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

4.30  ·  Rating details ·  2,160 ratings  ·  334 reviews
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 collection fully embraces the loss, grief, and abundant joy that come with charting one’s own path in identi ...more
Paperback, 96 pages
Published April 11th 2017 by BOA Editions Ltd.
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 ·  2,160 ratings  ·  334 reviews

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Jul 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Excellent poetry collection. The third section is the strongest and the title poem is unforgettable. Lots to admire here in terms of imagery, energy, really, the whole poetic package.
Sep 13, 2019 rated it liked it
Recommended to carol. by: Geoff
#3 on the recent attempt at TBR books that Turned Out to be Okay But Not Amazing

Asthetics were totally pleasing and tempting. Love the cover, love the formatting of the poetry, love the repetition of the name. And that title! How could I not give it a try?

Along with a 'Foreword,' it contains an introduction, three sections and an afterword. In the foreword, Jericho Brown writes, "a speaker whose obsessive and curious nature is that of an adult who refuses to give up seeing through the eyes of a
Nov 09, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: lgbtq, poetry
3.5 stars

I dislike the glorification of straight, white, male poets, and I feel so grateful to Chen Chen for sharing his queer, Asian American, immigrant perspective with us. His poems hit me hardest when he shared sometimes painful, sometimes joyful moments surrounding these underrepresented identities. Poems like "Race to the Tree," "Self-Portrait With & Without," and "Poem in Noisy Mouthfuls" all struck me with their curiosity, novelty of language, and emotional richness. When Chen writes abo
Apr 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
“Aren’t all great love stories, at their core, great mistakes?”
― Chen Chen


This is a brilliant debut for Chen Chen. It is one of my favorite poetry books of all time. Never have I felt that a poet has written his poems based upon my life like I have with Chen. These poems are smart, funny, and heartbreaking. Chen has faced so much pain and rejection in his life, most of it caused by his parents. That his spirit has survived, and thrived, is a testament to his inner strength, and ability to forgi
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I read this the day it was named to the National Book Award for Poetry longlist for 2017. In one of the poems, Chen Chen mentions that a friend told him that all his friends are about being gay and Chinese (which has also made that poem about being gay and Chinese!) I loved the playful language, exploration of identity, and had fun reading some of these out loud.

My favorites:
Race to the Tree

Talented Human Beings
"Every day I am asked to care about white people
especially if they've been kidnapped
Oct 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Lauren by: Jenny (Reading Envy)
I've read a lot of poetry this year - well, a lot for me - and Chen Chen's debut collection easily rises to the top. It is hip, it is millenial, and it shouldn't be dismissed because of this. Chen's playfulness, his free associations will amuse readers, but the themes of family, losing faith, and identity makes this even more memorable.

Dear Jenny reads a poem from this book and discusses a few more thoughts on the book in episode 097 of her Reading Envy podcast here!
Jan 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: tender
read this as soon as it found its way to my mailbox. its beautifully written and so so sincere. poplar street was my first encounter with chen chen and it remains as heart shattering the 100th time around
Aug 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Excellent collection of poems. I really liked Chen Chen’s sense of humour and his strong imagination reflected in the poems.

This collection is about love, family and immigration. Recommended.
Lisa Vo
Aug 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, poetry
"No, I already write about everything—& everything is salt, noise, struggle, hair, carrying, kisses, leaving, myth, popcorn, mothers, bad habits, questions."

WOW. Just wow.
Nadine Jones
Jul 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
These poems are sneaky. They might start with a simple metaphor that's straight out of second grade English class, "Night falls like a button..." and they go somewhere else quite unexpected, "... from your grandmother's coat. You worry with your thumb the strangers page." The poems are quirky, fun, surprising, emotional, intimate, and intelligent. I want to meet Chen and hang out with him, but I'm afraid I wouldn't be nearly interesting enough to hold his attention, because he's obviously a geni ...more
John Madera
Nov 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Knowingly and comically upending millennial oversharing and other false confessionals, Chen Chen's When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities is a series of meditations on family, identity, and sex, and especially exile, as horror-show and possibility space, externally forced or self-imposed exile toward, within, and away from "this country of burning," offering a "metaphysics of madness," but also a grammar of grief, an ontology of loss, and an epistemology of unknowing. ...more
Oct 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: gay
i really think it’s the line that goes “i tried to ask my parents to leave the room / but not my life / it was very hard / because my life was small” that does it for me. i think it sums up everything i am currently feeling right now, as the prospect of being rejected gets closer, and the desire to be who i am contradicts everything and everyone i love. and the idea that being gay makes your life small, which makes you cherish and hold onto the people in your life so much, even if they’re gonna ...more
Jan 05, 2021 rated it really liked it
Unexpected, witty, inventive. Makes you want to reread the lines again and again to uncover more magic.
Sep 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
I don't really know how to review poetry, so I'm just going to share some of my favorite lines.

"headache of beauty."

"I want this winter inside my lungs. Inside my brain & dreams."

"I'm trying out this thing where questions about love & forgiveness

are a form of work I'd rather not do alone. I'm trying to say,
Let's put our briefcase on our heads, in the sudden rain,

& continue meeting as if we've just been given our names."

Reading Chen talk about his experience of coming out to his parents was so s
May 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018indch, poetry
I've reviewed this elsewhere but it keeps popping up on my GR feed so I'll say here that I loved these poems about being gay (particularly in the context of a family that can't accept it), on being Asian American, on immigration. Chen Chen brings a control of language, a vision, and sometimes a rueful sense of humor to these subjects that helps mitigate the pain around them. Also he captures the passion of sexuality beautifully and the complicated relationships in families.

