Chen Chen

Chen - When I Grow Up Cover

About When I Grow Up I Want to be a List of Further Possibilities:


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:

NPR Books “Poetry to Pay Attention to: 2017’s Best Verse” * Publishers Weekly and Rebellious Magazine Holiday Gift Guide 2017 * A “Best of 2017” selection at The Adroit Journal, The Brooklyn Rail, Buzzfeed Books, Entropy, and Library Journal

“Chen Chen’s When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities is a debut collection that cannot be ignored. This collection is by turns comic, dark, self-obsessed, playful, and restless. …This is a book whose narrator is bursting at the seams with energy because he has so much to say. …His strategies of association allow him to say a lot, connect a lot, and feel fresh. These poems are embracing of our human flaws while also turning to the positive connections we make in our lives.” —Judges, GLCA New Writers Award 

“As the title suggests, in Chen’s work the new lyric ‘I’ is open-ended, cumulative, marked by potential. His poems boast the frank ease of a late night Gchat with a bright, emotionally available friend… Like the great mid-century New York poet Frank O'Hara, Chen has an avid eye for everyday details that bridge emotional, domestic, and cultural landscapes. …It’s a bracingly wry meta-reflection on his story of identity—the loving particulars balanced by a dose of filial bitterness. Chen is a rarity among this new cohort of poets.“ —Jesse Lichtenstein, The Atlantic 

“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… 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 are countless further possibilities.” Publishers Weekly ★ 

“Visually vivid, erotic and intimate, at times bitingly funny, and refreshingly world-observant, Chen’s poems are steeped in the pain of being other as both Asian American and gay… The standout poem ‘First Light’ enumerates many different, often outré ways Chen envisions having come to this country, embodying the kind of imagination it takes to adapt to a new culture. Throughout, there’s ratcheted-up emotion yet an amazing command of language: ‘I carried in my snake mouth a boxful / of carnal autobiographies’ says the world. VERDICT: An A. Poulin Jr. Poetry Prize winner; expansive work for expansive audiences.” Library Journal ★