ltd. 2021