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Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency

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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 investigation 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. Always at work in the wrecked heart of this new collection is a switchboard operator, picking up and connecting calls. Raucous 2 a.m. prank calls. Whispered-in-a-classroom emergency calls. And sometimes, its pages record the dropping of a call, a failure or refusal to pick up. With irrepressible humor and play, 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 categorizations and pat answers. Instead, the book offers an insatiable curiosity about how it is we keep finding ways to hold onto one another.

128 pages, Paperback

First published September 13, 2022

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About the author

Chen Chen

85 books85 followers
Chen Chen was born in Xiamen, China, and grew up in Massachusetts. His debut poetry collection, When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, won the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize. His work has appeared in two chapbooks and in such publications as Poetry, Gulf Coast, Indiana Review, Best of the Net, and The Best American Poetry. He is the recipient of fellowships from Kundiman, the Saltonstall Foundation, and Lambda Literary. He earned his BA at Hampshire College and his MFA at Syracuse University. He lives in Lubbock, Texas, where he is pursuing a PhD in English and Creative Writing at Texas Tech University.

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5 stars
381 (43%)
4 stars
326 (37%)
3 stars
123 (13%)
2 stars
35 (3%)
1 star
14 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 171 reviews
Profile Image for Ivan Zhao.
80 reviews12 followers
December 21, 2022
(4.5 stars rounded down)
absolutely a slay, holy shit I think I'm in love with chen chen

your emergency contact has experienced an emergency (which in itself is a fucking hilarious title and also kind of makes you think) is a mixture of pieces that lean into poetic form and break out of it. there are many pieces that are fantastic ( invited my parents to a dinner party and song of school) but I think overall, the way that he plays with form, aggressive diction, and the topics of the current day and age are somewhat magical. there is a way that he is able to make jargony words / things that would not typically be thought of as poetic feel rich in meaning... for example, the usage of penis vs dick vs all of the other ways that men are representing their genitalia.

i also love that as someone who has unfortunately dated a lot of white men up to this point... it's very real of having not accepting parents (not just the white part the whole being gay thing... that's a beetlejuice reference).

the 1/2 star deduction is that sometimes I feel that the pieces lean too much into the idea of the poetic gay and feel a bit cheesy but HEY once again that's my subjective take on pieces that can mean anything to you.

i especially love a small book of questions, the narrative pacing of it. I think a lot about the fact that poetry (and art altogether) is about prefacing the world with questions that we may not consider in our lives, that for a brief moment, we're able to understand the paradigm of another person, to embody their physical space, to understand their livelihood. and I think that's beautiful
Profile Image for Jessica Park Rhode.
350 reviews2 followers
September 26, 2022
17/10 All the things I love about Chen Chen in one place, over and over and over again. Humor, keen observations, questions that matter, allusions to dumb pop culture that makes the dumb pop culture more weighty, tracking how identity shifts, elegizing powerfully, imagining beauty, saying fuck you to poetry rules...

Also didn't expect to be so affected by the 'a small book of questions' series in part 2, but it is unsurprising: All of that is so close to home and the last 7 years.

I'll have to look back at what i've read in 2022, but probably first book to make me ugly cry this year?
Profile Image for Madison.
651 reviews363 followers
January 5, 2023
I saw Chen Chen read at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival in 2016. I wasn't familiar with him at the time, but he was by far my favorite reader/panelist of the day, and it's been so wonderful to see his work take off in the years since.

This book completely blew me away. I don't read much poetry, so I'm not at all an educated critic/audience member, but I loved it and I've recommended it to several people already. If you read one poetry collection this year, let it be this one.
Profile Image for Caroline.
432 reviews
January 27, 2023
lots of queer joy in this collection, and very simple and accessible, though tbh it didn’t quite click w me - i think i might just not be in the mood for poetry atm, and haven’t been in a while unfortunately. but not the book’s fault, it was excellent and so filled with love

side note: i rarely read any form of collection so this is the first time i’ve seen sine theta magazine mentioned in a “previously published in” list and i was like :O that’s US!
Profile Image for Crystal.
477 reviews162 followers
January 30, 2023
How will you / have you prepare(d) for your death?

