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.
While we have you...
...we need your help. Confronting the many challenges of this moment—from the medical to the economic, the social to the political—demands all the moral and deliberative clarity we can muster. While much remains uncertain, Boston Review’s responsibility to public reason is sure. That’s why you’ll never see a paywall at Boston Review. We've also gone one step further and become completely ad-free. This means you will always be able to read us without roadblocks or barriers to entry. It also means that we rely on you, our readers, for support. If you like what you read here, pledge your contribution to keep it free for everyone by making a tax-deductible donation.
January 01, 2011
1 Min read time