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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

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  857 Ratings  ·  124 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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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.
Apr 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, queer-lit
“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
Nov 09, 2017 rated it liked it
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
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!
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 pare
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.
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⭐ ...more
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
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
Breslin White
Mar 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a poetry book which reads agreeably like an autobiography.

Because of its explorations of what happened to Chen Chen when his parents first discovered he was gay, I identified with the subject immediately. It was like being caught wearing women's clothing. (Although that's never happened to me; I've never been caught! I've just done it, and gone outside like that. I can walk really great in five inch heels, as long as the heel is steady. One time I was outside wearing a skirt and the cops
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
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
Aug 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
May 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018indch, poetry
Exciting collection of poems that are both touching and funny, in a poignant sort of way. Chen Chen quotes a friend as telling him that he only writes about two things: being gay and Chinese people immigrating. If this is true--and I'm not sure it is--he certainly writes about those two things wonderfully.
Nek0 Neha (BiblioNyan)
Oct 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone who's struggled with being Queer and an immigrant, and who loves poetry.
When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities by Chen Chen is a short collection of poems that is written by a gay Chinese author. It won the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize and has received numerous recognition for being a ferocious voice in the modern world.

I had never heard of this book until I discovered it during the GoodReads 2017 Book Awards. It was one of the nominees for Best Poetry of the Year, and I am positively flabbergasted that it did not win.

My favourite quality of th
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
2.5. There was a poem or two at the end that I enjoyed and maybe one or two in the middle. Overall, to me (a person who does not read poetry, so take all of this with a grain of salt), it just felt like a journal full of random, unorganized thoughts mixed with too many over-the-top metaphors.
Brett Dupré
Feb 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Pretty silly—as in, lovely frivolity. But real depth here, too.
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
Liz Mc2
Apr 27, 2018 added it
Shelves: poetry
As always, I don’t know how to rate poetry so I don’t. I really enjoyed this collection. In one of the poems Chen is nagged by a writer friend’s comment that all he writes about is being gay and Chinese. And he does write about that, but as a result these are poems about growing up and finding who you are and where you belong and relationships with parents and friends and lovers. Chen is good at little everyday emotions—there’s a funny poem about his petty envies, for instance. Lots of the poems ...more
Jan 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Chen Chen's collection is at once dear and biting. It is self-critical, lighthearted, and kind. Every page offered something different and exciting. His poems range from an apology to the guanacos at the Syracuse Zoo to reflections on Asian representation in gay porn. Chen writes beautifully about connection whether it is between strangers or between himself and his boyfriend. It is hard for me to talk about this collection without really gushing. It should say something that upon finishing it, ...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
Oct 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Reading through When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities by award winning poet, Chen Chen, I was absolutely blown away. From the opening poem introducing the idea of a “self-portrait”, through dealing with this intimate account of a mother son relationship, through the poems about cultural differences and queer perspectives, all culminating in this overall theme of identity, Chen Chen kept me hooked. I loved the amount of allusions used, both to other writers like in “Song wit ...more
Emily Polson
Jul 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
"I'm trying out this thing where questions about love & forgiveness // are a form of work I'd rather not do alone."

Favorites include "I'm Not a Religious Person But," "Race to the Tree," and "Elegy to My Sadness."
Aug 14, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry, read-in-2018
Apr 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, poetry
Read this book! This is deeply felt, smart, funny, hip, and necessary poetry by a brilliant young poet. If you're not reading Chen Chen, you're missing out.
Weston Richey
Oct 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, lgbt
I might try to write a more comprehensive review, but at present all I got is: WOW :0!!!!!
Sep 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"The train is an accordion, playing the silence/ of adult waiting."
Maggie Gordon
May 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
When I Grow Up... is an utter delight. Chen deftly uses humour to explore a variety of painful topics, delving into the experience of coming out in a family that is not ready to accept him, immigration, race, and sexuality. I laughed, but also felt deep sorrows. Filled with beautiful, often sharp witty language, this is a superb book, and Chen is a poet to watch out for.
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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
“Aren’t all great love stories, at their core, great mistakes?” 6 likes
“Sometimes, parents & children become the most common strangers. Eventually, a street appears where they can meet again.” 3 likes
More quotes…