I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him. I kiss him.

(“a small book of questions: chapter iii”)

Never stop babbling
              to old friends or
              fields about your earliest

                           whiff of banana bread.

Lick the sad
               from the sea & on
               a Tuesday.

                in some earthly

                          mouthful of a way
                      & tonight.

(from “The School of the Unschoolable”)

You pick the sunflowers up, return them to their jar after refilling it with fresh tap water. You climb back in bed & touch my face.

You climb back in bed to touch my face.

You wrap your arms around me & it’s like you’re the patron saint of touch as well as soft sunlight & soothed dogs. Or you must be the earthly representative of divine holding. Or you’re both & also a boy, like me, holding on.

(from “Summer [The sunflowers fall…]”)

Reporters & fathers call your generation “the worst.”

Which really means “queer kids who could go online & learn that queer doesn’t have to mean disaster.”

Or dead.

Instead, queer means, splendiferously, you.

(from “Summer [I have a…]”)
Profile Image for Cait.
1,071 reviews30 followers
June 13, 2023
I was a name
everyone in America thought they were saying

extremely good poetry. electrifying! I often go into these contemporary poetry collections thinking that I'll like it, or that maybe I won't, but it is unlikely to take the top of my head off—and then sometimes, as here, they just smack me straight across the chest, an arm flung out to stop me in my tracks.

How do you tell someone you love them without making them think about one day losing you?

God is a honey / flavored extra strength cough drop. / I am another attempt to confess // I have not read Ulysses.

If we could communicate fully, there would be no need to communicate. If we could love perfectly, there would be no need to love. If we could finish grieving, there would be no need to live. If we could touch completely, there would be no need.

Surely, there is a patron saint of touch, who yes, at the moment is struggling—unlike the brand-new patron saint of branded touchless experiences, whose business has only been expanding. Booming, like a dog’s 3 a.m. holler.

Asking, does the moon ever get sad? // Needing to know, does the moon get terribly sad because it is simply called the moon, & not some fancy Greek name, like the myriad moons of Jupister, like Callisto, for example, from the Greek kallistos, superlative form of kalos, meaning “beautiful”? // Then, knowing: // The moon does not get sad. Or at least, not because of that. // Of that, the moon is terribly proud.

✧ “a small book of questions: chapter vii” (“She asks about the dog before she asks about the boyfriend.”)
“I am reminded via email to resubmit my preferences for the schedule”
“I Invite My Parents to a Dinner Party”
“The School of Night and Hyphens”
“Ode to Rereading Rimbaud in Lubbock, Texas”
“The School of You”
“Zombie Kindnesses”
“The School of Eternities”
“Spring Summer Autumn Winter”
Profile Image for Trisha.
264 reviews72 followers
April 13, 2023
I want to start out by saying poetry is a deeply personal experience and what resonates with one might not with another. With that being said, I disliked this deeply and fully. I don't think there was much of it I liked. The structure of the poems was awkward and the choices in line breaks made it difficult to read. There were sudden breaks in the middle of sentences and again took me out of the poem. A lot of content made me cringe, such as an entire poem about poop. This read young and maybe I am just not the age bracket intended for this whatsoever, which is fair! This just was not for me but I can see it speaking to others. This just read more like a diary entry with random line breaks than actual poetry.

To not end this on a negative note, I will say I appreciated the lines about Chen Chen about his mother. I really liked the development there throughout the collection.

