Microreview: Ken Cheng, Juvenilia
January 1, 2011
Jan 1, 2011
1 Min read time
A collection that walks the high wire between deeply felt trauma and poetic artifact.
by Ken Chen,
Yale University Press, $18 (paper)
Winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition, Ken Chen’s first book walks the high wire between deeply felt trauma and poetic artifact. Both exquisitely stylized and wrenchingly felt, the book resists categorization: surprising gestures abound. Chen crafts eye-widening philosophies (“I do not believe that we have intentions. We possess practices, an ecosystem of habits that may or may not be good for us”) and highlights the strange in the familiar (“When I was little, I thought that the water came out of the showerhead because it was crying. This is because I heard my mother crying and thought it was the showerhead”) with equal deftness. He mixes verse with prose, outline, notes, equations, amidst playful experiments with white space and more. Encyclopedic influences converge—mathematics, Confucius, Li Yu, nations, languages, families, “Proust, Bellow, Renoir.” And when—recalling “the scene in the movie, where the actors / find the camera and say Stop / looking at me”—he turns to face us readers headlong, we feel a chill: “The first sentence of this poem is not about you. / In this respect, it is unlike the last sentence and my heart.” In her illuminating foreword, Louise Glück writes, “immigrant displacement . . . [is] a metaphor for the adult’s relation to his childhood, or origins.” Pursuing this trope—the centrality of which explains why Juvenilia lays claim to our whole attention, intellectual and emotional—Chen delivers a memorable, beautiful-yet-sly, powerful debut.
Help fund the next generation of Black journalists, editors, and publishers.
Boston Review’s Black Voices in the Public Sphere Fellowship is designed to address the profound lack of diversity in the media by providing aspiring Black media professionals with training, mentorship, networking opportunities, and career development workshops. The program is being funded with the generous support of Derek Schrier, chair of Boston Review’s board of advisors, the Ford Foundation, and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, but we still have $50,000 left to raise to fully fund the fellowship for the next two years. To help reach that goal, if you make a tax-deductible donation to our fellowship fund through August 31 it will be matched 1:1, up to $25,000—so please act now to double your impact. To learn more about the program and our 2021-2022 fellows, click here.
January 01, 2011
1 Min read time