Short reviews of books I'm reading and (specifically) why I love them
By Micah Ling
When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities
BOA Editions, LTD
Since I finished graduate school in 2007, with an MA in literature and an MFA in poetry, I’ve taught at 13 different institutions. Small private universities, state schools, a Yeshiva, a Jesuit school, remedial classes, graduate workshops, you name it. But a little over a year ago, I started teaching at a community college in northern Colorado, and, this is where it’s at. My students range in age from 16 (they can take courses when they’re still in high school) to 76-years-old (my boss’s mother took my creative writing workshop last semester). Their life experience is as varied as you can imagine. Veterans, mothers, farmers, artists, nurses. They literally mark the political, economic and general life spectrum. This semester I’m teaching an introduction to literature course, which means, most of the students have read little to no literature at all: most of them have never been asked about their own story. We’re reading almost entirely contemporary poets and writers. Last week, we read poems from Chen Chen’s collection, When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities. When I was in college, I remember reading Sharon Olds for the first time, and thinking, “Wait…you can do that with poetry?” I went on to have that same realization over and over. For my students, this was that. I heard them saying things quietly to each other, and then finally aloud to the whole class: “You can write poetry about poop?!” What they seemed to love (and what I love) about this collection is that it’s freeing: over and over again. It’s honest and real and dirty and funny. “I’m sorry I would’ve skipped past your exhibit / on my quest for the elephants, if not / for my boyfriend’s shouting, Look! llamas! / I’m sorry I then called out Llamas! twice, / three times, in the typical zoo attendee’s / Iloveyou! shriek, before noting your sign: / not llamas but their close relatives, guanacos.”
This collection is fun and narrative and easy to teach and read, but it’s also genius in its craft. Chen knows all the rules ever established and breaks them in ways that only a master can. I feel like community college students who are just learning about the art of poetry might be the best test subjects of a book ever. Excited but skeptical: new to form but seasoned with life. I’m looking forward to teaching this over and over.
Micah Ling teaches at a community college in northern Colorado. Her most recent collection of poems is, Flashes of Life. micahling.com