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 exploration 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. With unexpected playfulness and irrepressible humour, 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 categorisations and pat answers. Instead, the book offers an insatiable curiosity about how it is we keep finding ways to hold one another. Chen Chen's debut When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities was published in the UK by Bloodaxe in 2019.
‘This second collection by the China-born poet continues his exploration of family – both blood and chosen – examining what one inherits and what one invents as a queer Asian American living through the era of Trump, mass shootings and pandemic.’ – The Bookseller (New Titles Non-Fiction: October 2022)
‘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
‘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 on Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency
‘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 realise 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 on Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency
Praise for When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities
‘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
‘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
‘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
‘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
‘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
‘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
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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