I'm very glad to have
Jun 06, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lgbttiqa
The first time I looked at the title of this book, I remember smiling inwardly at myself and thinking back to my teenage years. The way I struggled to accept my place in the world as a person who defied the normativity dictated by my social and cultural environment, my path towards personal acceptance, and what my future represented; a series of uncertainties and a series of possibilities. That is why I do not feel alien to Chen Chen's words. Reading this book has been like receiving the warm em ...more
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
Good debut poetry collection about love, being an immigrant in the US, and his relationship with his mother. Much of this centers around him being gay and the struggle for acceptance by his mother. While many of the poems are relatable and wise, I often felt that he didn’t go deep enough with emotion or use of language. 3.5⭐️
Andrew Howdle
Aug 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an original debut and challenging in an unusual way. In his Foreward, Jericho Brown describes this challenge as coming from the voice of "an adult who refuses to give up seeing through the eyes of an adolescent." And the result is a sort-of Blakeian voice that can perceive innocence and experience at the same moment: Heaven and Hell sit together, though Chen Chen, accepts neither. Recently, I was reading an analysis of Beckett that understood the nature of boredom exactly. Beckett's bore ...more
Colin Hardy
Jun 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Crammed full of similes, metaphor and phrases you would like to quote, these are the thoughts of a young man who questions his life and his place within the lives of others. There is humour and sadness mixed throughout a rolling series of vignettes.

The first part is a tale of angst and personal growth, of hope and failure to live up to the ideals of others. Mixed in with all this is a young man placed out of his element in a new culture, with emotions that do not match the norm and having to gro
This is one of the most wonderful books of any genre I’ve ever read. I am smitten. Chen writes with such a magical and clear-headed blend of humor, vernacular, tenderness, observation, and craft skill that I am left speechless. I savored every poem like candy, and stretched out my reading of it so it wouldn’t have to end. I was lucky enough to see Chen read at The Rumpus’s Queer Syllabus night at AWP (aka one of the best nights of my life), and he is as much of a delight in person as his poems a ...more
Rachel Lauve
Oct 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Chen Chen’s debut collection is radically tender in how it approaches every intersection of his identity as a gay Chinese American man, regardless of whether or not the poems are a direct representation of his own life or not. If someone were to critique this collection, they might say exactly what the writer friend in “Poem in Noisy Mouthfuls” says, as Chen writes, “but really / I’m remembering what a writer friend once said to me, All you write about / is being gay or Chinese—how I can’t get o ...more
Dec 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
It's days later and I'm still positively glowing after reading Chen Chen's lovely, playful and romantic collection of poems. Not only does it boast maybe the best title ever (!!!), the book made me feel so good about still not having my shit together. The surprising structures Chen creates, rife with repetition and vibrant diction, are delights one-after-another, and his honesty about human struggles to make peace with family, unsettling memories, and identity are refreshing.

Looking over the Ta
Abigail Munson
Feb 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
"I want to be the anti-Sisyphus, in love"

really good collection.

Chen Chen weaves Frank O'Hara, Sarte, Ginsberg, revolution, religion, sweethearts, sadness, death, Optimus Prime, e.e. cummings, Buddhism, Kafka, Audre Lorde, love, confusion, sofas, blue vests and the entire ocean into wonderful poetry. My favorite poems were: I Am Not a Relgious Person But, Summer Was Forever, How I Became Sagacious, Song With a Lyric from Allen Ginsberg, Elegy for my Sadness, The Cuckoo Cry, Didier et Zizon, Po
Jun 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
"Do I have to forgive in order to love? Or do I have to love for forgiveness to be possible? What do you think? I'm trying out this thing where questions about love and forgiveness are a form of work I'd rather not do alone."
Jan 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, newtome2018
This a charming poetry collection that will touch your heart, soul, and mind.

My favorite poems of this collection:
Race to the Tree
First Light
Ode to My Envy
Kafka's Axe & Michael's Vest
Brett Dupré
Feb 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Pretty silly—as in, lovely frivolity. But real depth here, too.
May 27, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
It took me a bit to get used to the poetry style of this collection. In fact, after I first checked out the ebook from the library and read the first couple poems, I gave up on it for about a week because I wasn’t connecting with the writing. The stream-of-consciousness style combined with metaphors that were so out there to the point of absurdity (instead of feeling like a fresh new connection or reflection) just wasn’t doing it for me. However, after some time away I decided to give Chen Chen’ ...more
Jan 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
I’m glad I finally got to read this collection!
Parts 1 and 3 are more resonant in general but all of the poems had a line or an image or a word that lingered, and required a pause. From Part 2, *Kafka’s Axe & Michael’s Vest* stuck with me most:

“Think of peace & how the Buddhists say it is found through silence.
Think of silence & how Audre Lorde says it will not protect you.
“What does it mean, to sing in the language of those
who have killed your mother,
would kill her again?”

Overall, t
Carolyn Waldee
May 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poems
A new favorite, for sure. Finished and wanted to immediately reread.

"On Earth lately, I've been looking at everyone / like I love them, & maybe I do. Or maybe I only love / one person, & I'm beaming from it. Or actually / I just love myself, & I want people to know." (29)
Jun 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
cannot stop thinking about the line, "i want to be a village full of sweethearts as you are, every second of the day" ...more
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Chen Chen was born in Xiamen, China, and grew up in Massachusetts. The recipient of the 2016 A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize, he has been awarded fellowships from Kundiman, the Saltonstall Foundation, and Lambda Literary. In 2015, he was a finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowships. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Poetry, The New York Times Magazine, Poem-a ...more

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