Review of When I Grow Up I Want to be a List of Further Possibilities by Chen Chen
When I Grow Up I Want to be a List of Further Possibilities by Chen Chen is a collection of poems centering around what it means to be Chinese American, gay, and grappling with parents that do not accept him. At times it is humorous, and other times his deeply serious about his desires.
In its penultimate poem, and, I think, the heart of the collection, ‘Poem in Noisy Mouthfuls’ works to dismantle and push back against the narrative that, “All you write about is/being gay or Chinese.” by refuting, “Wish I had thought to say to him, All you write about is/being white/or an asshole. Wish I had said, No, I already write about/everything—“. This discussion of writing exclusively about being Asian has cropped up before, and I feel that Chen Chen defies that in a powerful way.
Other poems I was deeply moved by were ‘Race to the Tree’, ‘Talented Human Being’, ‘Second Thoughts on a Winter Afternoon’, ‘Didier Et Zizou’, and ‘Chapter VIII’. Chen Chen has a unique, at times abrasive, but always authentic, voice. The collection works initially to show the wound that is created by Chen Chen’s family and the Chinese society around him. Though, throughout the collection he grows to understand himself and his sexuality through the lines, “The parents wait for the child to become a western bird,/but the child/keeps leaking into a northern lake.” The collection works to challenge white heteronormative narritives, parental expectations, Chinese traditions, death, sexuality, and the power structures each contain. I absolutely admired this collection.
Final Rating: 5/5
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Maxwell Suzuki is a writer, poet, and photographer based in Los Angeles.