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When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities | Bloodaxe Books

Chen Chen

When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities

Chen Chen

Publication Date : 20 Jun 2019

ISBN: 9781780374864

Pages: 65
Size :216 x 138mm
Rights: World

Foreword by Jericho Brown

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 refreshingly candid and entertainingly provocative collection fully embraces the loss, grief, and abundant joy that come with charting one’s own path in identity, life and love.

‘Chen Chen refuses to be boxed in or nailed down. He is a poet of Whitman’s multitudes and of Langston Hughes’ 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.’ – Jericho Brown

‘If I have to pick poetry favourites, which is always hardest, they have to include: Chen Chen When I grow up I want to be a list of further possibilities’ – Polly Atkin, The Lonely Crowd (Books of the Year 2019)

‘Chen Chen’s When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities asks how one might find humour, hope and joy amid the tensions that arise from conflicting loyalties. Queer, Asian-American and immigrant experiences collide to inform Chen’s sensual and vivid verse which attests to the surreal and dream-like nature of memory… Following in the footsteps of Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg and Frank O’Hara, Chen reaches for the sublime by offering his reader the seemingly quotidian… Chen reminds us in this tender and free-wheeling debut that all relationships are “a feat of engineering”, whether with one’s country, one’s family, or oneself.’ – Mary Jean Chan, The Guardian

‘In a world of bombastic corporate LGBT Pride and an America publicly grappling with immigrant difference and integration, this is essential reading for “love & forgiveness”…’ – Alex Pryce, The Poetry Review

‘Chen Chen’s poems continually surprise and delight me, with their luscious long lines and unfurling waves of imagery — from falling snow, to croissants, to Asian American sex symbols. Each time I come back to this collection I find something new; an image I read too quickly the first time, too hungry to take in the whole poem all at once. Some of my favourite, most tender love poems in the world live here in this book — love poems addressed not just to lovers but to parents, friends, food, and to the self.’ -  Nina Powles, National Poetry Library Staff Picks Summer 2022, on When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities

'Heartfelt and light-hearted yet palpably rooted in the immigrant experience, Chinese American poet Chen Chen’s stunning collection of poetry When I Grow Up I want to be a List of Further Possibilities, ponders on the sense of self as it moves through the multiplicities of life in its existential shades, tinged with the desperate longing of human bonding. The overarching personal voice of his queer, Chinese-American immigrant identity frames his journey right on from his childhood days, to growing up, having a troubled equation with his mother for his sexuality to finding love while still yearning for it. Even as he roves from one subject to another, the divergences delve into the microcosm of the family while also touching upon the age-old, pervading themes of love and loss, sorrow, farewell and more. Yet, seeing his life through an adolescent’s perspective never quite leaves the poems.' - The Telegraph India (Nine powerful books of poetry)

‘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.’ – Sherman Alexie

‘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.’ – Bruce Smith

‘A debut collection that cannot be ignored… 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… 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

‘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, ‘How Poetry Came to Matter Again’, 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 recognise 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

‘A book that is miraculous in all its pain, trauma, and humor… This is a book that is part elegy for the past and part love song for the future. This remarkable debut is hopefully the first of many possibilities to come.’ —Victoria Chang, Tupelo Quarterly

Chen Chen: PoetryLA Interview

Chen Chen is interviewed by Lisa Grove, discusses his work and reads poems from When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities.


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Chen Chen's debut collection reviewed in The Guardian; interview on Wasfiri's Craft Podcast. National Poetry Library staff pick, August 2022. BBC Radio 3's Breakfast...

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