I am disappointed as anything to not have loved this. But I couldn't connect to the voice used or the structure given to the collection as a whole. Filing this as a not for me but I hope it speaks to someone else section!
Profile Image for Elijah Molina.
9 reviews
January 19, 2023
i kinda gave up on finishing it. i gave up on reading at the last ten poems from the collection. maybe it is not for me. there were interesting and pretty lines. especially the ones that are brazen and unapologetic. but the thing is i cannot remember or pinpoint which poems were those. i got bored even when the poems’ delivery is a little humorous and modernly creative. there was just something missing. i have read chen chen poems before and they have this queer whimsicality that i adored. i did not see much of that from this collection though.
Profile Image for 예헌.
10 reviews
July 31, 2023
no words to describe how whole this book makes me feel
Profile Image for Marc.
788 reviews110 followers
April 6, 2023
Raw, angry, funny, touching. Chen's mother and her rejection of his homosexuality (to the point of never addressing his boyfriend's existence in their conversations) looms large throughout this collection. Love and academia and prejudice as filtered through a heart as deep as it is observant. He bounces interestingly back and forth between free verse and prose poems and also touches on the Asian backlash that arose during the COVID-19 pandemic in America.

We'll try something new here and pull some of my favorite lines and see what they create as a new whole...


"Your emergency contact has called to quit.
Your back-up plan has backed away. Your
boyfriend has joined a boy band named
All Your Former Boyfriends & Sarah McLachlan.

On my phone, the morning headlines spell crisis,
the morning is picture after picture of
the coiffed like cotton candy doom,
[in] The School of Fury I wonder if
I’d be a better person if
I learned to speak bird.

Your book, a reminder of how much
more night I could wade into
born of soup, both mung bean & primordial...

I can’t decide whether the university
is a refuge for the bookish lonely or
a T-shirt store run by a soda company.

(My favorite recent development:
that ghosts prefer to be called spooky babes.)
What percentage of this country loves me,
after reading my name, after seeing my face,
after hearing me talk about my boyfriend?

I only know the beginning & the end.
Everything else is a superlative question—
a supervoid I have come to view as my innermost joy.
& now the country we live in believes everyone
with a face like ours is sick. Our sick faces,
sick countries, go back before you get us sick.

perverts who’ve just invented dentistry...
I watched him brush his teeth.
His teeth glinted gorgeous. I stumbled.
Cartwheeled. I said, I will always fight
alongside you in the fight against tartar buildup.
I said,
I will."

Profile Image for Shilo.
Author 18 books42 followers
May 31, 2023
Chen is truly a master of juxtaposition. No contemporary poet that I've read so fluidly weaves the every day, the sorrowful, the mystical, the hilarious, the sexy, the tight-lipped, the angst, the love, the racism, the homophobia he has experienced right up against all the queer joy he can muster, which is so much, it's the whole world. It's there in each line, each stanza, all of it heartfelt in all the best possible ways. Chen is at the height of his power in Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced An Emergency.

"Three queers remembering but you're only fourteen! / Three queers talking about last week. / Three queers feeling like twenty, drinking even more coffee, telling sleep to go bother the straights. / Three queers staying up until late becomes early."
Profile Image for Megan Zheng.
33 reviews
August 5, 2023

still gay and horny i love it but i liked his first collection way more. i really liked how many of his poems were a mix of using english and chinese characters. those poems in this collection hit a little harder than the rest. thanks for forever f-ing me up by showing me how love as hurting people is literally built into the chinese language as one of the ways of saying i love you is i hurt/feel pained by you. i will not stop thinking about that. currently now obsessed with learning chinese and it’s characters
Profile Image for Linda.
399 reviews
July 8, 2023
The raw moments of joy and grief, twinged with humor... Chen Chen really delivers. I think I still have more of a personal attachment to "When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities," but I love how this collection dives back to explore Chen Chen's relationship with his mother, his partner, Lubbock, Asian-ness (including in the context of the pandemic), and more.

