Evocative, Funny and Heartbreaking: Chen Chen – “When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities”

22 May

ChenChenFurtherPossibilities
With April having been National Poetry Month, May being Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and June being LGBT History Month, I thought I’d share a book that intersects all of these themes. Presenting: Chen Chen’s “When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities.”

Whenever I express my love for poetry, I tend to get the same reaction every single time – a look of horror. It’s understandable why. In school, we are usually taught old, hard-to-read poems. The vocabulary is hard to grasp, it’s hard to relate to and there is a constant pressure to analyze, analyze, analyze. That’s enough to swear anyone off poetry.

But shunning all of poetry is a loss. Like music, there’s always something for everyone. Contemporary poetry is rising in popularity and thankfully there is a diverse group of poets that are leading the way, telling stories that would have been silenced or relegated to obscurity in the past, and opening doors for future voices to be heard.

In “When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities,” Chen Chen’s poems are evocative, funny and heartbreaking. Here’s an excerpt from the title poem:

To be a 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.

Chen Chen writes beautifully about love, family, rejection, as well as queer and Asian American experiences. “When I Grow Up” is an accessible and well-written collection that not only acts as a good introduction to contemporary poetry, but has the ability to reach out to those who may feel invisible due to their race, sexuality, or other characteristic they feel defines them.

Besides being available in print from the Hoboken Library, Hoboken resident library card holders can borrow an ebook copy from Hoopla!

Do you have a favorite poet or book of poems?  Let us know in the comments!

Written by:
Samantha Evaristo

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