Purchased: Harvard Book Store, 2018.
Recommended By: Seeing Chen Chen feature at The Boston Poetry Slam at The Cantab Lounge . So, technically, recommended by Cantab Booking Guru, Cassandra DeAlba.
Pages Of Poetry: 73
Recommended For: Anyone looking for confessional poems that go deeper than just the narrator's experience. Chen Chen is really talented at using specificic, very personal stories to evoke ... I don't want to say empathy, it's deeper than that ... a shared experience in readers/audiences, even if the reader/listener hasn't had precisely the same experience, there is an overwhelming I Know That feeling, whether it's pain, joy, frustration, or some more complicated emotion.
A couple of weeks ago . I read about yet another old . white . academic nobody . going after a younger . not white poet . for not being A Real Poet . for not writing American Poetry . and I went to my bookshelf to see how someone could be so completely wrong . about a person . about an art form
I don't know what's more . American . than Chen Chen's book . When I Grow Up I Want To Be A List Of Further Possibilities . A set of mainly confessional free verse . about trying to fit in . What the fuck . is more American than this experience ? Being torn down for the trivial differences . in a narrative about feeling like one doesn't belong . anywhere . Isn't this exactly The America we are all living in . in the twenty-first century ? Trying to just be a human . a self . while a bunch of almost always old . almost always white . almost always people . try and tell you that your experience isn't as important . as the Friends reruns they imagine their life was . or whatever fake ass housewives of a terrible city is currently playing on cable . which only Boomers are still watching . at this point . But even those shows are mostly about trying to fit in . right ? Why else bother ?
I don't want to die . But I'm afraid of being old . and white . at the same time . I was young and white once . It wasn't my best look . I said some bullshit . when trying to say the right things . So sometimes when I was saying the right things . people still heard the bullshit
I find no bullshit in Chen Chen's writing . because I get no sense that Chen Chen is trying to convince me of anything . There is no You Folks Won't Believe What Happened To Me . There is only what happened . You . the reader . do the work of taking meaning from the experiences . but it doesn't feel like work
Chen Chen's poetry isn't homework reading . isn't . let me take my ritalin so I can get through this . poetry . It is a book you want to read in chunks . and put down for a while . and pick it back up . knowing you won't have to struggle to get back into the collection . you'll always want more . You'll wish the book was longer
1. For I Will Do/Undo What Was Done/Undone To Me. If there were ever a time to be nationalist, it's not right now. Not just in America, but anywhere. Now is not a time for flags and propoganda. It is a time for compassion and surviving, and helping others survive. What, besides a nation, would you pledge your allegiance to? It can be an idea, a landmark, an institution, your job, a food. Not a person. A dog would be fine. A cat or a lizard. A deer or a goldfish. Feral or domesticated. Not a person, though. People are as trustworthy as nations.
2. In This Economy. Start your poem by writing a personal ad for something other than romance. A job, a roommate, a set of bookshelves, then start to digress from the personals format until you are just focused on why you want this thing, and how you hope to achieve it. Let the poem go so wide afield of the original concept that you can theoretically go back and cut out the personal ad aspect and still have an amazing poem.
3. Night Falls Like A Button. Tell your readers about your sleeping habit using as many images, and as few emotional adverbs and adjectives as possible.
4. Things Stuck In Other Things Where They Don't Belong. Find a picture of a friend or relative in an unusual place for them, doing something out of character. Talk about why it is out of character for them. Then put yourself somewhere in the picture. Do you make sense there? Why or why not?
5. Chapter VIII. One time, my current boyfriend destroyed me in Scrabble, partially because he played the word "faggot" on a triple word score. We don't play Scrabble anymore. Start a poem with a story about playing a board game or a video game, something where an argument occured. How was it resolved? If it was.
I've read this book at least three times through since I bought it in 2018. I'll definitely be reading it again. It's another book that I would feel equally comfortable giving to someone who's just getting into poetry, or to someone who's been immersed in a spoken word or an academic poetry community. There's a lot to each of these poems but it doesn't feel like work to comprehend or understand them. It's engaging, honest, and never feels like it's asking you for anything.
Where you can buy this book: Brookline Booksmith
What Should You Read After:
Ocean Vuong's Night Sky With Exit Wounds
Paul Guest's My Index Of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge
Shira Erlichman's Ode To Lithium
Erika Meitner's Copia
Sharon Olds's Satan Says