Profile Image for Jess.
165 reviews4 followers
January 30, 2023
NR. I don't know how to rate/review a poetry collection but I really enjoyed this! I'm glad I bought my copy so I could make notes of lines/poems I want to return to. I don't know if I see myself becoming ~a poetry person~ but I would absolutely read more by Chen Chen!
Profile Image for Carla Sofia Sofia.
Author 5 books30 followers
February 15, 2023
AAAAAAAHHHHH!!!! you ever have a favorite poet whose first collection is so good, you're like, "there's no way the second book will live up" ... but then it is FANTASTIC AMAZING BETTER THAN YOU COULD IMAGINE. this is that. wow wow wow!! these extraordinary poems!! 😍
Profile Image for Kaitlyn Tsai.
24 reviews2 followers
December 16, 2022
Deceased. Every poem in here absolutely killed me in the best way. Only Chen Chen could balance wit and humor with love and grief of all flavors to create the most wonderfully human poems.
Profile Image for maya lu.
82 reviews18 followers
February 7, 2023
Years later, earlier today, I said,
I’m a poet
as though saying,
Yes, really,
I’m a person.
Profile Image for Liv.
316 reviews26 followers
April 6, 2023
spectacular. could not put down. kept making myself because i didn't want it to end
Profile Image for nicole.
66 reviews6 followers
May 5, 2023
funny and sad and angry and beautiful and everything, everything, everything
Profile Image for Laurel.
Author 1 book38 followers
May 16, 2023
The title caught my eye, but the poems insides definitely kept my attention - humor, pop culture, anger, family, and vibrant diction (is aggressive the right word? it's loud and wonderful)

one of my favorite poetry lines from Zombie Kindness near the end of the book:

"If heterosexuality must continue, let there be cats"
Profile Image for Rowen H..
292 reviews12 followers
November 28, 2022
I just really don't even know what other poets I would compare to Chen Chen, not everything he writes is going to hit home with me personally but his work is always Doing Something that I don't see in my other favorite poets
Profile Image for ania.
172 reviews4 followers
July 13, 2023
chen chen’s poetry is light; not light as in “not heavy” but light as in “sun-filled”, reaching towards some form of comfort, towards something brighter, a perpetual question of identity and forgiveness and memory — in memoriam — the need to keep memory alive, a person alive, himself whole in grief as well as in joy

“To be sick with winter for you—is that the love / I feel? A perpetual inner / December?”
Profile Image for Shannon (That's So Poe).
1,022 reviews108 followers
April 3, 2023
This poetry collection is absolutely amazing! I can't get enough of Chen Chen's writing. He's so playful and creative in his poetry, while also dealing with a ton of really tough topics. He has so many poems talking about anti-Asian and anti-gay hate in the US, as well as his experiences living in West Texas, as well as dealing with his parents who struggle to accept his sexuality. He also has so many loving poems about his partner that just filled me with so much warmth, and a bunch of poems that integrated Chinese into them (which were just as fascinating despite my inability to read the characters). Really thoughtful, vulnerable, earnest poetry that brought me so much joy. I think this is my favorite poetry collection to date! I've got a video review if you'd like to hear even more and some excerpts from the poems that spoke to me.

Content Warnings:
homophobia, illness, death, death of a family member, grief, trauma, anti-Asian hate, mass murder
Author 5 books6 followers
November 4, 2022
"god got back in his turquoise steamship // life is a joyful thing, he said / it's probably very good for you" – from "we'll be gone after these brief messages"
Profile Image for Sue.
Author 16 books33 followers
August 30, 2023
The title tells you this is not going to be an ordinary poetry book. It’s not your grandma’s poetry, that’s for sure, but it is so much fun, a verbal romp through the life of a young, queer, Asian poet who finds himself in Lubbock, Texas, one of the reddest of red states, far from his parents who text in Chinese and do not understand his relationship with a man. Chen plays with forms, offering prose poems, lists, questionnaires, text conversations, and dabs of Chinese characters for which most readers will have to guess the translations. He often mixes the senses. In “Summer,” he writes “His barking like fistfuls of sunlight” and “You soften the fright away with syllable after syllable of your hand.” He offers delightful humor and sarcasm. In “I Invite My Parents to a Dinner Party,” he writes, “My mother smiles her best/Sitting with her Son’s Boyfriend/Who is a Boy Smile.” Every poem is a surprise, which makes this the rare poetry collection that is truly a page turner.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 171 reviews

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