Synopses & Reviews
Ken Chen is the 2009 winner of the annual Yale Younger Poets competition. These poems of maturation chronicle the poet's relationship with his immigrant family and his unknowing attempt to recapture the unity of youth through comically doomed love affairs that evaporate before they start.
Hungrily eclectic, the wry and emotionally piercing poems in this collection steal the forms of the shooting script, blues song, novel, memoir, essay, logical disputation, aphorism — even classical Chinese poetry in translation. But as contest judge Louise Gluck notes in her foreword, The miracle of this book is the degree to which Ken Chen manages to be both exhilaratingly modern (anti-catharsis, anti-epiphany) while at the same time never losing his attachment to voice, and the implicit claims of voice: these are poems of intense feeling....Like only the best poets, Ken Chen makes with his voice a new category.
"The latest Yale Younger Poet writes about his Chinese-American heritage; he draws on classic Chinese poets, such as Wang Wei and Li Yu. Yet his verse and prose stand at the farthest possible remove from the memoirlike poems, and the poems of first-person 'identity,' that have characterized so much recent verse about U.S. immigrant life. Instead, Chen is 'experimental' in the best and broadest sense of the term: each new page brings an experiment in self-presentation, in sentence, syntax, or (long) line. Prose poems digress into semantic analysis ('Love Is Like Tautology in the Same Way Like Is Like Tautology'); open-field verse resembles now an alienated, impersonal short story, now a page from an anguished diary: 'He studies the ceiling for hours before he sleeps for the ceiling is ours./ He wore the bedroom ceiling as his eyelid.' Self-consciousness (about travel, about 'voice') does not take him away from his sense of himself: rather, it becomes him, as when he begins: 'The first sentence of this poem is not about you./ In this respect, it is unlike the last sentence and my heart.' Chen's parents appear as characters in the anti-novel, anti-memoir, first-person sequence. The New York-based Chen who runs the Asian American Writers' Workshop deserves attention for his daring invention, for the heretofore unknown hybrids throughout his work." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"In his award-winning debut, Ken Chen draws on techniques from filmmaking such as the match frame (a shift in place, but not time), the jump cut (a shift in time, but not place), and their variants. He offers cues as though poems were stage sets. He also portrays a Chinese-American family with a reflexive wit that lends Juvenilia
the feeling of a hand-held documentary, which is not to say the work is rough-cut or naive, but that it suggests proximity -- at one point, the speaker announces, 'Hello, my name is Ken Chen' -- and reveals the author as both maker/subject in ways that complicate "autobiography." Karen Rigby, Rain Taxi
(read the entire Rain Taxi review
About the Author
Ken Chen is the executive director of the Asian American Writers Workshop. His work has been published or recognized in Best American Essays 2006, Best American Essays 2007, and The Boston Review of Books. A graduate of Yale Law School, he lives in Brooklyn, NY.