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

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

Chen Chen. BOA, $16 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-1-942683-33-9

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. “I thought I could/ tell this story, give it a way out of itself,” he writes. To this end he recounts a personal history in which he playfully addresses deeply serious issues, particularly a longing to defy the fate prescribed to him by family members or others’ cultural ideas of normalcy: “I am not the heterosexual neat freak my mother raised me to be.” 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. He also toys with language, as when he mulls the plight of someone’s ill mother: “all I can think of is how sick’s/ also a word for ‘cool.’ ” Moving between whimsy and sobriety, Chen both exhibits and defies vulnerability—an acute reminder that there are countless further possibilities. (Apr.)